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Bin there, made that

Debbie Haffenden shows how other people's rubbish can prove a real boon.

The brown cardboard box, filled with white polystyrene packaging thingies, sits staring at me from the corner. I can't get it out of my mind, let alone my house. Perhaps therapy might help, I hear you suggest, and yes, this has been mentioned before. The trouble I have is a condition common to many primary design and technology co-ordinators.

The symptoms present themselves when the patient is faced with something that somebody else doesn't want. When faced with what "normal people" would consider rubbish the victims of this generally undiagnosed condition are overcome with an insatiable desire to keep it, convinced it would be a useful resource for the next design-and-make activity.

Teachers with this condition, however, should not be seeking professional help at all. They should be attempting to inflict it on others. For they are promoting skills, knowledge and understanding in line with the requirements of the national curriculum for design and technology and also PSHE and citizenship.

At a recent Design and Techno-logy Association conference, a representative of a well-known retail company was promoting a unit of work encouraging primary pupils to design and make children's clothes. It was very exciting and led to the opportunity of entering a national design competition. It was well researched, well resourced and provided an opportunity for children to design and make - all good Damp;T philosophy. However, a request from a member of the audience for pre-cut and colour co-ordinated fabric packs to accompany the unit worried me. Surely this teacher was missing a crucial point of what makes Damp;T projects so vital to good primary education: the innovative use of miscellaneous resources in a creative design project?

For as long as we can remember, primary schools have had to be careful about resources. When design and technology was introduced as a compulsory subject the main worries were about lack of expertise and money. Many primary schools had to fall back on the time-honoured skill of "make do" in yoghurt pot and cereal packet fashion.

Using found or reclaimed materials to create and adapt a design, requires imagination and a degree of creative and innovative thinking. Although there may be some credence in the argument "give them junk and they'll produce junk", this should be treated with caution. The attraction of prepackaged units of work in this climate of timetable constraints is understandable, but again I would advise caution.

I would also urge teachers to think about what children can learn from using reclaimed materials in PSHE and citizenship. By emphasising recycled materials in Damp;T, we encourage pupils to think about alternatives to the highly packaged and label-conscious world in which most of them live. For example, the polystyrene packaging used for ceramic tiles makes great ridged shoe soles for a design-and-make activity but also provides an opportunity to discuss biodegradable materials.

Surely, it is part of our job to develop attitudes in pupils which embrace the kind of design responsibility seen, for example, by the inspiring entries for the Sustainable Design Awards exhibited at the Design Museum (Design Sense 2001).

All we have to do is what we ask of our pupils in design sessions: think creatively and divergently.

Debbie Haffenden is senior lecturer in design and technology at the University of Brighton and a member of DATA primary advisory team.


* Find out if there is a recycling scheme for industries near you. For a minimal fee, schools and playgroups can register and have unlimited access to hundreds of items which would otherwise be thrown away.

* Ask builders and decorators for packaging such as tile dividers.

* Ask parents to save the netted bags used for oranges which can enhance anything that needs netting.

* Keep camera film containers for glue pots. If the lids are secured, unused glue can be kept for some time.

* Collect netting drawstring bags used in washing machines. These are great for keeping small objects such as buttons, beads and ribbons together.

* Shops give away shoe boxes and these can be used for storing things. They can be painted black and used to display design-and-make products to great effect. This was particularly effective in a project where shoe designs were balanced on top of each other to form a wall.

* Unstick food boxes (cereal boxes, and so on), turn them inside out and restick them. This provides a surface which is easy to work on.

* Unwanted CDs can be used as eye-catching backgrounds for classroom displays or shiny wheels on vehicle designs.

* Keep bubble wrap sheets for felt making or interesting folder covers.

* Printing companies often have unwanted paper and card and are more than pleased to find a home for it.

* High street shops often dispose of old window display materials. It is worth asking if something catches your eye which you think would be useful in school.

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