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Creative thinking

LAST year's review of the national curriculum identified general skills which pupils need to be equipped with to reach their full potential.

Thinking skills will be essential and so will the key skills, such as improving learning, working with others and problem-solving. The spark which brings all these skills to life is the creativity with which they are applied.

Design and technology is uniquely placed to develop all these skills. It enables pupils to apply their knowledge, skills and understanding creatively in practical coursework activities. Design and technology also provides opportunities for pupils to improve their own learning and performance through tasks that support pupils' own approaches, following plans to meet negotiated targets, and through evaluating the whole designing and making process.

It is in the area of problem-solving, however, where the potential to develop creativity is strongest, through dealing with conflicting problems when making products and through considering alternatives when investigating ways forward and evaluating those products.

The creative problem-solver needs the ability to formulate new problems when designing, to transfer general knowledge and understanding to a relevant designing and making context and to focus attention on a goal. To innovate, pupils need confidence to lern in areas that are unfamiliar. The design and technology process of developing, planning and communicating ideas supports them as they formulate questions, then suggests solutions.

When producing and evaluating products, pupils are encouraged to proceed in incremental steps. The evaluation process allows pupils to make and even celebrate mistakes and, at its best, allows them to persist when things seem beyond their grasp.

Setting a problem-solving exercise within a practical design and make process that pupils can trust forms boundaries against which the creative mind can push. This trust in the process fosters freedom of thought in creating designs, promotes self-esteem and a sense of pride.

The best way to encourage the creative application of skills is to ensure that pupils' design ideas will actually contribute to change and make a difference to others. As the national curriculum for design and technology makes clear, pupils "learn to think and intervene creatively to improve the quality of life. The subject calls for pupils to become autonomous and creative problem-solvers as individuals and members of a team."

Ian Williams is principal subject officer, design and technology, for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 29 Bolton Street, London W1Y 7PD. Tel: 020 7509 5555Website: www.qca.org.uk

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