Eyes on the adult world

Bob Welch

Bob Welch assesses materials for lower secondary pupils developed by the RCA.

There seems to be no shortage of advice for teachers of design and technology. Alongside a much simplified statutory Order, we have helpful non-statutory guidance from the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, a good practice booklet from HMIOFSTED, a Department for Education and Employment booklet for parents and ideas and suggestions for teaching schemes from a number of national agencies. What other area of the curriculum can boast such a range of support material? Material not to gather dust on shelves but to be used by teachers to help further improve the quality of students' learning and raise achievement.

We can now add to this impressive list the first set of material produced by the Royal College of Art Schools Technology Project. Project director David Perry and his team of teacher fellows have set themselves the challenge of producing material which can be used flexibly by schools to meet differing circumstances. Planned to cover the full secondary 11-18 age range, the initial booklets for key stage 3 have now been published and from the evidence so far available these are going to be a valuable resource for any school.

The first items are the Course Guide for Key Stage 3, the two-part DT Challenges booklet for Year 7 students and an accompanying Teacher's Resource Book. Each student book includes a range of designing and making activities (buggies, can crushers, computer disc wallets, appetising pasties, etc) plus supporting case studies.These are a particularly valuable feature as they locate the activity in the real world of the designer and manufacturer. Lively and informative text and sensible picture layout contribute to a readable and above all stimulating and accessible book for students. The colour illustrations and drawings do not overpower the page nor obscure key messages.

The Teacher's Resource Book contains the detailed teaching notes to help teacher's plan and organise their work. Photocopiable worksheets including homeworks are included alongside advice on assessment and suggestions for managing activities.

But it is to the Course Guide that teachers should perhaps first turn in order to appreciate the project's underlying philosophy and principles. These are rooted in relevance to the adult world, support for each individual student's needs and an acknowledgement that students have a prior learning base in the subject - a notable attribute as few secondary schemes acknowledge that students have been involved in design activity from an early age.

A particular concern of the project is "to enable students to build a sense of ownership; of their learning, of their progress through the course, of the purposes behind their designing and making, and of their future directions". This is about empowering students to take charge of their own learning, an objective which comes through strongly in the published material.

Each designing and making assignment is part of a broader unit of work which includes focused practical tasks and product evaluations, an approach well in line with curriculum requirements. A variety of routes through each unit of work is possible in order to meet the needs of students of differing abilities and aptitudes. The units can be assembled into a course to span the key stage akin to assembling a jigsaw puzzle from various pieces. As with all good puzzles, it is a good idea to keep in mind the whole picture to ensure that all aspects are covered and that, in the detailed planning of individual tasks, we do not lose sight of our overall aim.

Inevitably in any scheme which can be organised in a variety of ways, careful management will be required to ensure that all students receive an appropriately balanced and varied experience. Used judiciously, the planning grids, linked as they are to the programme of study, should be of considerable help to subject leaders. The in-service activities could also form the basis of a staff development activity. The Course Guide also includes detailed advice on the important issue of progression within the subject.

The project team are to be congratulated on presenting material for students which, in the hands of committed teachers, will develop skills and understanding but, much more than this, also excite an interest in the subject.

Bob Welch is technology inspector for Berkshire.

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