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Freedom for expression

A new GCSEis likely to bring out the creative streak, says George Cole

Who says exam boards are always looking for the same kinds of skills and aptitudes from students?

This autumn sees the launch of a new qualification that brings an innovative approach to design and technology. OCR's GCSE in product design includes a new innovation challenge module, a timed exercise in which students get the chance to use their imagination and demonstrate their ability to work under pressure. There's also the option of students creating a personal e-portfolio, an online system for storing digital content such as text, images and video clips.

The GCSE grew out of a project carried out by Goldsmiths College, University of London. It aimed to develop new assessment criteria for DT.

The result was a design challenge in which students were given a scenario and asked to develop or design something within a set time.

"We were impressed by the enthusiasm of the students," explains Merrick Smith, OCR's qualification manager. "It required some imagination rather than the standard formulaic process, whereby candidates go through a recipe of coursework. What you tend to get in that situation is students producing similar products, and there's no encouragement for innovation."

Five centres tested the materials for the new course. One of the challenges was called "A day at the beach". This was an open-ended topic and to stimulate ideas and discussion, students were shown a box of materials, such as beach balls and wind breaks. Their task was to come up with a product that was suitable for that environment. This was to be completed in six hours, which could be spread over two or more lessons. The results of the pilots were positive and OCR developed a GCSE based on this.

Product design GCSE is a modular course composed of four major elements, two based on coursework, and two assessed examinations. "The qualification hasn't got a material bias - you can work with different materials in different units," says Merrick.

Students can submit work on paper, CD-Rom or via an e-portfolio. "We want to encourage the use of ICT in teaching in an appropriate way," says Merrick. The e-portfolio means a teacher can go online at any time to set tasks and monitor progress. Once the work is completed and ready for assessment, the e-portfolio is locked and no further work can be done. It can then be sent to the exam board for assessment. It's a useful teaching tool, because you can interact with the candidates and so can the moderator. There's also no coursework to be lost in the post.

One of the schools involved in piloting the assessment was Bishop Challoner Secondary School in Birmingham. Food technology teacher Caroline Patterson worked on a birthday theme with 10 Year 10 students.

"They had to come up with ideas for a birthday gift using five fruit portions - it was designed to emphasise healthy eating. During half term, I prepared for the challenge by putting together a PowerPoint presentation, and I went shopping for different materials, such as birthday-cake paper, sweet wrappers, ice-cube trays, cutters and the tiny umbrellas you put in cocktails," she says. "We encouraged them to be wacky."

Merrick says one of the advantages of the course is that it is highly motivational and can encourage students who may be turned off by conventional coursework.

Caroline agrees. "The boys in particular really enjoyed the task, largely because it was short-focused and they got instant feedback. They did the planning in one lesson and had everything made by the end of the second."

One student used a juicer to juice fruits, which were frozen in an ice-cube tray and then dipped in chocolate. They were then put in sweet wrappers and presented in a chocolate box. Another made heart-shaped pureed fruits, as a birthday present.

Caroline says: "The room was buzzing - the kids were really excited and they really enjoyed it. It takes the teacher a lot of time to prepare for something like this, especially when it comes to shopping, because normally students do their own shopping. But if I worked in a boys' school, I'd definitely go for it. The boys were motivated and it really helped them."


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