Up the creek, but with a paddle

9th November 2007 at 00:00
Being a castaway focuses the mind on finding creative solutions to problems from making a bucket to creating a treehouse, says David Baker.There is an unwritten law of architecture (my pre-teaching career) that all projects - even successful ones - look like disasters midway through. My Year 10's design and technology lesson on people's needs and wants made me think the same law could apply to teaching.

It's not a standard lesson, though. At Latymer Upper School I am very keen on design-based learning (DBL). It's not primarily about teaching design, but rather using design projects as a vehicle for problem solving. For example, to learn about ergonomics, the pupils would design and make a windscreen scraper from a polystyrene sheet and a mouldable plastic called Polymorph. The role of the teacher changes from authority to facilitator and it fits the new emphasis on creativity in the curriculum.

Today we are working on a castaway scenario. Sheets of cardboard, paper straws, string, masking tape and crumpled-up wrapping paper are scattered everywhere. One group is of desert survivors, debating whether to spend their limited time making sandshoes for crossing the quicksand, or a collapsible bucket to bring water from the oasis. Craft knives, cutting mats and safety rulers are in frenzied use by the tropical rainforest settlers as they create a treehouse safe from the wild animals in the forest.

The tropical island castaways are disagreeing about the need to raise their water tank above the ground to get some water pressure for showers - is that a need or a want?

We've previously talked about different types of human need - physical, intellectual, emotional and social - and brainstormed ideas for what would be needed in their desert, rainforest or island. What emerges is a range of models, from houses to boats to sandshoes to buckets.

The pupils are collaborative and empathetic. They ask lots of questions, and they are playful, experimenting with materials, making mistakes and fixing them

David Baker is design and technology teacher at Latymer Upper School in Hammersmith, west London.

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