Engineer a future

16th May 2008 at 01:00
Coming up with a new idea and making it work is the first step towards a patent. Richard Beeden has practical advice for budding designers
Coming up with a new idea and making it work is the first step towards a patent. Richard Beeden has practical advice for budding designers

Learning by doing is a powerful educational tool, particularly in design and technology. It is also a key principle of applied learning: for example, in a work-related environment. Linking it with a greater understanding of job roles, interaction with professionals from outside agencies and working to real design briefs adds value.

Involving local businesses in the setting of design briefs with support from staff or supplying particular materials makes sense. It is useful if you can take your pupils to visit a company, but this can be difficult at key stage 3.

Working for a real client, somebody who has commissioned the piece of work, will focus pupils' minds and provide an opportunity for them to develop presentation skills at the end of the project.

At Hope Valley College, we were able to enlist the support of a local industrial design consultancy to work with our pupils on one of their briefs from a real client. The designers introduced the project and analysed the task with our pupils.

Their brief was to design a gadget that could be used in schools to improve learning. Our pupils came up with ideas, including small desktop video cameras, wearable computers and small wind-up computers for online databases.

The designers then returned towards the end of the project to guide their product development and ultimately assess the work.

The experts also brought in what they had done as part of the same brief - something they had been given as a real project - and compared it with the ideas the pupils had come up with.

It turned out that many of the designers' ideas were similar to our own. It was a great experience for our pupils to work with professional designers, and see their ideas developed and presented alongside the work produced by the professional design team. Setting up links is never easy, but a small investment in time can have a huge pay-off because it is clear that the more relevant and real a project is, the more enthused pupils become.

Richard Beeden is a design and technology Advanced Skills Teacher at Hope Valley College, Derbyshire, and a vocational co-ordinator for the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust.


Enter a competition. The Design and Technology Association website has a list of possibles, such as the Formula schools, F1 in Schools, the Hope Extreme Engineering Challenge and Gravity Racing. See

Richard's challenge

Richard is co-ordinating an engineering challenge for key stage 3 and 4 pupils, with Hope Technology, a manufacturer of mountain bike components. The task is to design a promotional product to be handed to visitors at the Cycle Show in London in October. Each winning team member receives pound;500-worth of equipment plus resources worth pound;1,000 for their school. Details are available at:

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