How to handle the real world

7th September 2001 at 01:00
Polly Palmer and Jane Snelling on Design Museum courses for student teachers

Recruiting new design and technology teachers is becoming increasingly difficult and universities are finding the disparity in student experience at enrolment problematic. Now the Design Museum is launching a programme to provide additional practical support and subject knowledge in Damp;T for postgraduate trainees.

The museum discussed what was needed with teacher training providers. The response was unanimous: that contact with the real world of design in industry, and the teaching of the design process and product evaluation through the use of a product handling collection would contribute greatly to the Initial Teacher Training (ITT) programme.

The universities are keen to tap into the Design Museum's strong links with designers and manufacturers and the museum's in-house teaching staff can pass on to trainee teachers their knowledge and skills in assembling and using "handling collections" of products in the classroom.

This autumn the Design Museum's "Product Evaluation" and "Design in the Real World" modules for secondary Damp;T and primary PGCE courses go nationwide. Two training days will be offered to each participating university for either secondary or primary PGCE trainees.

The first session will provide new recruits with an intensive day course in product evaluation, showing how "hands-on" product evaluation with real artefacts can be a way to teach any aspect of the design process as apractical, memorable, fun activity.

The Mystery Handling Collection, for example, is an assortment of contemporary domestic products whose function is not immediately obvious. Identifying them can cause heated debate and much amusement, as participants who might have watched their pupils trying to wear Stuart Robbins' waste bin as a corset or playing Philippe Starck's Hot Bertaa kettle as a set of bagpipes will testify.

Working through the design process through the medium of a handling collection is of equal value to pupils, design trained students or teacher trainees from unrelated disciplines. For pupils the experience adds meaning and relevance and reinforces knowledge and understanding. For design trained ITT students it is a means of interpreting their expertise for the benefit of pupils.

The day also includes ideas for developing and using a handling collection in the primary or secondary classroom. Aspects of Art and Design can also be addressed, notably topics from the QCA Schemes of Work. For example, "Chairs" is a popular primary workshop choice at the Design Museum; pupils love trying out different chairs in "Chair Alley". Your own Chair Alley from readily available furniture can be used for teaching product evaluation, properties of materials, forces and structures.

PGCE students make a return visit to the Design Museum later in the year. Primary specialists may require further skills and knowledge to enable them to teach Damp;T with confidence. Secondary specialists, who will by then have a firm grasp of subject content, examine the design process as used by practising designers in industry, with a strong emphasis on creativity, teamwork and rapid prototyping. The content is broadly based on the "Designers in Action" continuing professional development courses the museum is currently running with international design consultancy IDEO, which feature hands-on sessions for teachers with practising designers.

* For more information, tel: 020 7940 8757. E-mail:

Polly Palmer and Jane Snelling are education managers at the Design Museum

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