How I teach - Bringing ideas to the people

21st March 2014 at 00:00
Students pitch their product designs to Nepalese villagers

Design and technology lessons concentrate heavily on planning and making, yet a career in design is as much about selling an idea as creating it. It's an issue I address in a lesson inspired by the charity Practical Action.

I give my students the following scenario: they are working for Practical Action and have been posted to the mountains of Nepal. They have been trained to design and build a number of devices that could help to improve people's lives, and their task is to communicate these ideas well enough for the villagers to make an informed decision about what they need.

To get the students thinking, I show a film made by Practical Action about their work in Nepal. The film illustrates the various "design solutions" that can be offered to the villagers, such as water and waste projects, energy generators and vehicles. It gives students a clear idea of exactly what they will have to explain.

Working in groups of three, the students are then given worksheets detailing simple machines that use ramps, levers, wheels, pulleys, gears and linkages. They spend the next three lessons making models of these machines from card, dowel, string, sticky tape and glue.

Then the groups are ready to decide which of the solutions they wish to model and present to the villagers. To limit the complexity of the task, they are only allowed to choose from energy-access or transport solutions. In my class, the most popular choices from energy prove to be micro hydropower and small-scale wind power; from transport, it is aerial and gravity ropeways, Tuin river crossings and bike trailers.

Each group spends the next two lessons - plus homework - researching their chosen solution. They produce card models and write a script for their presentation to the villagers, explaining how the device will work and the benefits it will bring. They are told that they will be assessed on their modelling skills, how well their presentation communicates the design and how well they work as a team.

In the final lesson the teams present to the whole class, who pretend to be the villagers. Each group judges the work of the others using a visual assessment chart (similar to the star diagrams beloved of food technology teachers).

Students tend to agree that they learn a good deal about mechanisms and card modelling through the project, and the problems of people living in remote places, in addition to building confidence about speaking in public. They always enjoy it, too.

David Baker is a design and technology teacher at Latymer Upper School in London. For more information and resources from Practical Action on sustainability and global issues, go to www.tesconnect.comPracticalAction

10 ways to teach product design

1. Iconic inquiry

Settle students into a lesson on design with this quick starter activity, which gets them thinking about what works and what could be improved in iconic designs such as Nike trainers and the new Mini car.

2. Considered opinions

Students enjoy giving their opinions, so why not channel that desire into a discussion about design? This resource uses unusual examples, from banana-themed milkshake cartons to gun-shaped fried egg moulds.

3. Ideas factory

The hardest part of design development can be knowing where to start. For inspiration, display this James Dyson Foundation poster - which asks "How do you come up with an idea that can change the world?" - in your classroom.

4. Eco enlightenment

Engage students' environmental conscience in this lesson on sustainable design.

5. Impact assessment

If we buy more iPhones, what effect will it have on the Democratic Republic of Congo, where an ore integral to the gadgets' batteries is mined? Pose this question and others to prompt lively debate on the economic and social impact of design choices.

6. Desired designs

Introduce students to famous designers and significant periods with the help of these informative posters on design classics, which can be used for a variety of research tasks.

7. Trump cards

This Top Trumps-inspired game will raise awareness about product sustainability and get your students looking to the long term in their designs.

8. Design pathways

Walk your students through the stages of designing a new product, from analysing existing examples to creating exploded drawings.

9. Pitch perfect

A colourful guide to pitching and presenting ideas, giving advice on structure, research and how to keep it interesting.

10. Role reality

If your class thinks design is all about drawing or messing around on the computer, give them a dose of reality with this breakdown of the duties expected of a textiles designer.


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