Secondary DT - Thinking hats on

21st November 2008 at 00:00
Encourage lateral thinking with coloured props and clever questions, suggests Donna Trebell

How do you get pupils working together to examine products? We have introduced a number of product analysis techniques - the first of which is Edward de Bono's six thinking hats.

This technique encourages lateral thinking and has identified six ways of thinking about a subject and suggests that while most people use only one or two, combining them would be more productive.

Each colour hat represents a way of thinking: red for emotional, yellow for positive, black for critical, white for the facts, green for creative and blue for the big picture.

We place a product on a table in front of a group of four, with one pupil given the role of group leader. The leader then reads out the prompts, corresponding to the different hats: how do you feel about it? (red); what are its good points? (yellow); what are its problems? (black); what are three facts about it? (white); how can it be improved? (green); and what is the overall verdict? (blue).

The group pools its ideas and records them on specially designed sheets. This process ensures that pupils think in some depth about the product they are analysing, going beyond the obvious points of what is good or bad and beginning to consider how developments can be made.

The collaborative nature of the way in which we use this technique helps all pupils to think about the product in ways they perhaps would not have done previously.

Another technique that works effectively is known as ACCESSFM. In this case pupils can analyse any product by answering the questions provided as prompts guided by the acronym.

Aesthetics: does it look good? Will its style be appropriate for where it is used?

Cost: does it offer value for money? Is it too cheap or too expensive?

Customer: is it appropriate for the intended user? Can the customer interact with the product easily?

Environment: is it and its packaging recyclable or made from recycled materials?

Safety: is it safe for its intended use? What safety considerations need to be thought about when using it?

Size: is the size totally suitable for its intended use?

Function: does it work? Does it do what it is meant to do?

Materials: are the materials appropriate?

We introduce this technique to ensure pupils understand how to analyse products effectively rather than in a cursory manner. It also gives them a framework for analysis that can be applied whenever they are doing this sort of work.

A third technique is derived from the work of David Barlex from the Nuffield Curriculum Centre, who produced a framework for describing the design decisions that pupils might make and the interaction between them to show that one design decision affects another.

This is sometimes called a design decision pentagon. We have turned this into a star designer chart, with each issue given a point on a five- pointed star.

The star asks pupils to consider: Concept - what it does; Technical - how it works; Aesthetics - what it looks like; Constructional - how it fits together; and Marketing - who it's for.

In this case, the model prompts pupils to think about a number of key elements related to designing when they analyse products or ideas. It also develops language for learning by introducing pupils to subject specific vocabulary.

Donna Trebell is lead Advanced Skills Teacher in design and technology at Mascalls School in Tonbridge, Kent.

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