Award-winning teacher Steve Ungi has revolutionised his school's design technology lessons. Hugh John visits one of his classes
It's a cold, damp, winter's day in Hampshire and Steve Ungi, head of design technology at Andover Way Community School, is taking a class of Year 10 students. After an introductory session during which the aims of the lesson are explained, the students move to their computer stations and undertake their assignment.
Ten minutes into the lesson, everyone is settling down; there's the usual low-level thrum of activity, students checking through folders, asking friends for advice - and then something extraordinary. The chatter fades to nothing, just the fierce collective application of concentration and that rarest of classroom sounds, the murmur of the air-conditioning.
It's not entirely an ordinary day at Andover School, however. There is a film crew from Becta recording the lesson and myself taking notes. We're here to celebrate the professional life and times of Steve Ungi, winner of one of Becta's ICT in Practice awards (sponsored by The TES, Pearson and BT).
It's not entirely an ordinary design technology suite, this one. Think of it more as the suite that Steve built. And therein lies a remarkable story.
When he was appointed head of design technology in the summer term of 2001, Steve inherited a department that headteacher Chris Overton describes as, "dysfunctional and seriously underachieving" and one whose "lack of leadership was a contributory factor to the school's March 2000 Ofsted 'serious weaknesses' categorisation".
He also inherited a workshop described by Chris Overton as "a tired and redundant metalwork area which still had the lathes from the late 1960s and which we hadn't used as a teaching base for four years".
Working through the summer holiday in 2001, Steve installed computers, loaded software, tested all the equipment; did everything "bar the electrics and furniture". Students returning to school in September found themselves working in a state-of-the-art computer-aided-design and computer-aided-manufacturing (CadCam) suite.
Academic results have been similarly transformed. "My mandate on accepting this post," says Steve, "was to raise standards within three years at least to meet the national standard for design technology which is 50 per cent A to C at GCSE. Between 2001 and 2002 we went from 32 per cent to 79 per cent so we've comfortably surpassed that target."
And the driving force behind this remarkable turnaround? Steve Ungi is in no doubt that ICT, properly applied, has made a significant difference: "We would never have got to where we are conventionally. It takes too long."
One of the students, he says, is designing furniture for disabled people.
To draw a chair with the particular dimensions required would take a considerable time. Becky, however, is using CadCam software to do the modelling and, "with ProDesktop" Steve explains, "we can change the angle, the legs, the proportions, whatever we wish, simply and easily."
Describing the benefits of ICT in design technology, he says: "The main one is results, and very closely behind is behaviour. And then right behind that is expectation. There's a correlation between the use of ICT and success."
The film crew pause to admire the work on display. The full-size electric guitar bodies, the battery-operated clocks (one based on an Alessi Memphis Design Group model), the table lights, the keyrings and the sleek aerodynamic racing cars created for the Schools Formula 1 challenge.
Whether machined on the school's 2D CadCam router, designed on the range of software that Steve has introduced, or - in the case of the racing cars - refined by virtual wind-tunnel testing, all the items bear testimony to advanced technology, meticulous detail and sound design.
Resources include 3D computer-aided design software, 2D design software, virtual manufacturing software, 3D design and manufacturing software, printed circuit-board design software and mathematical modelling and virtual wind-tunnel software. And students routinely use Microsoft Office when appropriate.
Steve is convinced that technology skills acquired in design technology classes apply to other areas of learning: "Whatever we do here benefits every single pupil in every single subject. Once the pupils have come through here it will affect results throughout the school."
He has also written a series of software modules to support learning. There will soon be five "virtual teacher" guides that students can run on their computers alongside the parent program which explains, through speech and animation, the basic procedures of relevant CadCam operations. The benefits are twofold; students who have missed lessons are able to keep up with the work and Steve can allocate more time to students with learning difficulties.
As an accredited ProDesktop trainer, Steve has supported more than 100 schools and trained more than 180 teachers in CadCam. It's an irony not lost on Chris Overton that Andover Way, although not a technology college, is now regarded as a CadCam centre of excellence for Hampshire.
Steve Ungi stresses the support he has received from the head, the governors and the LEA. Thanks to more than pound;40,000 from the local authority, the school now has a student:computer ratio of 3.5:1.
As Chris Overton points out, buying the kit is one thing, having someone to manage and implement it is another. He says: "In my 35 years of teaching experience (the last 15 at Andover Way) I have not come across any professional who has achieved as much in such a short period as Steve Ungi."
And if you've got a picture of an ICT evangelist as gauche, fresh out of college, short on experience and long on theory, prepare to be confounded.
Steve Ungi is a grandfather some three years short of retirement. Having served 30 years in the army and risen to the rank of major, he entered teaching in 1994. In the past three years he has, according to the Hampshire county inspector, "revolutionised the curriculum provision for design technology." A revolution, insists Chris Overton, which has been achieved "principally through the innovatory use of ICT."
Cad in schools
Damp;T resource page
Techsoft design tools
* Don't be afraid to use the "wow" factor that is an inherent part of ICT, but use it only when appropriate. Steve is more likely to use one of what he fondly calls his "gizmos" with a new class - a concealed pointing device, for instance, that activates items on the whiteboard as if by magic. It guarantees him instant attention and, more importantly, introduces students to the potential of ICT.
* ICT-specific tools such as animation and speech accompaniment can be used to initiate and support learning. Students in Steve's lessons use his Virtual Teacher software to reinforce their learning, enabling him to identify and help those who have more basic difficulties.
* ICT, properly deployed, can have a profound effect in the classroom.
* Be patient. The introduction of new technologies to a school will not bring about instant change. "To embed the equipment physically took a couple o`f months but to change the attitude of the pupils has taken about a year because they were so used to the conventional CDT."
* You can see videos of Steve Ungi and the Becta ICT in Practice Awards on our website:www.tes.co.ukitawards