We chatted to Paul Woodward about how Design & Technology has evolved during his 30 years of teaching and how he has adapted resources for online learning, and beyond.
Q: What is your favourite thing about teaching Design & Technology (D&T)?
I love the fact that no two schools, days or even students are the same. Despite often having a curriculum or syllabus to follow, I find it liberating and exciting that the outcomes of the learning are never decided. Each student’s creative journey will lead to a different outcome and I always look forward to seeing where they will go with their ideas.
Q: What challenges have you faced during the move to online learning?
I believe one of the most important aspects of teaching is to build a rapport with students. This is something best done face to face in the classroom. Fortunately, we have had plenty of time in school to get to know our students so we still enjoy the same working relationship, even if we are connected via a camera. Because we have established and pioneered a digital approach to learning in D&T from the beginning, we have found the transition to online learning quite comfortable. Where being on site has its advantages, such as using the machinery and tools, we have adapted project work to make use of rapid prototyping technologies which can be accessed remotely.
Q: What have the biggest changes been to teaching D&T for iGCSE and A Level during your 30 year career?
The subject is constantly changing and while this is a good thing, the recent changes to the curriculum and the examination syllabus is an increased amount of theoretical knowledge. In fact, 50% of IGCSE and A Level courses in D&T are now examination based and address theoretical knowledge of design, global factors, the environment, materials, manufacturing and much more.
Q: How have you adapted your teaching to accommodate this?
Teaching theory has always been a problem for D&T teachers. There is so much to cover and assess in a limited time. How do you cover it all? How do you make it engaging and accessible for students? How do you deliver it remotely? I decided to use the time we were in lockdown last year to finally do something about this so I broke all the content down into teachable sessions, each with questions to test the subject matter. I then made an assessment and tracking spreadsheet so that we could see how each student was progressing through the course and even predict their final grade.
Q: Why and how do you think this has been successful?
We now deliver two theory lessons a week for A Level with 60 weeks worth of content. IGCSE has one theory lesson a week for 50 lessons. We are now seeing the results of the first set of students to follow this process and the results are very impressive. Additionally, with students unable to sit examinations this summer, the tracking spreadsheet provides a large amount of continuous assessment data to support our centre assessed grades.
Q: Did you have a light bulb moment or gradually realise the need for this approach?
Like many of my colleagues, I have simply used reference materials such as text books and interactive media over the years to teach the theory but it was always difficult to keep track of what had been delivered and assess how well students were learning. After all, D&T is a creative subject and much of its appeal is in the design and make process. It is easy for theory to be pushed aside in favour or more ‘fun’ and productive activities. In all honesty, it was being at home during lockdown that I finally decided to do this and had the time to commit to it. I have now done this for A Level, GCSE and IGCSE courses with over 6000 slides of material with supporting charts and illustrations.
Q: What advice can you give to anyone who is finding the level of theory in DT challenging?
I would say that you need to manage the material by breaking it down into small and accessible sections and ensuring that you plan for total coverage of the material. This then needs to be reinforced by regular short tests and a mock paper at the end of each section or unit.
Q: Are these theory lessons available to any other schools?
In the spirit of supporting fellow teachers, these resources were made available online and reception and feedback has been very positive. They are now adopted by teachers of D&T around the world and caught the eye of Focus Educational Software in the UK who have now licensed the material for use in their website and future products.