With a focus on sustainability and creating preferred futures, Design & Technology is opening student minds to endless creative possibilities.
PETER Murphy, Design and Technology Teachers Association (DATTA) president and Head of Design at Northcote High School, believes it is crucial to raise the profile of Design & Technology beyond its trade skill roots.
“We find that people perceive it through their own experiences, which [may have been] 20 years ago. We’re trying to highlight the dynamic growth that the learning area has had,” Mr Murphy said.
“DATTA have lots of resources for design and technology to be taught in other learning areas – English, Maths, Science and Humanities – as well as lunch time activities, makerspaces, and afterschool activities like movies, games, and quizzes that schools can do,” he said.
Mr Murphy said that design and technology has always been integrating STEM into the subject – teachers just haven’t been explicit about it.
“When STEM came along, the view was that science and maths were coming to take over – but it’s actually what we’ve been doing all along,” he said.
“When you’ve got curriculum areas like science and maths, which are often described as crowded curriculums, there isn’t actually a lot of space for innovation.
“With Design and Technology there’s lots of room for innovation and for doing those deeper learning project-based and student-directed activities.”
The national design and technology curriculum is based around design thinking. This process sees students designing briefs, conducting research, generating concepts, trialing, evaluating, and coming up with creative solutions to problems – which Mr Murphy said relevant for all future workplaces.
“It’s quite a powerful transferrable skill and
it’s at the core at what we do,” he said. 2017 DATTA Teacher of the Year, winner of the 2017 Foster Adem Leadership
in Technologies Education Award and Emmanuel College (Warrnambool) Design Technology coordinator Ben Mckenzie agreed that product design and technology has changed over the last 15 years to become more design-focused.
“In the past, the curriculum of technical schools and trade departments was based around production,” he said.
“You would get taught how to join pieces of timber together or bend plastic; now, the curriculum is calling for a production-based element but also for students to research and design solutions to problems.”
Emmanuel College’s Thomas O’toole Foundation Industrial Skills Centre replicates a real-life industry environment, containing state-of-the-art facilities for all technology and design study for students working with wood, metal, plastics.
“We want families in the area to realise that we are offering the product design curriculum but that we also have the capability to offer skills required for apprenticeships and job readiness,” Mr Mckenzie said.
“We’ve linked up with the local TAFE and we’re doing Cert II engineering from our new facility, and we might expand that to certificates in building in the future.”
The emphasis on project design and development has been a key drawcard for students.
Mr Mckenzie has also seen improved behaviour, more girls getting involved, and increased engagement with students who don’t have traditional hand skills.
“Those kids are still joining in the subjects because they can use computer aided drafting and manufacturing, CNC, laser cutters, and other tools to realise their designs and their ideas,” Mr Mckenzie said.
“It’s a good dynamic in the class. You’ll have kids that have good skills at hand forming and putting things together, and they will work with the kids who are better at programming or the computer manufacturing side.”
This means the role of teacher has changed to more of a facilitator, or director of learning, with the focus on giving students room to move and the freedom to be creative.
“I’ll often say to parents ‘I really enjoy working alongside your kids.’ I’m more of a facilitator than anything,” Mr Mckenzie said.
“My job and the job of the teachers in our department is to find things that will inspire the kids and create that enquiry learning.”
Unfortunately, D&T funding remains in STEM’S shadow, which Mr Murphy said results from of a lack of support and an understanding that the subject area has grown.
“Design and Technology is well positioned to be a leading learning area for the future,” he said.
“With a focus on sustainability and creating preferred futures, schools and teachers could really affect large societal and environmental change if they embrace the learning area and open their minds to the possibilities offered by this innovative and dynamic space in schools.”
There is plenty of room for funding sharing and cross curriculum cooperation between STEM and D&T, with students set to benefit from a range of teacher experiences in different areas.
In fact, Mr. Mckenzie’s background is actually in prosthetics and orthotics and human centered design using composites, which means his own teaching learning curve has been around welding, AUTOCAD, 3D printing and laser cutting.
“It means that our curriculum can be interpreted in lots of different ways and made really exciting and fun, but it can be a bit daunting for staff,” he said.
A lack of staff is another challenge, with D&T teachers often requiring time to train or upskill as Mr Mckenzie did.
“Design and Technology is well positioned to be a leading learning area for the future.”
“Most schools might have a dozen teachers in each science or math department whereas the technology departments are generally small in every school,” he said.
Organisations like DATTA can help teachers deal with the job and provide places to collaborate with other teachers in the field.
“Before I was at this school I was the only one in my department, so you couldn’t bounce ideas off anyone easily,” Mr Mckenzie said.
“Now, I know there’s 30 people I could email about a specialist question and there’ll be 15 responses later today.”
DATTA is also an invaluable resource for staff creating Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) handbooks for their facilities.
“There’s not a handbook for each school for OHS for the woodwork room, a lot of teachers have to create that themselves,” Mr Mckenzie said.
Mr Murphy said DATTA aims to provide resources for teachers around occupational health and safety in the subject area because there is a lack of consistency in safety requirements from State to State.
“One of the things that teacher’s struggle with is that education departments have largely stepped away from responsibility of these areas and we find that teachers associations are the only place that teachers can get good advice,” he said.
“We run conferences and workshops that focus on this a lot, so it’s always a main activity of ours – keeping members up to date with best practice.”
Design & Technology learning areas have evolved from a production focus towards innovation and project design – powerfully transferrable skills for any student.
Students design solutions at Emmanuel College’s Industrial Skills Centre.
Emmanuel College (Warrnambool) Design Technology coordinator Ben Mckenzie.