Mrs Vardy, head of Design Technology at King Ecgbert School reflects on her experiences of running the department in the world of remote education and lockdowns.

New Beginnings

The last year has presented us with numerous challenges and opportunities and as a result teaching and learning in DT at King Ecgbert School in Sheffield has evolved this year.  One of the greatest opportunities has been having time to explore and experiment with the resources shared by the DT community and adapt them to suit our learners and our programmes of study.

Teaching Remotely

The greatest challenges we faced was the suddenness of lockdown and the realisation that students didn’t have the resources they needed to continue their current schemes of learning.  IT access varied between different households and it quickly dawned on us that we were going to have to work in a very different way.  Teachers across the department quickly adapted to making videos to model learning in the different specialisms and we created an Instagram page to celebrate the work that was being done by students.  For the first few weeks we shared STEM, cooking and drawing activities many of them using materials found around the home.  The Instagram isolation chair was a big hit with students making chairs from found objects using the online chair collection at the design museum for inspiration.

Setting so many stand-alone tasks proved exhausting and as the weeks rolled on we realised that the situation wasn’t going to change any time soon and we began to adapt our SOL to the current situation.  As a team we focused solely on what we could do to develop the knowledge and skills essential to SOL and mix them with practical activities that could be achieved at home with basic equipment.  We explored browser-based software and discovered the fantastic 2D designer within the Focus software and Autodesk’s Tinkercad.  This resulted in some remote manufacture with our y9s where they shared files and they were 3D printed or laser cut and posted home.  As our IT skills developed, thanks to whole school CPD around Teams and MS Forms videos became more sophisticated with embedded quizzes to check understanding.  By the summer we had all had some very positive experiences that we wanted to include in our curriculum.  We used MS Teams to share resources that we had found from the wealth of materials shared by the DT community and also to host weekly department meetings to share our experiences.

A New Term

The start of term was certainly different. Thankfully we are able to teach in our specialist rooms with KS4 students and although the teaching of practical work requires careful planning we can follow our existing curriculum and provide the experiences and learning to meet the different KS4 and 5 exam specifications.  

Our KS3 classes are being taught in bubbles with class sizes of 30 rather than our usual 24 and in classrooms with no access to equipment or IT.  We began the term with a review of the prior year’s learning and a low stakes test to find out any significant gaps in knowledge.  The students were able to celebrate the work that they had done the previous year and were surprised at how much that they had remembered.  It also gave us a week to prepare resources for the term ahead. The team once again has risen to the challenge and by creating resource packs and adapting SOL to meet the current situation we are able to deliver our core content in a meaningful and exciting way.  We decided to abandon our rotation system, and all teach in a linear way with the same group.  The need for good relationships with classes became evident during lockdown with the students and was something we were all keen to put in place.  We are more focused on knowledge, skills and creativity than ‘projects’ but still providing opportunities for making activities even if they are more limited than normal.

Nature and Design

Our Y7 Schemes of learning were not suitable to be classroom based and rather outdated, so we decided to try something new and create a series of lessons that included all specialisms; DT, Food and Textiles. We wanted to open student’s eyes to DT and see it as an exciting and progressive subject that addresses real issues and solves problems rather than just making things.  We are also including more Literacy, Maths and Science into our curriculum and this opportunity has provided us with a platform to experiment with new ideas.  

Nature is the underpinning theme of series of lessons and how it has had an impact on all forms of design. We are beginning with a reading activity where students learn about Biomimicry and explore real solutions to the global sustainable goals.  The next step is the Maths and using Fibonacci to explore geometry with home-based activities using Focus 2D designer and Tinkercad code blocks to create 2D and 3D CAD outcomes.  The Science element is exploring properties of materials and then writing comparative sentences.  We are using recyclable materials: aluminium cans, HDPE, denim, paper and salt dough.   They will also learn about material life cycles, circular economies, and sustainability. This will then be followed with a series of making activities where students create flowers from the different materials and can learn how to cut, shape, join and finish them.  The focus of the making will be on marking out, accuracy and economical layouts.  There is a designing problem running parallel to the classroom-based learning where students will propose a solution to one of global sustainable goals and communicate their solution using drawings, models and explanations.  They will be following an iterative process and encouraged to explore ideas independently and model their solutions using the skills they have learnt throughout the term.

We were lucky enough to have a training day in October and all have a chance to make resources and have a go at the different activities.  This is the first time that we have collaborated fully as a team with each specialism providing extension and enrichment activities for homework. 

We have designed this SOL with the awareness that things could change at any moment, students could be learning at home for 2 weeks or we could close, but the activities can all be attempted whatever the situation.  Our school is part of the EDTech project and our Headteacher is keen for us all to develop blended learning materials.  I feel as a team we have achieved this and there is still the opportunity to develop the IT resources and include many of the new skills we have learnt.  Different members of the team will be able to provide videos and on-line assessment on a platform that we have all become familiar with.  The sharing of workload has been an important element in the planning of this project to ensure that everyone in the team can maintain a work life balance.

We will continue with this model in the future and try to find ways to integrate specialisms in a meaningful way in Y7 and Y8 upskilling the whole team before introducing the specialisms in Y9 ready for GCSE choices.