Creating a common language in technology learning K–12
Continuity in technology teaching is required if students are to experience a rich progression of technology learning. This continuity is evident in the curriculum, as described by syllabuses.
Continuity of teaching and learning is promoted by the use of a common language. There are many models and diagrams for describing the processes of design and technology. The Technology Unit, in collaboration with practising teachers, has identified some common terms to describe the technology process of designing and producing.
The terms Exploring and defining the task, Generating and developing ideas, Producing solutions, Planning, managing and evaluating have been incorporated into a diagram that can be used from Kindergarten to Year 12 to model the technology process students work through in designing and producing a solution.
This diagram is provided as a model for beginning professional dialogue amongst teachers of technology in NSW primary and secondary public schools.
Exploring and defining the task involves the activities students undertake to identify and explore a need or opportunity, taking into consideration the user, the client, the available resources and social, ethical and environmental issues. Students establish the criteria for a successful design solution, set milestones and define the constraints for the project in a statement or brief.
Generating and developing ideas involves students exploring options, considering existing solutions, generating alternatives, representing and refining those ideas and deciding upon options. Students identify, explore and select resources such as techniques, materials and equipment that will best achieve the solution, taking into account short-term and long-term impacts of their decisions and actions.
Producing solutions involves students finalising design decisions; completing final design representations such as production drawings or storyboards; sequencing the step-by-step actions for production; managing safety risks; practicing and refining techniques; and completing the production of the solution. Students reflect on the success of the solution, the process and the learning.
Planning, managing and evaluating is an essential component of each of the above phases. Management decisions made by students involve planning and reviewing milestones and implementing and monitoring time, actions and financial plans. Ongoing evaluation, related to the criteria of success, informs the students’ decision making at each phase and the evaluation at the conclusion of the project involves reflection and learning about the process used and the success of the solution.
Quality design tasks
The most significant decision a technology teacher makes in a design project is what design task and why. If the answer is “because it is in the program” or that “it’s the task we always do” then an important opportunity may have been lost.
Technology syllabuses provide teachers with a lot of flexibility in their choice of design tasks. Building on the findings of middle years research we should use this flexibility to select tasks which will most engage our students and recognise student interests and backgrounds.
The following points outlined below are considerations for the teacher in choosing a quality design task.
For teachers a quality design task will:
- allow the teaching of programmed syllabus outcomes and content
- provide a vehicle for engaging students and demonstrating quality teaching practices
- be sufficiently open-ended to allow curriculum differentiation to meet the needs of different learners in the class
- provide an opportunity to collect evidence of significant student learning, for assessment and reporting purposes
- be manageable and sufficiently focused to allow student depth of understanding and success.
For students a quality design task will be a rich context for technology learning that:
- is ‘real’ or authentic, providing clear benefits to someone in their community
- is engaging because it builds on areas of interest or relevance in students’ lives
- enables deep understandings and skill development because it builds on existing student knowledge or allows substantial time to develop background knowledge
- allows the student to gain feedback from the user that informs the development of the student’s design ideas
- requires students to use an authentic process of design and production that is relevant and is used beyond the classroom.
Developing a quality design task
The following steps can assist in choosing a quality design task that meets the teacher’s and students’ needs.
Step 1: Know what you are required to teach
- Know what you are required to address from the syllabus at this point in the course. What specific content and outcomes do students need to learn?
- Identify what you will need students to show you as evidence of significant learning.
Step 2: Know the limitations for the design project
- Identify the design project limitations.
- What is the total time you have available?
- Do you have a budget?
- Are materials and other resources available?
- What equipment and facilities do you have available?
Step 3: Look for an authentic need
- An authentic need/opportunity is meaningful to the student and has:
- a real benefit, purpose and use
- a real user who can provide feedback on design ideas and developments
- real limitations such as time, money, materials, equipment
- a real context influenced by specific social, ethical and environmental issues.
- Is there someone in the community who may have a product need? (e.g. local pre-school).
- Is there an opportunity arising in the community to develop a product? (e.g. a local community event).
- Are there an abundance of resources available to be used? (e.g. seasonal food, leftover materials)
- Is there expertise keen to help? (e.g. a parent or a community member who is willing to share their expertise with students such as architect, textile artist, craftsperson)
Step 4: Negotiate with your students
- Introduce the project to your students. Make clear to your students the non-negotiable aspects of the design project and the negotiable aspects. You will need to make explicit the learning and assessment expectations and may specify aspects such as:
- time, money, materials, facilities available
- expertise and community support available
- need or opportunity
- the user.
- Negotiate with students those areas with which there is flexibility.
- Have an explicit and agreed decision making process for determining the task/s with the students.
At this point you are ready for your students to get going with the design project; Exploring and defining the task, Generating and developing ideas, Producing solutions, Planning, managing and evaluating.