It’s great to be able to report that my chapter – Planning Lessons in Design and Technology in the 4th edition of Learning to teach design and technology in the secondary school edited by Alison Hardy, has just arrived in bookshops. ​

The book also includes chapters by fellow tutors at Nottingham Trent University – Jamie Tinney and Alison Hardy.

There are also contributions from the following Nottingham Trent University alumni:

  • Rebecca Topps (MA Education)
  • Suzanne Norris (PG D&T, mentor at Arnold Hill)
  • Mike Mellors (PG D&T, mentor at Fernwood)
  • Liam Anderson (UG D&T, now HoD in Newbury) 

Resources to support the chapter

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Letting pupils ‘tinker’ is the way to teach electronics

A version of this blog post was published on the Times Education Supplement. ISSN 0040-7887 – 10th February 2017 at 14:03

Changes to the curriculum for design and technology place a greater emphasis on pupils’ learning about electronics and computer programming. They also highlight the need to learn within fashion contexts.

But teachers can find this move to non-traditional integrated materials and technologies daunting. As a design and technology teacher educator, who was originally trained in textiles, I appreciate those challenges but I also find the move exciting.

Part of my challenge is how to make teaching electronics concepts like current flow; component functionality and positive/negative energy, concrete for my learners.

When I first started teaching trainee teachers about electronic systems, I got them to follow ‘step-by-step’ instruction sheets, which protected me, the teacher, against questions like “what do I do next?”, but ‘step-by-step’ instructions don’t help trainee teachers to answer questions about why the components function in different ways, depending on where they are placed in the circuit and what to do if things go wrong.  

At times, this led to frustration and fear from both myself and my student teachers.

Resnick and Rosenbaum (2013) write about e-textile teaching in the States. They urge teachers to consider problem-solving activities that rely on tangible objects, which allow learners to ‘tinker’ with electronic components and construct their own understanding of the concepts that govern how various components function, within a soft (textile) or traditional (resistant materials) circuit.

Teachers, however, must be given the confidence to let pupils ‘loose’ with tinkering. That is why myself and my colleague, Alison Hardy collaborated with a local small manufacturing enterprise (SME) – Kitronic – to create smart fashion resources that would support teachers in school.

Using the ideas from Resnick and Rosenbaum, we developed a short scheme of work that exploited the use of teacher prepared ‘tinkering kits’, to introduce Year 7 learners to the concept of smart fashion and electronic circuits.

The project, supported by European Regional Development funding, allowed us to create and test a Year 7 unit of learning that detailed, resources; learning objectives; teaching activities; and teacher notes, to support key stage three learners with electronic textile concepts. 

The first lesson encourages learners to play with a ‘tinkering kit’ that is comprised of a 3V battery (coin cell), an LED (regular or e-textile compatible), a piece of conductive fabric (300mm x 3000mm) and two crocodile clips.

In groups of three, pupils are challenged, to light up the LED, using the items in the ‘tinkering kit’. The activity allows learners to handle electronic components and crocodile clips whilst solving the answer to the challenge. The tricky abstract concepts, like polarity and current flow, become real as learners explore the function of the components, through trial and error.

Other lessons in the scheme, develop knowledge of the components within a system that control the function and behaviour of various inputs and outputs, e.g. battery holders, lights and sensors. Pupils create individual soft (textile) versions of electronic components, like battery holders and switches.

The lesson supports pupils in developing their textile construction skills using pre-cut fabric with etched guidelines (to guide the stitching line).

Teachers who have trialled these kits said “these would be very helpful for developing the construction skills required to make smart fashion objects, back in the classroom”, they also found that the group challenge, supported them in “sharing ideas and working together as a team” whilst building “confidence up straight away”.

The tangible nature of the activity came through when a teacher noted that “it is easy to see if you are doing it right or wrong because the end objective, the goal, to get the LED to light up [is or] isn’t working”.

Teaching electronic circuits through textiles makes learning about electronics joyful and transparent. By this, I mean fun for the learner as they get to explore the materials and technologies themselves and transparent because the inner workings of the circuit components are exposed.

This type of activity can provide a way to get all pupils learning the principles of electronic systems in a non-traditional way. Non-traditional teaching within design and technology can help to bring the different material areas closer together.

Electronic circuits and computation are important areas of design and technological knowledge that can often be assigned to masculine areas of the curriculum, like robotics and computer gaming.

I believe that one of the most exciting things about the new specifications for the GCSE is the non-traditional stance on single material areas of study. The opportunity for young people to experience a gender-neutral version of D&T is a brave and important step for future design curriculum.

It is therefore important that teachers are given the tools they require to teach this new area with confidence.

You can access some of the resources discussed hereand read a copy of Sarah’s research paper: How to teach ‘Smart Fashion’ within the D&T curriculum: have we got it right? here.

Sarah Davies is a senior lecturer in secondary design and technology education within the Nottingham Institute of Education at Nottingham Trent University

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Getting my EdD writing ‘out the door’

Last October (2015) I started my EdD at University of Nottingham. The Programme Leader, Professor Jeremy Hodgen suggested that we practices writing 500 words a day (three days a week, due to part time status). He promoted this, as a way to support our writing and develop academic voice.

Initially I started to write 500 words a day. But my outputs tended to consist of free writing texts that dumped my ideas out and didn’t finesse my opinions or position in the argument. Because my writing didn’t move beyond the ‘free writing’ stage, I then rushed to meet the first assignment deadline.

Dr Inger Mewburn discusses the difficulty with moving on to the final edit in The ‘Out The Door’ rant. She uses this post to talk about the need for academics to share their writing or else it has no purpose – I am simplifying an enjoyable and informative blog post (recommended reading).

Anyway, the haste to complete and hand in my assignment before the deadline has taught me that I need to practice an ‘out the door’ policy with my ideas. Using this blog is the starting point.



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How has the SCALE-UP teaching environment been used to explore ‘new ways of learning’ within Initial Teacher Education (ITE) modules?

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Some ‘Flipped’ Reading

Beichner, R.J., Saul, J.M., Abbott, D.S., Morse, J., Deardorff, D., Allain, R.J., Bonham, S.W., Dancy, M. and Risley, J., 2007. The student-centered activities for large enrollment undergraduate programs (SCALE-UP) project. Research-Based Reform of University Physics, 1 (1), 2-39.

Bennett, S., and Maton, K., 2010. Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 26 (5), 321-331.

Crook, C., 2012. The ‘digital native’ in context: tensions associated with importing Web 2.0 practices into the school setting. Oxford Review of Education, 38 (1), 63-80.

Enfield, J., 2013. Looking at the impact of the flipped classroom model of instruction on undergraduate multimedia students at CSUN. Techtrends, 57 (6), 14-27.

Lancaster, S.J., 2013. The flipped lecture. New Directions, 9 (1), 28-32.

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Reflection on first D&M1 (mini-SCALEUP) session

session 1 pic PBLI am writing this post to model the reflective journal technique that I discussed with my BSc Year 1 Secondary Design and Technology Education (SDTE) students on Tuesday.

What? In the session we our first go at PBL. The students worked in groups of 3 to answer an open question (problem) on knitted fabric construction.

Why? I am trialling PBL as a technique to make the sessions more student centered.The theory implies that student centered techniques lead to deeper forms of learning and I want to raise the quantity and quality of my students work. Students didn’t really engage with SDS activities in the MM1 module and so I want to see if I can improve this by adapting the pedagogies that I use.

Reaction. The students knew less than I had assumed, on fabric construction methods and so the open question appeared to be pitched quite high. The students all get on with each other – however on observation I could see that certain members of the group dominated and sometimes the quiet students had the most to contribute.

Learned? I asked the students to write a reflection on the session and found that they reacted positively to the presentation of learning to their peers. They commented in their learning journal that they “particularly enjoyed presenting the information to the  rest of the group” because it was “more engaging to listen to a range of voices” and that the activity was “good for learning to improve personal clarity”.  They found the time scale a challenge, as most students commented in some form on this. However, it was good to see that some students had started to consider how they might make time management a future goal by furthering their understanding of “what problem solving is” and “how to use their time more effectively”

Goal. I need to spend a bit more time talking to the students about the philosophy behind PBL/SCALE-UP and ensure that SDS carried out beforehand is relevant and embedded within the taught session.

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Why am I getting involved in SCALE-UP?

This might be the first of several post’s written to analyse my involvement in this project.  In my post ‘What is SCALE-UP?’ I discussed the concept behind the idea of replacing large lecture/lab teaching with studio style/PBL type teaching. This is because evidence of large scale teaching’s impact on student understanding is limited to only a few students in our classes (Biggs and Tang 2011). Beicher (2007, p3) identifies that high success rates, increased concept understanding, improved attitudes and successful problem  solving is associated with studio style learning. This all sounds good, and suits my philosophy of education which includes: inclusive teaching methods; collaborative learning; hands-on; and interactive pedagogies. 
However I don’t teach big classes!


BEICHNER, R.J., et al., 2007. The student-centered activities for large enrollment undergraduate programs (SCALE-UP) project. Research-Based Reform of University Physics, 1 (1), 2-39.
BIGGS, J. and TANG, C., 2011. Teaching for quality learning at university. Open university press. 
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What is SCALE-UP?

Student-Centred Activities for Large Enrolment Undergraduate Programmes (SCALE-UP) is a new pedagogy developed by Robert Beichner at North Carolina State University. The philosophy behind SCALE-UP is based on pedagogies which are designed to support students with the active engagement of their own learning.
Beichner (2008, p.61) identifies how studio/workshop classes (often small scale) allow for research-based curricula. Research based curricula has the potential to improve students’ conceptual understanding and Beichner talks of a third way which has the potential to be more effective than lecture/laboratory formats.
This echoes the ideas explored by the students in the Mike Wesch Video – A Vision of Students Today.
BEICHNER, R., 2008. The SCALE-UP Project: a student-centered active learning environment for undergraduate programs. An Invited White Paper for the National Academy of Sciences
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I am going to be using this blog to discuss the SCALE-UP project that I am involved with at NTU.

The SCALE-UP project has come from R Beichner and is based on work from MIT.

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google map for school visits

Alison has set up a google map page to view D&T schools.

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