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Why Encourage CAD in Schools?

Wednesday March 9, 2016 at 1:57pm

A recent Ofsted report on the teaching of design and technology has claimed that too many subject teachers are failing to keep pace with global technological advances and making too little use of modern technology. It stated that ‘Where the subject was being taught particularly well was in those schools where teachers challenged their students, assigning interesting and relevant tasks, and capitalising on the use of up-to-date ICT and other technologies.’ However, the report also found that in ‘just over a quarter of the primary schools and about half of the secondary schools visited, there were not enough opportunities for pupils to develop knowledge of electronics, systems and control, and computer-aided design and manufacture.’

Computer-aided design is clearly identified in the Key Stage 2 curriculum yet it would appear from these findings that it is not being widely and effectively used as a teaching tool. Primary school teachers are expected to teach the full range of subjects in the curriculum which includes everything from Music to Maths. It is therefore hardly surprising that very few of them have any specific training in computer-aided design.

However, the importance of good Design Technology teaching, with up to date technology has been clearly cited by the Schools Minister Nick Gibb who said: "We need to keep pace with employers' demands for high quality, up-to-date technical education - so businesses can thrive at home and we can compete abroad. The Design and Technology Association agreed with the report's findings that ongoing high-quality training was essential for the effective teaching of design and technology.

The UK has a wealth of engineering, manufacturing and creativity in businesses small and large, all of which need young, enthusiastic and skilled employees. Computer-aided design is vital part of the design process that these companies use. Using SOLIDWORKS will provide younger children with a very valuable experience in working in the 3D environment and designing in an iterative and creative way that is currently used in industry. In addition to this they will be using and applying a wealth of Numeracy skills to use the software. Even the most basic session using SOLIDWORKS requires the application of Geometry, measures and mental strategies. Teaching design, engineering, and Numeracy through CAD can give a 3D, physical ‘realness’ to concepts such as geometry that often are hard to grasp without that visualisation.

As part of getting SOLIDWORKS into schools it is also my aim that the children should be able to print some of their designs immediately using a 3D printer, thereby giving them tangible results from their design process. In October 2013 the Government printed its findings on a study it funded into the use of 3D printers in schools. Twenty-one schools were provided with funding to purchase a 3D printer, consumables and support. The aim was to investigate the potential of 3D printing to support innovative and stimulating ways of teaching STEM and design subjects. The feedback supports my opinion that SOLIDWORKS can be used as a cross curricular tool.

The project also highlighted the need for good quality upfront training of teachers when introducing new technologies including teaching approaches, and sufficient non-contact time to plan the most effective use of the printers.

My aim to get SOLIDWORKS into Primary Schools has been met with a variety of responses ranging from ‘that’s great, I hope my children get the opportunity to have a go in their school’ to ‘that will never work, the software is far too complex for children to work with.’ Having taught a lesson using the software I could now happily argue that the simplified user interface and a clear set of objectives and instructions will enable all children to use the software to design and create working in both 2D and 3D. I hope that by creating lessons that are correctly pitched at the children’s level they will get a taste for using the software and a true experience of designing in 3D.

Kate Sibly


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