Laser cutting has revolutionised the way we can teach and learn design based subjects.
In the past Design Technology in schools has been synonymous with woodwork metal work and textiles. In the late 1990s National Curriulum began to focus on Design - the skill of creating solutions for a multitude of making processes. However, schools, staffed by craft based teachers and resources like workbenches and saws were reluctant to change. In woodwork you could occupy children for hours as they chopped bits of wood up but the curriculum required children to generate a multitude of design and also develop a multitude of iterations/versions of a design. The more cynical establishments tended to get kids to make their first idea and then produce retrospective folders of design ideas . Some less scrupulous even got technicians to make the students work. This was always going to happen in an environment where schools were under pressure to get grades and children were keen to take the path of least resistance.
Schools purchased industrial CNC machines at huge cost to demonstrate the principles of computer manufacture but few of these ever got used by many children. Machines tended to be used to make part of a single project but few could be used for creativity by all students. Exams were based on making craft based products and the marks were weighted to craft skills. CAD CAM would be allowed for a portion of the project. In my time in Ipswich we had B grade GCSE students winning prestigious design competitions with their products. Evidence that GCSE was outdated on an industrial scale.
School D&T is based on the assumption that 'a good designer is someone who is also good at making'. This is absolutely not true. How can it be that an architect must be a good bricklayer? It's more true that Crafts people -skilled makers tend to be focused on a limited range of materials and processes and that designers' role is to employ crafts people to make innovative stuff. Commerce MEANS the collaboration of experts who specialize. And yet schools are trying to create all rounders. Jacks of all trades and masters of none.
Today, machines make more and more things. Education has failed to keep up with the technology or the means to control it - that is until the dawn of the Laser cutter! But it has also failed a generation of youngsters with divergent earning styles, creative minds and who learn by trial and error. Many of these, who at their age and command of manual skills can happily conceive of complex products and systems -much more complex than wooden boxes and can openers; who can hack government websites in their spare time but in school have to take three weeks to make a desk tidy.
Laser cutting not only demonstrates rapid and accurate making but also high volume making. This is unlike any previous school technology and even later ones such as 3D printing. Why do the government push 3D printing?? I know of a collage that sold two of these almost brand new when they discovered how slow and expensive they are and how hard they are to maintain!
In the pandemic we were able to laser cut 50 face masks for hospitals in the time a single 3D printed frame could be made.
Our laser cutter is 11 years old and still going strong. We can now bring laser cutting to your door on our STEM bus -so if you are a democratic education centre we can help raise your STEM experience to the level of schools . . . and beyond.
Laser Cutting accurately makes exactly what you draw. Errors in the design can be seen and corrected in the drawing. You can then quickly remake a better product. Often you don't need to remake the whole thing - just the part that is not right. You can make many duplicates of your design and many versions of it too.
Manual craft skills are not neglected by using CAD CAM - its just another tool for the job. The key is 'appropriating' the right tool. We train our students to use the laser cutter safely and effectively just like any workshop tool. The painting of this model Range Rover required considerable dexterity and patience.
Right Tool for the Job
Visualising things in our mind
Aircraft require both accuracy and repeatability. Multiples of a component are required as well as complex shapes. The aircraft below is designed in 2D as well as 3D. Even in 3D the parts have to be cut in 2D. Think about it - most products we use are made of flat things fixed together. Very few things are made of a single moulded lump of material. The ability to visualise a 3D thing from 2D sketches is a skill we need. And so we train our learners to do this - to see a 2 dimensional drawing of parts and work out what it looks like when put together.
Special Needs or Spacial Abilities?
Spatial awareness is just one characteristic that many dyslexic learners find easier than those without the 'condition'. At T&S we try to celebrate the innate abilities rather than focus just on the challenges. As the learner grows in confidence making complex 3D products they soon develop the courage and tenacity to tackle their challenges in other areas. - we now have a decade of evidence to this effect.