Giving students the opportunity to experience real world design

At Hartland International School, students from Year 2 upwards are lucky enough to be taught Design and Technology by a specialist teacher in one of 3 state of the art rooms, where they experience a wide range of design disciplines in their lessons including product design, architecture, graphic design, 3D Design and electronics.

We try to always integrate a real world context into the curriculum; all projects are linked to how it either impacts our daily lives or have direct links to industry and careers which are made explicit to them during the learning. We value this so much that we even have a large signpost outside the Design and Technology department that directs students to over 40 career paths linked to the subject. So it is unsurprising that when an opportunity to work with the industry arises, we jump at the opportunity.

For the past 4 years, The Dubai Institute for Design and Innovation have run a programme for schools in the UAE called Project Design Space which gives young people the opportunity to work with real life clients on a range of design challenges. This year, 4500 students across all 7 Emirates took part in the programme so being amongst the top teams is a tough challenge.

Last year we entered into the challenge for the first time and two of our teams make it into the finals held at Dubai Design District however, despite our best efforts, the teams did not win and we were left thirsty to return the following year to take the win home this time round.

When DIDI launched Project Design Space this year, we jumped at the opportunity for our students to work with some amazing clients which included Lego, Nike, RAKBank, Dubai Festival City Mall and WWF Emirates Nature. We had over 60 pupils sign up to take part from across both our primary and secondary school.

Launched in January, students worked on the project as an after school enrichment for 6 weeks and were taken through a process of research, ideation, prototyping and storytelling. We held a special event during the half-term holiday for students to film their final videos and we even got a media and marketing professional to come in and help the students which they really enjoyed (mainly because they were fascinated by his gadgets). Once the videos were edited together, they were sent to the judges and then the waiting games began.

Obviously with everything that has happened this year, some doubt was thrown into whether the programme would continue and I applaud the organisers for adapting to the situation and moving to an online event instead. One day back in April, I received the email we had been hoping for: we had 2 teams make it into the finals!! The students were delighted by the news but then the realisation set in that they would now have 1 month to develop their idea and make a new video, all whilst working from our homes. Luckily our school had adopted distance learning early on and it was proving to be very successful by this point, our learning online had become the norm making preparing for the finals much less of a challenge.

The students gained feedback from the judges via a feedback video they had put together and our teams also had the chance to meet with a member of the DIDI faculty to gain extra guidance on how to move their proposals forward.

Our year 8 RAKBank team and mixed year 8 and 9 Dubai Festival City team got to work through Microsoft Teams with guidance from me (often chasing up things from missed deadlines far past normal school operating times). It all came together in the end, as these things do, and the new videos were sent to the judges.

The finals this year was not quite as grand as last year and took place through Zoom. Each team had 8 minutes to show their new video and take part in a live Q&A session with the judges. It is always fascinating after working in relative solitude to see how the approach of your students compare with other schools however, needless to say, I was a very happy teacher by the end of both events (each team had their final on different days so I had to go through the emotions twice!).

Our RAKBank team did an incredible job and although they did not win the event, the feedback was very positive. However, our Dubai Festival City Team won with their fantastic concept for the new imagine show at the mall.

For those that do not know, Dubai Festival City Mall has a nightly show of fountains, flames, lasers and projections onto both the fountains and intercontinental hotel. Traditionally the shows are aimed at children however the students were tasked with designing a new show aimed at adults. Our students came up with a brilliant concept early on based on pop music history. They undertook research to find out what adults found to be the most iconic song from each decade from the 1960’s and then developed a show based around this music.

An animation would be projected onto the Intercontinental hotel which would show the time travel adventure of their character through iconic periods of history, fashion and dance. A touch that the judges particularly liked was the team’s promotion of gender equality by making two versions of the show, one with a female protagonist, the other with a male protagonist.

The concept was spot on and clearly the judges agreed. Music is a truly universal language that can speak to many people which is an important consideration when designing a show for such a multicultural place like Dubai.

So much can be taken away from an experience like this that can’t always be replicated in the classroom environment. DIDI Project Design Space is as close to experiencing working in the creative industry as you can get and they were able to experience this in secondary school. They have learnt the true value of adapting to new ways of working, managing time and workloads, communication and that deadlines really are deadlines.

My belief is that framing what our young people learn in school into real world contexts and being able to directly link with career paths is a vital ingredient in them understanding that design reaches into all manner of our lives and can have huge impact on our lives. Design reaches into every corner of our modern day world including our hobbies and interests and there is an area of design and engineering that is able to spark interest in everyone. This can only help to motivate them and inspire the next generation of designers and engineers.

Ms James Peacock
Head of Design and TechnologyJames is Head of Design and Technology at Hartland International School. Prior to teaching, James worked in the design industry working in both a freelance capacity and for design agencies specialising in graphic design. He has 15 years experience working in education and has a wealth of experience in leading departments in the international and UK setting. He prides himself in taking a multidisciplinary approach to design by framing the curriculum in real world contexts and giving pupils as much opportunity as possible to help them reach their potential.