Participatory Learning through Objects

Product Analyst Resource Pack Essay


Within this essay I am going to explore why having tangible objects, and allowing pupils to explore them independently, was a more successful method than having images or descriptions of the objects alone. I will also explore the reasons as to why tactile learning is a method which engages pupils by incorporating a sense of fun into the learning process. In recent years methods of teaching, in which games are incorporated into the learning processes, have been seen to improve, not only pupils learning, but also often provide them with a greater understanding due to the enjoyable and memorable association with learning. In addition to this I feel it is also important to incorporate within this essay some points about the usefulness of creativity and independent learning. Also how important it is to harness the natural creativity that the majority of pupils possess. This is rarely harnessed in such a way that allows pupils to think ‘outside the box’ and take risks. Though this handling collection has a very creative and free aspect to it, it also has a basis of relevant facts and a requirement to think in both a contextual and analytical way throughout the duration of the activities.

The Product Analysis Resources Pack, or PARPA for short, is a tangible collection of items which are combined to aid learning by providing an alternative context to assist pupils in achieving the learning objectives of the lesson. My PARPA collection, which has the overall theme of sustainability, was aimed at removing the disassociation that pupils can have with everyday objects, especially clothing, in association with the environment. This involved getting pupils to think about the ‘6 Rs’; recycle, rethink, reuse, reduce, refuse and repair, and the effect on the environment of, not only the making processes and the traveling methods, but also how it is disposed of and other related aspects.

Critical Enquiry

The concept of incorporating an activity within a lesson, or a series of lessons, is to help display learning in a an enjoyable format, that is aimed to be, by bringing in entertaining qualities combined with relevance to task and subject, a more memorable lesson experience than by simply providing excesses of information. The latter alone does not so easily provide opportunities for the pupils to analyse, draw on or share their own individual experiences as they develop their conclusions [1.2]. These points relate to concepts explored within the ‘Cone Of Learning’, which is depicted below. It is based on Edgar Dale’s theoretical ‘Cone Of Experience’.

[Cone Of Learning Adapted From Dale, (1969): Unknown (2012)]

I feel that different methods of teaching assist pupils in retaining information in varied ways. However I am unsure if I agree with the percentages that have been attributed to the ‘Cone Of Leaning’. Evidence which validates the numerical values is limited, in addition it depicts a very ubiquitous view of methods of learning across the curriculum. Each method has its own attributes and should be applied in a manner relevant to the subject and requirements of the class.

I read an interesting article promoting the idea that though many new concepts and methods, that at first appear to be wonderfully innovative, still require, first, application and then evaluation and may not always work to the standard you expect, especially within different schools or even within different classes. They may even sometimes confuse pupils and actually aid in inhibiting learning. In light of this I feel that handling collections have been, in various forms, tried and tested, and, depending on their application, can be very successful. If used correctly they can produce good results and can be applied in a way that allows the collections to be very interchangeable between, not only the different aspects of design and technology, but also the ways in which it can be applied to adhere to differentiation, and also to tailor it to your particular classes or pupils needs [5.1].

Though simply telling pupils about the subject is often thought by many to be an archaic method of teaching, I personally feel there is still a place for it within the classroom as an additional method to either back up a previous statement or to set the scene for the next activity. It is imperative, when teaching, to think about, not only the objectives and concepts that you want the pupils to learn, but also, your decisions about how to share information or approach particular subjects. It is important that a teacher takes into account the age group, the various learning styles, the general attitude and personalities of the pupils and also the needs of the SEN pupils within the class. The quote below summarises this.

[Quote] “I think that one of the things that great teachers have is that they’re constantly thinking about the experience of the classroom through their pupils’ eyes,” [Lemov, D. (2014)]

It is quite easy to become disassociated with the way in which your lessons are perceived by pupils and though I often think back to my own experiences when I was in secondary school I also draw on my observations of classes as this gives a wider perception into different pupils i.e. different ages, different interests, varying social and economic background, special educational needs, attitudes to learning and other interesting factors which impact on, not only their learning as an individual pupil, but can also affect the learning of the class [5.2]. I have seen evidence that the attention span of pupils can be lost rather quickly using methods which rely solely on memorising; if these methods are used it is imperative that they are used in condensed forms which display information but do not extend beyond the time when pupils are either no longer able to pay attention or where they will have already forgotten the beginning statements. This can vary from one age group to another and can also be affected by ability and understanding. I also feel that when using this method it is imperative to get pupils to discuss their thoughts and feelings as, due to each pupils’ individual experiences they will have remembered different points and therefore each will be able to bring something unique and personal to the discussion. This also draws on the fact that it is important to create an environment where pupils feel that their individual opinions are of value.

The handling collection is specifically focused towards educating pupils about the issue of sustainability and how they, as both pupils and designers, can influence this [C1, C2]. Though my PARPA was used only in textile lessons, it is designed in a way that incorporates materials that, though in general everyday life would not commonly be associated with textiles, are still highly relevant. By doing this it also means I have created a pack that could be used within other areas of design and technology such as resistant materials or product design. In this way I have attributed this aspect of versatility to the collection and the activities surrounding it in the hope that it will encourage pupils to think ‘outside the box’ and thus to connect areas of their own knowledge that they may have previously not related to the subject. I feel that the whole issue of textiles’ impact upon the environment is already so separate from the way that we live within western cultures and that a tactile aspect to this subject is necessary so they can have, not only a visual and auditory account of the topic, but also a tangible connection. This will hopefully get them thinking critically about the ‘6 Rs’ and how exactly they could personally apply them in a way which could assist, not only the environment they live in, but also to get them to begin to think selflessly about helping the environment for other people in other places [B1]. This is important because we all contribute to one another’s environments, due to the delicate balance of the eco-system [2.5].


The concept of my PARPA was aimed at educating pupils about sustainability and removing the possible disassociation between consumers and the lifecycle of everyday products. Within raising the awareness off this concept it is key to not simply preach at the pupils in a way that would make them feel they themselves are directly responsible and need to repent their non-sustainable ways. Instead I aim to ensure that they are aware of the impact and power that they have over the world they live in and try and get them to contemplate this concept in a fun way that they can engage with and enjoy as they design [4.2]. I feel that John Pearson summarises this concept well in the quote below.

[Quote] “Too strict and their spirits will be broken and they won’t be productive” [Pearson, J. (2006)]

The handling collection and the concepts behind it aim to make pupils think more critically about the world around them and in this way to be more creative. To instigate this the activity has to allow them to be creative. The project plan for year eights was to design a bag inspired by an organisation called “People Tree” and for the year nines, who only had three weeks within this subject area, to engage in an activity labelled “Transforming A T-Shirt”. This required them to contemplate all that they had learned about sustainability and, by incorporating the ‘6 Rs’, to use some of the decorative techniques they had learnt through rethinking clothing they may have previously thrown away. This can give it a new lease of life, thus reducing the already monumental amount of textile waste that discarding usable items can contribute to [A1, A2]. I found within the lessons pupils enjoyed the creative freedom and thought more imaginatively. There are many ways to ensure structure while still allowing creativity to take place, such as providing design briefs or tasks to focus learning.

In addition to providing an enjoyable activity which pupils engaged in and thoroughly enjoyed, the handling collection also helped to keep discussions focused by providing physical context. I feel this has been best summed up by Sir Ken Robinson on TED talk discussing the question “Do Schools Kill Creativity?”.

The quote below relates to the idea of child development which incorporates the concepts which have been listed below. K.Robinsons also explores the idea that in order to be creative it is imperative that risks are taken. The current education system however attributes a holistic academic view in which creativity is not often as valued as it could be.

[Quote] “We think about the world in all the ways we experience it; we think visually, we think in sound, we think kinaesthetically, we think in abstract terms, we think in movement…” [TED Talks: Robinson, K. (2007) 13:11–13:20]

[Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages Theory: Erikson, E. and Erikson, J. (2012)]

Within Erikson’s psychosocial crisis stages stage 4, which is entitled “Industry Versus Inferiority”, it is detailed to relate directly to schoolchildren aged 5 to 12[5.3]. It is related specifically to achievement, accomplishment, competence and methods used to achieve these goals. It is labelled as having narrow virtuosity and its specific malignancy concept is inertia. I agree that a sense of accomplishment is highly important, not only at this age, but at all stages of life, I do not agree with the concept of: either pupils or subjects incorporating a narrow virtuosity. The notion of undervaluing particular skills undermines the entire idea of creativity and does not allow pupils to explore in different ways. It disables the ability to develop or highlight skills that they may not have been previously aware of, due to the lack of activity which allowed them to demonstrate such talents. Stage 5 of Eriksson’s psychosocial crisis stages, which is entitled “Identity Versus Role Confusion”, is detailed to relate to adolescents ages 12 to 18. It explores the concept of resolving identity and direction and the process of becoming an adult; the malignancy of this crisis stage is repudiation. This stage relates to the concept of attempting to instil within the pupils an independence which involves them taking charge of their actions. I feel is important not to allow repudiation to become a natural part of their personalities as we are educating those who will design and mould the world based on their knowledge, experiences and theories drawn from the latter points. I feel that repudiation could aid to develop disassociation.

[Anatomy of the NEW Creative mind: Armano, D. (2006)]

As detailed above, in the anatomy of the new creative mind by David Armano, there are many different aspects of thought which go into conceiving creative ideas and concepts. This handling collection provided opportunities for pupils to develop a more analytical way of thinking using the methods as detailed above. I have provided them with the data they need in order to be analytical, but have ensured that, though there is enough data to make them curious, it is not so much that it might encourage fixation. The activity also encompassed opportunities for discussion, which I feel relates to the expressive side of creativity, as each of them will have their own individual views which they will hopefully want to share. The items themselves provide a sensory presence as they provide stimuli to various senses. They capture, not only the visual, but also the senses of touch, due to the varying materials and construction methods, causing similar materials to be different within final products. The senses of smell and hearing could also possibly be engaged with, for example, the paper and bamboo which are both quite distinct.

I wanted them to think critically about whether they personally felt that changes should be made and, based on whether they said yes or no, they could then discuss and give reasons behind their answers. This allowed the lesson to be structured around them. This activity was done in both pairs and then later as a class, in the form of a feedback activity. This allowed pupils to apply their own personal backgrounds, experiences and abilities, to their discussions of concepts and solutions that could be applied. I felt that throughout the discussion it was imperative to remind them that there were no wrong answers and that they should be creative and that within their responses they should try hard to think innovatively. I also gave them questions and points to deepen their thinking. This method of learning engages pupils, allows more freedom and creates various opportunities for assessment; when used as a starter activity, it is an introduction to the project and sets the foundation for the level of critical analysis that should be incorporated throughout the project. As the end activity to a project it allows an opportunity to see what the pupils have learnt, how they have improved and which areas still require improvement.


This handling collection is an activity with the aim of providing a tangible reference and getting pupils to question their “… Cultural realities…”(Schumaker, J. [2001]) and think more methodically about everyday objects; not only where they come from, how they are made and how they are transported but also where the materials that are involved in the construction process actually come from. In addition, to think about possible harmful waste that can be produced in re-source retrieval and preparation, manufacturing, finishing processes, travel stages, use, upkeep or disposal.[B2] This required them to think more critically about each item whereas before, they may have given general answers to the concepts within sustainability without contemplating the various stages.

“Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.” [Chinese Proverb: unknown (unknown)]

The Chinese proverb above encompasses the concept that, I believe, is one of the main attributes that a handling collection provides that other less active and visually stimulating methods of learning could not hope to emulate. Pupils not only engaged with the project and enjoyed the tactile learning experience but also gained a greater understanding by being allowed to be involved in the creation of the conclusion, answering the question of sustainability. I am also well aware of the requirement to differentiate lessons. I allowed every pupil the chance to gain a deeper comprehension so that they not only remember but understand the concepts, concepts that they themselves would have had a hand in creating. This personal ownership also provides a personal feeling of accomplishment, which, as discussed previously in Eriksson’s psychosocial stages of development, is a key part of growing up.

Differentiation is also a key aspect that I had to incorporate into my handling collection; this was due, not only to the requirements of the classes, but also to the fact that in one of the classes it would be the first time that I would be meeting the pupils, and I was unaware of their requirements, having not worked with them before. It was important to have in place various differentiation tactics to assist with their learning, even prior to knowing that they required this assistance. I also attempted to adhere to different learning styles by reinforcing information in multiple ways to ensure that all the senses were engaged in some way. The questions on the board and the sheet were also verbally communicated throughout the lesson to remind pupils of the main questions of the lesson and to ensure that those who were becoming distracted within their conversations were re-routed back to the focus of the lesson. Each box top had images combined with information; striking visual imagery, bold titles and condensed summaries of articles relating to box themes. This combination of information in different formats gave a specific context to, not only the boxes, but also the lesson. They also assisted in my endeavours to ensure pupils stayed focused. In addition they also encouraged pupils to explore areas they may not have previously thought about. Before pupils were allowed to engage with the handling collection they watched a short video entitled “The True Cost”(Morgan, A. [2013]). The video explores the effects of a learned consumerism towards the environment. It looks at the effects and development of fast fashion. Getting pupils to discuss this meant that they drew on different aspects of the video and shared their own personal views, which in turn sparked reactions within their peer groups causing them to begin to question the world in which they live in a more in-depth manner. This was a good start to the PARPA activity as it put them in the investigative mind-set that I wanted them to be in while they explored different aspects of the design and productions effect on the environment.

There was a mistake on the sheet which caused confusion but I was pleased that the class questioned it as the activity aimed to encourage an interrogative view of the things around them.

Though I realised I should have asked them to write down their reasoning, we did discuss their theories and reasoning behind them. They gave reasons drawn from the information on the box tops, information they already knew and information they had learnt from the video. However it would have been wise to get them to record this process to make it easier for me to assess their individual learning and understanding.

The cards allowed pupils who didn’t get a chance to engage with a particular box to get some visual information and general facts about the items, and it also helped with the activity of putting the items in order of sustainability.

I also think that the group work approach worked well as they challenged one another and drew on their individual experiences and thoughts. Through this method they were able to develop and share new and interesting ideas, for instance; though the knitted hat was dyed and 100% acrylic it was more sustainable than other items in some ways as it could be unravelled and reused either by knitting or in some other way.


My PARPA helped to bridge the gap between knowledge and the pupils’ development of understanding. This method improved not only the pupils understanding but also encouraged them to be more investigative and open-minded to, not only each other’s theories and ideas, but also to the concepts that I introduced into their conversations[B3].

I feel that by allowing them to come to conclusions through a tangible activity they were more able to comprehend and explore the information. If I had simply imparted the information they may have remembered some of the concepts but would most likely not have truly understood. By allowing them to think critically and, most importantly, come to the conclusions themselves, I feel that they gained a greater understanding, an understanding which they will be able to apply to not only to other areas of design technology but also to other areas of the curriculum. I feel that this is summarised well by Peal;

“… learning is superior when pupils find things out for themselves, and are not simply told information by a knowledgeable authority. To achieve this, teachers should play the role of ‘facilitators’, designing lessons that are active, relevant or fun….” (Peal, R. [2014])

The use of handling collections can be highly beneficial to pupils, both individually and as a class, but also to teachers. They assist techniques which try to harness pupils’ natural creativity and sense of fun, as well as informing them. This combined approach, utilising contextual understanding and analytical thinking skills promotes memorable interest, leading to a higher level of attainment.


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Teaching Standards

[1.2] (Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupil) set goals that stretch and challenge pupils of all backgrounds, abilities and dispositions

[1.3] (Set high expectations which inspire, motivate and challenge pupil) demonstrate consistently the positive attitudes, values and behaviour which are expected of pupils.

[2.5] (Promote good progress and outcomes by pupils) encourage pupils to take a responsible and conscientious attitude to their own work and study.

[3.1] (Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge) have a secure knowledge of the relevant subject(s) and curriculum areas, foster and maintain pupils’ interest in the subject, and address misunderstandings.

[3.2] (Demonstrate good subject and curriculum knowledge) demonstrate a critical understanding of developments in the subject and curriculum areas, and promote the value of scholarship.

[4.2] (Plan and teach well-structured lessons) promote a love of learning and children’s intellectual curiosity.

[5.1] (Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils) know when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively.

[5.2] (Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils) have a secure understanding of how a range of factors can inhibit pupils’ ability to learn, and how best to overcome these.

[5.3] (Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils) demonstrate an awareness of the physical, social and intellectual development of children, and know how to adapt teaching

Design and technology National Curriculum (Secondary)

[A1] (Aims) develop the creative, technical and practical expertise needed to perform everyday tasks confidently and to participate successfully in an increasingly technological world.

[A2] (Aims) build and apply a repertoire of knowledge, understanding and skills in order to design and make high-quality prototypes and products for a wide range of users.

[B1] (Design) use research and exploration, such as the study of different cultures, to identify and understand user needs.

[B2] (Design) develop specifications to inform the design of innovative, functional, appealing products that respond to needs in a variety of situations.

[B3] (Design) use a variety of approaches [for example, biomimicry and user-centred design], to generate creative ideas and avoid stereotypical responses.

[C1] (Evaluate) analyse the work of past and present professionals and others to develop and broaden their understanding.

[C2] (Evaluate) understand developments in design and technology, its impact on individuals, society and the environment, and the responsibilities of designers, engineers and technologists.



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Shanique Thompson

Shanique Thompson

Eclectically skilled indie games dev & researcher interested in crafting in games, budding curator, & lingerie researcher {Neurodiverse — Dyslexic Team}