There is not enough opportunity for making things in Schools!
This is detrimental to the development of creative skills and the confidence to engage in activities such as design, making and repairing.
We set out to try and change this situation with a series of learning resources for students, teachers and parents. These are available online and free to use in the classroom or at home.
Each resource is designed to not only facilitate a higher level of 'active learning' but also serve as an opportunity to make models and mechanisms in card with simple tools.
The main resource is a website containing a series of templates that can be downloaded and integrated into activities by students, teachers and parents.
The activities are generally aimed at Middle School students (China) or Key Stage 2 and Key stage 3 (UK). That is, students aged between 7-14.
We have chosen subjects in which teachers expressed an interest for more engaging materials or subjects which we found frustrated the kids the most. Often the concept being conveyed is difficult to grasp in a diagram, or even a set of diagrams, but with a moving model that can be explored in detail it suddenly becomes much clearer.
Why did we do this?
Recent decades have seen the erosion of art and design activities in schools in favour of traditional subjects. In Chinese schools in particular, it is rare to find any creative activities delivered as part of the standard curriculum. This kind of 'enrichment activity' is the respsonsibility of parents and is only available to the most priviledged. It is the belief of the organisers that making activity is, in itself, a vital part of education and helps students of all ages with the understanding of complex ideas and problem solving in general.
Why Paper and Card?
Modelling in paper and card is a key skill for designers of all ages. Paradoxically it is often overlooked in favour of more high status modes of representation, particularly computer modelling on screen. This is a serious problem in the development of engineering, design and spatial skills in young students. Paper and card are cheap and sometimes even free. The tools needed are simple - a cutting mat, sharp modelling knife, metal non-slip ruler and stick-type glue. While some younger students might need support when making certain models, the basic skills required are easy to pick up and are extremely useful in all sorts of other modelling projects. With these materials and skills the aim is that students will have more confidence to undertake their own self-defined design and making projects.
This project was developed by a team from the International Design Centre at Beijing Institute of Technology.
Card Modelling WorkshopCard modelling workshop with student assistants.Ben Hughes
Card Modelling Workshop at BITStudents learning about card modelling at BITBen Hughes
Constructing the Fossil ModelCutting out components to make the fossil model.Ben Hughes
Coloring-in the Fossil ModelA student colors the triceratops - part of the fossil model.Ben Hughes
Fossils_ModelCard model to explain how fossils are created in sedimentary rock.Ben Hughes
Engine Modelsmodels showing the function of steam engine and internal combustion engine.Ben Hughes
Four_Stroke_EngineA paper model that helps to explain the function of the four-stroke internal combustion engine.Ben Hughes
Cutting Out Parts for the Ear ModelA student uses a modelling knife and metal ruler to cut out parts of the Ear model.Ben Hughes
Human Ear Model - PartsParts of the human ear model, cut out and ready for assembly.Ben Hughes
Operating the Ear ModelA student operates the completed model of the human ear.Ben Hughes
Anatomy and Function of the Human EarShows the structure of the ear and how sound waves are transmitted from a source to the auditory nerve.Ben Hughes
Deglutition_ModelA card model that helps to explain the swallowing process in humans and the function of the epiglottis.Ben Hughes
Thinking with Card
This project was developed in response to the twin issues of reduced opportunity for making activities in the school timetable and the need for engaging learning materials suitable for use both at home and at school (during and post-Covid).
Prior to this project inception we had been running card modelling workshops in the design school for over a year as a means of addressing the lack of physical model-making skills amongst undergraduate students. This has proven an effective strategy - leading to the development of new processes in form and structure modelling and a greater level of experimentation amongst students.
More recently we started running workshops for local kids to try and introduce similar skills at an earlier age. Students in China have very little opportunity for hands-on making activities in the classroom and early on we found resistance to our offers of workshops and support in this area. These initial activities focused on making card mechanisms and structures linked to stories and festivals. In some cases the components were pre-cut ready for assembly, and in others the kids had to cut them out themselves before assembly and decoration. While the kids clearly seemed to enjoy the activities and developed skills out of them, it was evident that this kind of work was deemed low status, not 'serious,' and best undertaken outside of school time by teachers. This was the catalyst for developing a new approach: to integrate making into the existing STEM curriculum as an 'active learning' aid rather than making for its own sake. This 'Trojan Horse' approach seemed to bear fruit, or at least gain traction with certain teachers. Whilst there is a great deal of pressure on both staff and students in the rigid Chinese education system, it has been acknowledged both centrally and by some enlightened teachers that new approaches are needed if the government's aim to foster creativity and innovation are to be achieved.(1)
Active learning is a way of engaging students rather than treating them simply as 'receptors,' as is the case with a traditional lecture. Studies have shown these to be comparatively ineffective (2), even when combined with demonstrations (3) when it comes to comprehension and long term memory retention. 'Active learning' may may involve reading, writing, discussing, analysis, problem-solving, synthesis, evaluation, but in the simplest terms has been described as: "Instructional activities involving students in doing things and thinking about what they are doing."(4) Studies have shown that active learning is a highly effective strategy when it comes to teaching STEM subjects.(5) Subjects in this category tend to involve increasingly complex and abstract phenomena of which the student has no prior knowledge and cannot observe in a direct sense. In some subjects e.g. anatomy or chemistry, the use of models is well established and has been clearly shown to aid comprehension and reduce achievement gaps.(6) In other subjects, the use of models is less well established, and the notion of students making the model themselves is completely novel. From a design perspective, this may be equated with the concept of learning-by-doing with an emphasis on the importance of making.
This project combines both strategies with the aim that not only will students reap the benefits of increased comprehension and recall of complex phenomena, but that they will learn and develop practical skills in the process - including safe use of rulers and guides in knife use, cutting accurate shapes with a knife, accurate folding and construction techniques, exploration of basic mechanisms, topology of card structures, geometry, angular dimension, transformation.(7) These are core design skills and helpful in a diverse range of prototyping activities.
In order to make the models as universal as possible, they are each formatted for output in black and white to sheets of thin (e.g.200gsm) A4 card (usually three or four sheets per model, including the instruction sheets). This means that they can be reproduced fairly cheaply either at home or at school. Some models are also suitable for printing on paper if card is not available. There are a range of models available in different curriculum areas and all models are available in English and Chinese.
We were successful in running several workshops to test the strategy and obtain feedback from teachers. It was frustrating that the models of most interest to designers - those with the most complex and surprising mechanisms - did not prove to be the most successful in terms of feedback from our teachers. In fact, the most positive feedback we receive was for a series of geographical study aids which show the different temperature and climate zones through the Chinese land mass. These are a complex series of maps with similar information that need to be memorised by each student. Clearly the opportunity to not only draw the maps, but also to cut them out and be able to play with them was an aid to comprehension and commitment to memory. It is exactly this kind of active learning that has been proven to enhance memory retention, so this is encouraging. We still feel that there is a huge benefit to be gained from using the card models to explain more complex phenomena particularly from the areas of life science and physical science.
A third area in which the project is intended to be implemented is in the development of the resources themselves. By establishing a format and systematic means of communicating the models, we are able to introduce the development of new models as a module to undergraduate students. The identification, creation, refining and testing of the models is a deceptively complex challenge and a very rich learning experience.
1. Tatlow, Didi Kirsten : Manufacturing creativity and maintaining control : China's schools struggle balance innovation and safeguard conformity / by Didi Kirsten Tatlow, MERICS visiting academic fellow. - Berlin: MERICS, Mercator Institute for China Studies, 2019. ISSN: 2509-3843
2. Cerbin, W.J. (2018). Improving Student Learning From Lectures. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 4, 151–163.
3. Crouch, C.H., Fagen, A.P., Callan, J., & Mazur, E. (2004). Classroom Demonstrations: Learning Tools Or Entertainment? American Journal of Physics, 72, 835-838.
4. Bonwell CC, Eison JA (1991) Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom (George Washington Univ, Washington, DC).
5. Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., Wenderoth, M. P. (2014) Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. PNAS 111, 8410–8415.
6. Newman, D. L., Stefkovich, M., Clasen, C., Franzen, M. A., & Wright, L. K. (2018). Physical models can provide superior learning opportunities beyond the benefits of active engagements. Biochemistry and molecular biology education : a bimonthly publication of the International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 46(5), 435–444.
7. Huse, V., Bluemel, N., & Taylor, R. (1994). Making Connections: From Paper to Pop-Up Books. Teaching Children Mathematics, 1(1), 14-17.