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    Drawing With Children. The role of design drawing among children. engaged in a parachute building activity. dougal macdonald and brenda gustafson. introduction. in recent years scholar.lib.vt.edu.

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Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
The Role of Design Drawing Among Children
Engaged in a Parachute Building Activity
Dougal MacDonald and Brenda Gustafson
In recent years, many elementary (ages 5-12) science programs in North
America have incorporated what is called design technology, design and
technology, technology, technological problem-solving, and/or problem-solving
through technology (ITEA, 2000; Alberta Education 1996; Kimbell, Stables &
Green, 1996; Layton, 1993). Design technology involves designing and making
products to meet some need, and is “directly concerned with the individual’s
capacity to design and make, to solve problems with the use of materials, and to
understand the significance of technology” (Eggleston, 1996, p. 23). In
elementary classrooms, lessons often focus around designing and building
models of structures and mechanisms such as bridges and vehicles.
Design technology involves children in problem-solving processes
perceived as central to the development of their capability to do quality work.
These processes have been referred to as procedures, procedural skills, facets of
performance, facets of capability, problem solving skills, and thinking processes
(Bottrill, 1995; Custer, 1995; Johnsey, 1997; Kimbell, Stables, & Green, 1996).
Examples include investigating, planning, modeling, making, and evaluating.
One activity that plays an important role in many of these problem-solving
processes is drawing. Drawing can be a method of recording information, a
component of planning, and/or a technique of two-dimensional modeling.
The two main approaches to studying design drawing have been to
investigate the practice of design professionals such as architects and engineers,
and to explore children’s classroom design technology drawing. These
approaches raise at least three important issues from which the focus questions
for the present study are derived:
• What are the characteristics of children’s design technology drawings?
• Could an analytic scheme, derived from professional drawing practice, be
used to analyze children’s design technology drawing?
• How might teachers intervene in order to enhance and broaden children’s
authentic use of drawing in design technology?
Dougal MacDonald (doogmacd@shaw.ca) is Lecturer and Brenda Gustafson
([email protected]) is Professor in Elementary Education at the University of Alberta,
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
Related Research
Classroom Drawing Practice
Recent research on classroom drawing practice in design technology has
focused on four main areas:
• The role of drawing in creating and developing ideas
• The link between drawing and making
• The respective roles of 2-dimensional drawing and 3-dimensional modeling
• The effects of the explicit teaching of drawing
Several researchers (Garner, 1992, 1994; Anning, 1997; Hope, 2000;
Smith, 2001) state that much classroom design technology drawing
overemphasizes the role of drawing in communicating ideas and under-
emphasizes its role in creating and developing ideas. Garner notes the
undervalued role of drawing in the manipulation and exploration of design. He
claims that much professional design drawing is never seen by others and that
its main purpose is to assist the designer to create and develop ideas rather than
to communicate with others (Garner 1992). He also points out that an advantage
of sketching is its ambiguity, making it a useful medium for generating ideas
(Garner, 1994).
Anning (1997) notes that “drawing offers a powerful mode for representing
and clarifying one’s own thinking” (p. 219). She asserts that young children use
drawings to explore and generate ideas, similar to designers. Hope (2000)
concludes that the overwhelming focus of research on children’s drawing has
been on drawing as representation whereas “the activities most closely
associating drawing with designing are those of investigating and generating
ideas” (p. 108). Smith (2001) suggests that too much emphasis on
representation, i.e., the perfect drawing, could restrict opportunities for
discovering new ideas.
Researchers (Rogers, 1998; Hope, 2000; Fleer, 2000) have also investigated
the link between children’s design plans and what they make. Rogers studied
young children as they designed, made, and appraised vehicles using
commercial kits. He found a weak link between the designing stage and the
making and appraising stages of their work in that children did not refer back to
their design drawings when making. He suggests three possible reasons for this
disconnection: lack of a clear idea of what designs should look like, not
understanding the purposes for drawing a design, and deficits in drawing skills
(Rogers, 1998).
Hope (2000) explored how young children use drawings in planning a
product. He concluded that more understanding is needed about how children
develop drawing skills. Fleer (2000) found that even some very young children
use their drawn plans as a guide to making. She suggests that two possible
reasons some children do not use drawn plans are insufficient technical
knowledge and insufficient detail in their plans.
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
Some researchers (Smith, 2001; Welch, 1998) have investigated the
respective roles of two-dimensional (drawing) and three-dimensional modeling
in classroom design technology. Welch (1998) found that Grade Seven students
quickly replaced drawing with three-dimensional modeling, i.e., working with
the project materials. He calculated that students spent only about 8.5% of their
total design time sketching and drawing (Welch 1998). Similarly, Smith notes
that pupils in England appeared reluctant to use ‘sketch modeling’ (Smith
An interesting sidelight on the findings regarding 2D and 3D modeling is
that many professional designers recognize that the degree of abstraction in a
design is controlled by the form of the modeling. Drawings are simpler and
more abstract than 3D models, hence they are more ambiguous and allow for
more interpretation (Lindsey, 2001).
A number of researchers advocate explicit teaching of drawing skills
(Anning, 1997; Rogers, 1998; Fleer, 2000; Smith, 2001). For example, Anning
(1997) proposed that teachers could do more to enhance children’s graphicacy
through explicit teaching of drawing, as well by becoming more aware of how
graphicacy can contribute to children’s learning. She urges more research into
developing graphicacy in educational and non-educational contexts.
Fleer (2000) advocated assisting children in their drawing through teaching
interventions such as making them more aware of the specific purposes of
drawing and familiarizing them with different perspectives. Smith (2001)
advocated further research into sketching as an important aid to designing. He
suggested that a better understanding is needed into “how to develop pupils’
sketching skills which provide opportunities for ambiguity and hence an
opportunity for creating new ideas” (p. 8).
Some investigators have studied the effects of explicit teaching of design
drawing. Welch, Barlex, and Lim (2000) investigated whether explicit teaching
better enabled Grade Seven students to use two-dimensional modeling to help
them design a case for audiotapes, videotapes, or CDs. They concluded that
students tended not to use sketching to explore solutions but moved quickly to
three-dimensional modeling. The researchers attribute this to limited sketching
skills and experience. They speculate that different methods of modeling may be
appropriate to different tasks.
Smith, Brochocka, and Baynes (2001) used explicit teaching of 2D and 3D
modeling, including sketching, to determine how pupils used them. Pupils were
instructed to move between 3D and 2D design media several times while
working. The researchers concluded that “the revised approach was effective
and this conclusion was confirmed by structured interviews with each of the
pupils involved” (p. 125).
Professional Drawing Practice and Classroom Drawing Practice
There is a tradition of educators drawing on professional practice to inform
classroom practice. For example, Robert Gagne’s list of science processes,
including observing, classifying, and predicting, was developed in the 1960s,
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
based on his observations of the methodologies of professional scientists
(AAAS, 1967). These processes are still in the repertoires of science educators
today. For another example, the writing process approach to written language,
widely popularized by educators such as Donald Graves, originated with a 1964
article by Gordon Rohman, which drew upon how professional writers go about
their work (Walshe, 1981).
While some researchers suggest that professional and classroom practice
can inform each other (Davies, 1996), others caution against the unproblematic
use of accounts of professional practice as prescriptions for classroom practice
(Medway, 1994). Medway notes that “while the actions performed in both
settings, school and work, may be similar at a behavioral level, their meaning
will be quite different since the student works within a distinctively educational
matrix of purposes, expectations, conditions and criteria (e.g., working for
marks, without financial risk, etc.)” (Medway, 1994, p. 88). Medway suggests
that one approach is to view what occurs in professional practice as “indicators
of curricular possibilities” (p. 104) rather than as prescriptions.
This study took place at an elementary school in a middle-class, urban
neighborhood. Visits were made to one Grade 6 (ages 11-13) classroom during
the teaching of a twelve-week unit that combined a science inquiry unit (Air and
Aerodynamics) with a design technology unit (Flight). The twenty-seven
children (14 male; 13 female) had been coded as Academic Challenge (high
achieving) students.
The research presented in this paper focuses on two lessons in which the
children designed, made, and tested model parachutes. These lessons were
selected because in each lesson pupils were directed by their teacher to draw
pictures of their parachutes. The parachute activities were scheduled towards the
end of the unit and were presented by the teacher as a series of structured action
tasks focusing on product construction and testing.
Data Collection
In this study, we assumed that children’s thinking was expressed through
their drawings as well as through their verbal discourse, writing, and actions.
Drawings, audio-tapes, field notes, photographs, and written work provided
information about children’s efforts to frame, negotiate, and complete tasks.
Children’s drawings and written work were photocopied. Audio recordings
were made of whole class discussions and one group of four children’s
conversations. Field notes and photographic evidence were compiled to lend
insight into children’s actions and interactions within the group.
Data related to the teacher’s perceptions of scientific and technological
problem solving were also gathered through semi-structured interviews prior to
and during the teaching of the unit. Anecdotal records were kept of informal
conversations with the teacher that occurred prior to and after each lesson.
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
Lesson and interview transcripts were provided to the teacher and she was
invited to amend or clarify the meaning of any verbal comments.
Data Analysis
The following analytic scheme and clue structure, based on a research
methodology developed by Roberts and Russell (1975), was used to analyze
children’s drawings (Figure 1). The analysis involved comparing children’s
drawings to the scheme to detect similarities and variations. The analytic
scheme and clue structure, therefore, was used as a lens through which to view
the children’s design drawings and as a way to derive helpful insights about the
role of drawing in classroom design technology.
Table 1
Analytic Scheme and Clue Structure.
Category 1 - The drawings include a beginning sketch
Clue A. A sketch is made at the beginning of the project
Clue B. The sketch indicates the pupil’s initial thoughts/key ideas
about the project.
Clue C. The sketch is exploratory and conceptual rather than
Clue D. The sketch is made quickly and spontaneously.
Clue E. The sketch includes images and words.
Category 2 - The drawings include elaborating and refining drawings
Clue A. A series of freehand and hard-line drawings are made during
the project.
Clue B. The drawings are shared with other members of the design
Clue C. The drawings transform the ideas expressed in the initial
Clue D. The drawings elaborate, refine, expand, and develop the
pupil’s initial ideas.
Clue E. The drawings show increasing accuracy and detail, including
Category 3 - The drawings include a final presentation drawing
Clue A. A drawing is made at the end of the project.
Clue B. The drawing is a recognizable representation of the finished
Clue C. The drawing can be used by those outside the design process
as a guide to making.
Clue D. The drawing is hard-line, finished, precise, and detailed.
Clue E. The drawing is labeled and measured.
The analytic scheme and clue structure were developed through analyzing
research literature on how drawing is used in professional practice (e.g., by
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
people working in engineering, architecture, and industrial design). The
theoretical perspective incorporates two main ideas:
1. Professional designers use drawing both to represent and generate ideas
(Arnheim, 1969; Bucciarelli, 1994; Ferguson, 1999; Lindsay, 2001;
Robbins, 1994).
2. Professionals use three types of drawings in their work: initial sketches,
elaborating and refining drawings, and final presentation drawings (Crowe
& Laseau, 1984; Do & Gross, 2001; Laseau, 1980; Robbins, 1994; Schenk,
Four features of drawings identified from descriptions of professional
practice are (Cross & Cross, 1998; Ferguson, 1999; Fraser & Henni, 1994;
Robbins, 1994; Steele, 1994):
1. Timing or when the drawings were made (‘A’ clues).
2. Intended audience (‘B’ clues).
3. Purpose of the drawings (‘C’ clues).
4. Salient observable characteristics (‘D’ and ‘E’ clues).
It should be noted that during the analysis that a clue may be sound but the
observable evidence may be missing from the drawing. In such a case,
plausibility will temporarily win over presence. That is, methodologically
speaking, it is not a clear-cut test of a clue if the behavior does not occur
(MacDonald, 1995). For example, the omission could be a function of the
context of the lesson, the teaching strategy, and/or the experience of the teacher.
Following the analysis, a member check was performed for factual and
interpretive accuracy and to provide evidence of credibility (Denzin & Lincoln,
2000; Janesick, 2000; Lincoln & Guba, 1985). An experienced science
education researcher uninvolved with the generation of the analytic scheme
performed the check by reviewing the drawings, data analysis, and study
interpretations. The researcher was asked to affirm whether the analytic scheme
had overall credibility and whether study interpretations and conclusions were
an appropriate reflection of the data (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). This researcher’s
suggestions were incorporated into this paper.
Lesson Context
Lesson 1 - Constructing Model Parachutes (45 minutes)
The teacher began the lesson by reviewing activity expectations,
constraints, and materials. Each child was instructed to make a model parachute
displaying one canopy no larger than 30 cm x 30 cm, or else two or more
canopies that together would not exceed this measurement. The teacher supplied
materials not brought by the pupils. Parachute design was to be informed by
concepts about flight addressed in previous lessons (e.g., properties of air, drag,
and gravity) plus any other knowledge children could draw on. Once their
parachutes were constructed, children were to draw a picture of their design.
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
The teacher also announced that the parachutes would be tested in the
gymnasium on the second day. The children were urged to think ahead to the
testing and consider potential design modifications to see if their parachute
needed alterations. The children were encouraged to construct their best
parachute design to test competitively against other children’s designs.
The children worked in groups to make their parachutes and then draw their
final designs. At the end of the class, all children presented completed or nearly
completed parachutes. The teacher provided an extra half hour later in the day
for completing the individual parachute drawings.
Lesson 2 - Testing Parachutes (105 minutes)
The teacher reviewed behavioral expectations and testing procedures before
entering the gymnasium. Each child was directed to test his or her individual
parachute by standing on a chair on the gym stage and then releasing the
parachute. A parent volunteer would time the descent. The goal was to achieve
the slowest possible descent.
After each group member had completed one drop, the group would discuss
results and select one group member’s parachute to modify for the second and
final test. The teacher advised the children to discuss who had the slowest
descent time, analyze what was good about the parachute and how it differed
from faster parachutes, and then decide what to modify to make it the best.
Children were urged to use all the information they had to improve their chosen
parachute because they would only get one chance for the second test.
Once children were in the gym, a second Grade 6 teacher, whose class was
also designing and testing parachutes, restated the testing rules and identified
the testing method, drop height, and canopy size as control variables that would
make for a fair test. Behavioral expectations were again reviewed. The children
were given about 80 minutes to drop-test their individual parachutes, select one
parachute for modification, carry out (or not carry out) modifications, and then
re-test their final group design. Once the final test was completed, children were
instructed to draw their final group design.
Sixteen children produced two drawings each of parachutes. The first
drawing was made after each member of the group had built an initial parachute.
The second drawing was made after the group had selected, modified (or not
modified), and tested the individual group member’s parachute that the group
identified as the best. Each group member had to draw the same “best
parachute” as their final drawing. Both drawings were done to provide a visual
representation of what had been made rather than to explore or generate ideas.
Thus, they were done carefully and over a long period of time rather than
quickly and spontaneously. Although later drawings included both images and
words, they were clearly representational rather than conceptual.
The first drawings made by each pupil of his or her own individual
parachute could be categorized as elaborating and refining drawings.
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
Figure 1. First Drawing Sample
This is because each pupil made a subsequent drawing of the group’s single best
parachute as a final drawing. At the same time, the first drawings also lacked
most of the characteristics of the elaborating and refining drawings, as outlined
in the analytic scheme and clue structure.
Each child made a single drawing of her or his own parachute. They then
made a second drawing of the final parachute, which was, except in the case of
the child who originated it, a parachute other than their own. Thus only in the
case of one group member could the drawings be called part of a series (Clue
A). The drawings of the individual and final parachutes were not shared with
other members of the team except in an incidental way, for example, if a child
wanted to show another child what he or she was doing (Clue B).
The drawings did not transform or build on the ideas in the initial sketch
because there was no initial sketch (Clue C). It could however be argued that the
second drawing did build on previous ideas in the sense that the final
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
Figure 2. Second Drawing Sample
parachute represented the bringing together of the ideas of the whole group.
Because the first drawings marked the end point of the individual parachute
building, they did not provide scope for the refinement, expansion, or
development of ideas (Clue D), except in the case of the one group member
whose parachute was chosen for the second and final test. Finally, as only a
single drawing was made, the issue of “increasing accuracy and detail” (Clue E)
was a non-issue, except again in a general sense or specifically, in the case of
the chosen parachute.
The second drawings made by each pupil were categorized as final
presentation drawings. Out of the three categories of drawings, then, the clues
for the final presentation drawings most closely matched children’s drawings.
The second drawings were made at the end of the project and were a
recognizable representation of the finished product (Clue A). Their purpose was
to present their parachute to the teacher (Clue B). Most of the final drawings
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
could be used as a guide to creating the parachute that they depicted (Clue C).
They were to a large degree finished, although not hard-line in the sense of
being ruler-drawn (Clue D). The drawings were reasonably precise and detailed
(Clue E). Almost all of them were labeled. Written on the drawings were
descriptors such as “circular”, “holes”, “tape”, “string”, and “washers” (used as
weights). Although the final drawings were not measured, some indication of
proportionality was evident. For example, the sides of square parachutes were
approximate equal in length and round parachutes were approximately round.
Testing the Analytic Scheme
One purpose of the analysis of the drawings was to test the analytic scheme
and clue structure for goodness of fit to the events of classroom teaching. The
criteria are twofold (MacDonald, 1995):
1. Comprehensiveness and plausibility of the entire scheme for classroom.
2. Correspondence/discrimination of the individual clues to actual events.
The application of the scheme indicated that the framework was
comprehensive enough to capture the main aspects of the lesson. In fact, the
scheme was too comprehensive due to the limited use of drawing. In terms of
what was in the lesson, a better test of at least part of the scheme would be to
look only at the features of the third category of drawings, the final presentation
For the final presentation drawing, (e.g., the second drawings and for some
children even the first drawings) the analytic scheme worked well. The clues
were comprehensive enough to cover the main features of the drawings. All the
clues were present to a degree that suggests they have plausibility for viewing
classroom teaching events. For the overall lesson, the clues were also sound in
that they discriminated instances of final presentation drawings from the other
two types of drawings, as well as clearly indicated the absence of any drawings
that had the characteristics of and fulfilled the purposes of initial sketches.
As in all studies, the selection of a teacher and the lessons was an issue. The
test could have been performed using a lesson that incorporated opportunities to
create the three categories of drawings described in the analytic scheme. At the
same time, the literature suggests that the lesson analyzed was very
representative in that the use of drawing was typical of many classroom design
technology lessons (Anning, 1997; Fleer, 2000; Hope, 2000; Rogers, 1998;
Smith 2001). Further, the application of a thoughtfully developed analytic
scheme and clue structure to most lessons can generate useful insights about
teaching and learning, as well as suggest guidelines for future research.
The teacher did not make very explicit the purposes of both kinds of
drawings. In fact, the instructions to complete the drawings were almost cast as
asides. But the timing and characteristics of the drawings indicate that their
main purpose was to serve as records of the pupils’ products. The drawings
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
were made after the individual and group parachutes were completed and they
were diagrammatic in nature, i.e., representational and labeled.
The initial thinking sketches were conspicuous by their absence. Drawing
was conceived in this lesson solely as representation. It was not used to indicate
initial thoughts, explore and conceive ideas, or as a vehicle for thinking but was
used exclusively to depict the completed product. A balance was lacking
between the two ways in which drawings are commonly used in professional
practice, e.g., as representation and as a tool for thinking.
The importance of this finding lies not only in its contradiction with
professional practice but in its significance for how the parachute task was
implemented in the lessons. It is reasonable to assume that there may be links
between the absence of the initial sketches and the implementation of the lesson
because the task was chosen, set, and taught in a way that excluded initial
sketching as an impetus for visual thinking. It is to these three contextual
matters that we now turn.
Choosing Tasks
The task here was to make and test a model parachute. Design technology
tasks are many and varied as any search of curriculum materials demonstrates. If
pupils are to use initial sketching and subsequent drawings to generate and
refine design ideas their tasks need to have the potential for a variety of designs.
If the tasks have a very narrow range of possible solutions there is little need to
create idea-generating sketches.
It is instructive, then, to look at the nature of the task itself as one aspect of
considering how drawing was or could be used during design technology
lessons. What kind of a task is making a parachute? A starting point is to
observe that the modern-day parachute still resembles the one designed and
drawn by Leonardo da Vinci in 1485. In fact, a recent test shows that a
parachute built according to da Vinci’s design could actually carry an individual
safely to earth!
Why has the basic parachute design endured for centuries? A major reason
is that a descending parachute is influenced and constrained by physical forces,
including gravity (weight), lift, and drag (friction). The requirement to descend
slowly amid the complex effects of these forces restricts how parachutes can be
made. A parachute must be stable, light, and of limited area. It must keep its
shape and maintain its balance. A means must be included to suspend the load
being carried. These requirements place limitations on parachute design, as well
as on the materials used to construct them.
Contrast making a parachute with a task such as creating a model shelter for
a pet where restrictions of shape, size, and materials are much less an issue. A
pet shelter can be of many different shapes, many different sizes, and can be
constructed from a great variety of materials. Accomplishing the purpose of
providing shelter is much more open-ended than accomplishing the purpose of
descending slowly through the air.
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
It is instructive to note that the majority of the tasks that pupils carry out in
design technology fall generally into one of two categories: architectural
(aesthetic) tasks or engineering tasks. This distinction may need to be
considered more carefully. Most architectural tasks are by nature more open-
ended than most engineering tasks (if the engineering products are to be
working models). Space can be enclosed by many different shapes and in many
different ways, whereas wheels must be round. The differing natures of
architecture and engineering suggest there may be more scope for visual
thinking in architecture due to the wider number of options.
Setting Tasks
Another important issue in design technology is how the classroom teacher
sets the task. In the present study most task setting was done by outsiders such
as the absent regular classroom teacher, the other Grade 6 teacher, and the
support resource developers who created the unit plans. The regular classroom
teacher instructed the collaborating teacher who taught the lesson to follow and
implement the two units of study, Air & Aerodynamics and Flight, as they were
laid out in the support resource. This instruction was reinforced by the other
Grade 6 teacher whose class was simultaneously doing the same units.
A distinction made by Kimbell, Stables, and Green (1996) is useful here.
They place the setting of design technology tasks on a continuum of closed and
open-ended. Closed-ended tasks are initiated “under conditions that provide
very tight restraints” (p. 41). More open-ended tasks allow pupils to grapple
with the challenges of “pinning down the task for themselves” (p. 41). Kimbell,
Stables, and Green suggest that what is important to pupils is that they work in
the “messy middle ground” (p. 43) between the two extremes.
In the parachute activity, pupils worked at much more at closed-end tasks,
allowing them little space for beginning and ongoing sketches or exploratory
thought. This, in turn, was somewhat dictated by the constant focus on making
the slowest parachute. A more open-ended task would placed value on other
aspects of design, such as aesthetics, and would take into account that real
parachutes take a variety of forms for a variety of purposes.
Learning Purposes of Tasks
Kimbell, Stables, and Green (1996) also suggest that design technology
tasks have two different kinds of purposes, “product purposes” and “teaching
purposes” (p. 36-37). Product purposes have to do with what is made, with the
product outcome. This purpose is necessary since it is part of the nature of
technological tasks to create products.
Teaching purposes have to do with using the task as a vehicle for teaching
something to pupils, such as conceptual knowledge, manipulative skills,
technological problem-solving processes, appropriate attitudes, and/or group
working styles (Kimbell, Stables, and Green, 1996). This purpose is necessary
because classroom situations aim at learning rather than production for its own
sake. In the parachute activity, for example, pupils could have learned more
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
about the role of drawing in technological problem-solving, as well as that
sharing and discussing each others’ drawings is a an appropriate group working
McCormick and Davidson (1996) state that there is often a tendency for
product outcomes to exercise tyranny over teaching purposes and to take over
the lesson. This would seem to be the case in the parachute lesson, with the
overwhelming focus on creating the best parachute, i.e., the parachute having
the slowest descent. This is what was rewarded and valued rather than the
processes of thought leading to the final product.
The tyranny of the product purpose can override the teaching purposes. For
example, in the parachute activity, some pupils misrepresented important
conceptual knowledge about parachutes. Real parachutes have a hole in the top
to make them more stable as they descend. But in the context of the product
competition for the best parachute, some pupils deliberately omitted the hole to
make their parachute descend more slowly.
Conclusions and Implications
Visual thinking is an important component of design technology but is
often relegated to a minor role in classroom practice. Drawing in classroom
design technology tends to emphasize representation over ideation. This is
reinforced when design technology tasks are limited by nature, set in a
restrictive manner, and emphasize product purposes over teaching purposes.
Classroom interventions relating to the teaching of drawing and the teaching of
design technology could redress this imbalance.
If teaching interventions can enhance pupils’ abilities to use sketching not
only as representation but also as a means of generating and thinking about
design ideas, then the question becomes, “What types of interventions might be
useful?” One possibility is to organize lessons around a framework that
explicitly integrates the three types of drawing mentioned with the commonly
identified phases of design technology problem-solving. A possible model is
shown in Figure 3.
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
Understanding the Problem
Initial Sketches
Final Presentation Drawings
Carrying Out the Plan
Refining and Elaborating
(freehand, hardline)
Developing a Plan
Sketches; Refining and
Elaborating Drawings
(freehand, hardline)
Understanding the Problem
Initial Sketches
Final Presentation Drawings
Carrying Out the Plan
Refining and Elaborating
(freehand, hardline)
Developing a Plan
Sketches; Refining and
Elaborating Drawings
(freehand, hardline)
Figure 3. Integrated Drawing/Design Technology Problem-Solving Model
In the clue structure, each drawing is identified with an approximate time
period in relation to the carrying out of the design technology project. Thus,
each drawing can be mapped on to a different phase of the design technology
problem-solving model. The use of such an integrated model could not only
explicitly incorporate drawing but also influence the three important contextual
issues noted in the study: choosing tasks, setting tasks, and framing the learning
purposes. To accommodate the drawing component, the chosen tasks would
need to:
• Allow scope for the meaningful use of drawing as an aid to planning and
• Be open-ended in regards to the potential solutions that could be developed
through visual thinking.
• Incorporate learning purposes beyond the product purpose, e.g., include
teaching purposes such as conceptual knowledge, manipulative skills,
technological problem-solving processes, appropriate attitudes, and/or
group working styles.
The analytic scheme and clue structure used in this study, derived from
professional practice, proved useful in analyzing the use of drawing in a
classroom design technology lesson. Although the chosen lesson utilized
drawing in a limited manner, this was also typical of current design technology
teaching. Notwithstanding, the analysis still generated useful insights, as well as
provided a basis for a proposal as to how to explicitly integrate design drawing
into design technology in a more meaningful way. A future research project
Journal of Technology Education Vol. 16 No. 1, Fall 2004
could test the classroom use of the integrated drawing/design technology model
depicted in this paper.
The notion that the purpose of design drawing is solely to represent objects
is likely a common misconception outside the design world. This is true among
curriculum developers, teachers, and pupils. Professional development
initiatives are important here and can help to broaden the perspective of key
stakeholders. The literature on constructivism and conceptual change teaching
may be helpful, for example, in starting the process of change by bringing to
light prior conceptions about the role of design drawing. At the same time, this
need to know even more about the subject matter puts an additional
responsibility on overburdened elementary school classroom generalists.
An overall guiding notion for the use of drawing in design technology is
balance. In classroom design technology there needs to be balance and ongoing
dialogue between drawing as representation and drawing as ideation, between
closed-endedness of tasks and open-endedness of tasks, and between product
outcomes and teaching outcomes. Through balance, both teachers and students
can experience how different types of drawings enrich the representation and
generation of ideas during the problem-solving process. Using drawings as a
tool to enhance visual thinking can help students both improve their design
technology performance and to become more aware of design technology
practice in the real world.
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