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Design Technology in the Classroom: Rising into Success at St Cyres School

An Interview with Damian Parker, Head of Art and Design Technology

How Apple Distiguished St Cyres School has incorporated digital resources into the classroom and given students a mighty step up in design learning.

Damian Parker, Head of Faculty for Art, Design Technology and Photography at St Cyres School in South Wales has fought to give his students a step up in their design education. By raising funds and vision to provide them with the latest technologies as learning tools, he and the Faculty of St Cyres have created an environment school-wide where students can personalize their learning experiences, interact more immediately with their teachers, and create quality work that shows a depth of understanding and level of polish normally seen at a higher level — a level Damian knows they can achieve now.

Part of their success is enabled through their adoption of Apple technology — Macbook Pros for the teachers, iPads for the students, 55” screens and Apple TVs for the classrooms, setting them apart as an Apple Distinguished School. But the real story involves what St Cyres is accomplishing through the use of these tools, and how Damian and his design students are succeeding in their education. - The Concepts Team

Climbing into the Digital World

"My aim is to provide these pupils with the necessary skills needed to successfully… work in their chosen field of design."

Head of Faculty for Art, Design Technology and Photography and Apple Teacher Damian Parker doing what he likes best — teaching.

Damian Parker - Many of our graduate students were coming back to visit us from University, and were always keen to show us the design work created in their courses. On many occasions, we were told about the benefits of using Apple products and the need to prepare pupils for University using the products as design tools. At this time, our school only used PCs and Microsoft, and converting the school to Apple was virtually impossible.

Through various awards, we raised funding to start buying laptops in the department, and our staff became more familiar with the products. At the time, we were unable to connect pupils’ devices to the internet but after a quick show of hands, I found the majority of my class (year 10 Systems & Control) owned an Apple device and was able to access the internet at home. This was where I stumbled upon iTunes U. By chance I had stumbled across this software, not really knowing its purpose or capabilities. I started to create short courses with only my iPhone to view things on, and soon realised the potential of this software. iPad purchased, I soon started producing courses to send out to my pupils.

To get around the internet issues at school, pupils downloaded the courses at home and then used them during the lessons. Immediately my lessons had the wow factor! At the time, pupils were not allowed phones in school… unless in my lessons! Instant hero. To use my courses during lessons, I then purchased an Apple TV and digital projector, which allowed me to deliver my course content to my pupils. This is where my lessons really started to develop.

Around this time, we were looking into what new technology to use in our new school which was about to be built. As you can imagine, the I.T. staff wanted to continue using PCs and Windows software but were still open to other suggestions. After some time researching and proving the benefits of using Apple products in the school, I came across a school in Bolton called the ESSA Academy, who were in a similar situation as us in terms of a new build and new technology. I was totally inspired by what I found. They had transformed the ways in which their pupils were learning, with iPads and Apple products at the heart of each and every lesson. Each teacher taught through an iPad and created their courses on a MacBook Pro. Armed with my findings, I quickly arranged a meeting with senior management, who were also aware of the ESSA academy and had arranged to visit their school. It quickly became apparent that the use of Apple products would be the best way to improve the learning journey of our students. Success!

Whilst the new school was being constructed, senior management put together a group of digital leaders to trial the MacBook Pro and a range of various Apps on the iPad. For my Faculty, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to achieve, and soon got started in creating a paperless Faculty. Our A level (ages 16–18) and our GCSE (ages 15–16) students were required to produce a paper portfolio of work to present their projects on at the end of each year. With help and guidance, all students were able to produce and present their work to examiners digitally using the school computers. Producing digital portfolios of work saved time and printing costs, and improved the overall quality of work.

Students are given iPad minis as personal learning tools.

The time had come to move into our new school. All pupils were given an iPad mini to use in school and to take home to work on. This allowed students to build their iPads as they wanted, using Apps which were appropriate to them and their subjects. There were a few teething problems as you can imagine, however, pupils quickly adapted to working on the iPads in all areas of the school. Our traditional paper portfolio work produced by lower school pupils had also become digital, using Google Classroom to present, record and assess work.

At this point, I was very happy with the way in which our Faculty had embraced the digital technology. However, I was still looking for ways in which we could use the iPad as a sketch tool. Students were coping well with presenting their work and had always used our more sophisticated CAD softwares successfully. For many months I trialed a range of Apps in school and at home. This is where I found the Concepts App. We trialed the App with our 6th form students, who quickly took to the software. Most students purchased the full version after one lesson and were producing some excellent sketch ideas within their portfolios. This is where I contacted Concepts, hoping for an education version or volume purchase option. In fact, the TopHatch team delivered this week with their new Concepts: Classroom Edition. (2022 Update: this version is now retired in favor of Concepts 5 for iOS. Please contact us at to inquire about licensing for your classroom).

Concepts, Google Sketch-Up and Design Development in a Richard Weston-inspired lighting design portfolio by Rebecca Oldreive, year 12.

With the inclusion of the new watercolour brush, we have now purchased another iPad Pro to be used to develop resources in the Art department. Due to the positive feedback from our Art Teachers, we have made the decision to use this App only to sketch design work across all departments. I am now in the process of negotiating how many licences we can purchase this year, with my intention of rolling out the App to at least four year groups. We have written a range of different projects where sketching on the iPad will be undertaken, and have fully integrated the use of Concepts into the 6th form portfolios. We no longer teach the students how to use Magic Markers, and are currently developing tutorials to help develop students’ skills on the iPad.

All these changes have quickly developed over the last four years. We have faced many issues along the way, but now have a solid set of Apps which we are using in the Faculty. All my staff are excited to use Concepts with their students and look forward to seeing the results.

Technology at St Cyres

"We are now far more in touch with what work the pupils are achieving…. Staff now have a better understanding of their pupils’ needs, and stronger relationships have been forged through this new method of communication."

Students learning Concepts with video tutorials on the TV.

Within our school at this time, each teacher has a MacBook Pro to produce their resources. Content is then delivered via an iPad or MacBook through Apple TV and 55 inch TV screens, which are situated in every classroom. Each student is given an iPad mini to use in and outside school, downloading Apps to suit their individual needs. As a school, we are using Google Apps to create documents etc. but also have access to Microsoft and Apple equivalent Apps.

Through the early stages of iPad use, we mainly focussed on iTunes U to deliver resources to pupils, however the introduction of Google Classroom has totally transformed our learning environment. Google Classroom proved to be the missing link in our use of all this new technology. It allows us to set up individual classes, mark work and send feedback to students directly or deliver whole class resources. We can link with parents through their email addresses and send notifications at any point of the day. Google Classroom is used by all Faculties throughout the school, with all pupils using it every lesson.

At first, students were a little frustrated with the new technology, as there are obvious restrictions in place as to what content they can use and what features have been removed, e.g. messaging and social media sites. As soon as the pupils were familiar with what the iPads could achieve, then the production of school work and homework became natural to them.

We are now far more in touch with what work the pupils are achieving. Work is marked and monitored more than ever before with design folios and class exercises available at a click of the button. Students receive feedback at any time of the day, no longer do we have to wait to collect books or give out assessment data. Pupils can also communicate with us during the day and outside of school. Most staff discuss work with pupils during the evenings or weekends, and are happy to discuss any issues outside of the classroom. Staff now have a better understanding of their pupils’ needs, and stronger relationships have been forged through this new method of communication.

Student and Teacher Workflow

"I felt that the iPad could be used for so much more, and started exploring different Apps which would allow pupils to use their iPads to actually design and sketch, just like designers use the Wacom drawing pads in industry."

Using the iPad as a design tool.

In Design Technology, all lessons are set using Google Classroom, and tasks are then marked, assessed and feedback given to pupils. Homework is set by the class teacher at various points throughout the projects with feedback given individually. At the end of each project, pupils produce a portfolio of work, which will contain photographs of the practical work produced during the project. Pupils will then receive a detailed assessment of their progress informing them of which level they are now working at.

Within the Design Technology Department, we have always used CAD to create design ideas and prototypes, and CAM to produce accurate models using the laser cutter and CNC router. When the time came for the pupils to have their iPads, we explored many different Apps for the pupils to use to create their school work and homework exercises on. At this point, I felt that the iPad could be used for so much more, and started exploring different Apps which would allow pupils to use their iPads to actually design and sketch, just like designers use the Wacom drawing pads in industry. Due to our experiences with Adobe, I started experimenting with the range of Apps which they had available with immediate success. I now was confident that we could use the iPads as a digital sketchbook, but continued to research what was out there. This is where I came across Concepts.

Out of all the Apps which I had used, Concepts was the easiest to use and very user friendly. It provided the type of user interface which students could adapt to quickly, without having any previous professional training. I trialled the App with my older 6th form pupils (ages 16–18), showing them the video tutorials provided by the website. Most pupils bought the Pro version within one lesson, so I knew we had found the most suitable App.

Trailer construction and modifications from a Product Design portfolio by Adam Keen, year 13.

Prototyping and Concepts development in a Richard Weston-inspired lighting design portfolio by Cerys Searle, year 12.

Many of my pupils go on to university to further study design in various different fields from Architecture to Product Design. My aim is to provide these pupils with the necessary skills needed to successfully complete these higher education courses and work in their chosen field of design. Using the iPads to sketch, model and present design work is how professionals now work, and as a Faculty we are very excited to have the equipment to train pupils in this way. Through the recent update and addition of the watercolour brush, we now have a complete App which can also be used in Art and is currently under development in this area.

In St Cyres Art, year 8 (12–13 years old) have been exploring identity throughout the year. They are currently exploring alter-egos with a focus on the artist Jon Burgerman. The pupils had to design their own alter-egos based on their personality and emotions. The pupils used the Concepts App to convert their pencil drawings into digital outcomes. These outcomes will then be superimposed onto images of themselves and turned into GIFs.

I strongly believe that the use of digital sketching will dramatically increase with the use of Concepts over the next few years, especially in the Design Technology area. My aim is to train pupils to work digitally at the earliest stage of their designing lessons, making the iPad and stylus feel as natural to design with as a sketchpad and pencil.

In September, we will have a past student working with us for a year with the 6th form students, specifically training them in digital sketching using Concepts. This student found her passion for digital sketching whilst in the 6th form at St Cyres School, and has developed her skills further at university. She is an extremely talented Product Designer who is keen to work with our students and improve their ability in this area.

"My aim is to train pupils to work digitally at the earliest stage of their designing lessons, making the iPad and stylus feel as natural to design with as a sketchpad and pencil."

As described earlier, my goal is to introduce digital sketching to all pupils as soon as possible and then build upon their skills through each year group. With the App now used in Art, the skills will develop in both areas with pupils gaining experience in many different assignments. My short term goals will be to train next year’s year 10 pupils (age 15) so that they can use their newfound skills in their examination work in year 11. We are also going to target year 12 (age 17) so they can also use their skills in their digital portfolios of work. This decision is mainly down to cost, as we simply cannot afford to provide every pupil in the school with a license to use the App.

A year 9 example of product design workflow by student Macy White.

Within the Design Technology department, we teach Resistant Materials at lower school (ages 12–14). Pupils experience a range of design and make tasks from Memphis-designed clocks to electronic night lights. Through the projects, pupils will be taught how to use a range of hand tools and machinery working in woods, metals and plastics. They will also experience electronics and use CAD/CAM at various stages. Within the portfolios of work, you can clearly see the opportunities to use Concepts on the iPad.

A Richard Weston-inspired Lighting Design portfolio excerpt by Hannah Watkins, year 12.

For an in-depth view of student work, please feel free to browse through these St Cyres student portfolios. In them, you will find how the Design Technology department teaches full product vision and development through their use of current technologies in digital design — from research to mind-mapping, to thoughtfully building and testing their personal product. We’re very proud of our students and know they have a successful future ahead of them.

Damian Parker qualified from university with a degree in Product Design, then furthered his studies to qualify as a teacher of Design Technology. He has taught at St Cyres School in Wales for over 22 years. Throughout his time at St Cyres, he has successfully led many initiatives within the Design Technology department, with the main focus of engaging pupils in the field of design. Over the years, his role within the department has increased in responsibility. He is now Head of Faculty with responsibility for Art, Design Technology and Photography. He has held this position for the last 6 years, facing many challenges and changes along the way. He has thoroughly enjoyed his role as Head Of Faculty, and through the hard work of his staff feel they are in the strongest place since his appointment.

Concepts is an infinite sketching app available for iOS, Windows and Android. If you're interested in Concepts for your classroom, please send an inquiry to and we'll be happy to help.

Interview by Erica Christensen


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