Ideas for Teaching a Practical Subject Remotely (Online)

What do you do with a practical subject if you are stuck at home for a long period of time?

Here are some ideas you can use to teach a practical subject remotely. (The practical ideas are down the bottom.)


Studying a product over time

I use this project as a standard in Year 8. Students are asked pick a product that they like (basketball lovers pick a basketball or basketball jersey, etc.) then to:

  • State what it does and how people use it
  • Give 5 examples detailing how it has changed over time (i.e. different materials invented, methods of measuring performance studied, etc.)
  • Provide a brief on what they think might happen to the product over the next 10 years.

The last bit is always the most fun for me to read, and students get to learn about something they enjoy.

Design Scenarios

Not a surprise and I am sure that you have many, but design scenarios does engage students. Picking a topical subject can help…

  • New type of ‘more socially acceptable’ face mask
  • Specialised trolley for panic shopping at supermarket
  • How to get people to wash their hands regularly and for 20 seconds…

Ask students to do a little research and a presentation drawing. They can even present on video and send it to you.

Study Famous Product Designers

It may sound a little dull on the face of it, but students usually get a buzz when they can put a face behind the products they use everyday.

Here are some names that they can start with:

  • Tinker Hatfield
  • Ralph Gilles
  • Sir Jonathan Ive
  • Chris Gray (Skyline Attractions)
  • Elon Musk
  • Ken Kutaragi
  • Phillippe Starck
  • James Dyson
  • Buckminster Fuller
  • Dieter Rams
  • Mark Newson

NOTE: There are some good design documentaries on Netflix about Tinker and Ralph (and probably a few others)

Creative & Critical Thinking Techniques

One of my favourite things about design and working with wood and other materials is that I come up with the ideas.

If you are starting a project or even doing a design scenario these techniques can help give students more ideas or clarify their ideas.

There are some great techniques you can use here including:

Creative Thinking
  • Negative brainstorming
    • Instead of good ideas, you want to think of bad ideas (i.e. what don’t you want). Then at the end invert the answers into good ideas. (The is a great technique to get ideas out of students who don’t want to or ‘can’t think of anything’)
  • Visually Identifying Relationships
    • Showing random pictures and drawing a relationship between the image and what your project/objective is.
  • Random word
    • Use a random word (here’s a generator) and then like above, draw a relationship between the objective/project and the word.
Critical Thinking
  • Targeting
    • Put a bulls-eye target somewhere, then take each idea and think of where it would land on the target. Then ask why.
  • PMI (pluses, minuses and interesting)
    • Three columns, then identify what is good, bad and interesting about your idea.
  • Storyboarding
    • Take your product from the experience of the end user and create a great experience! Disneyland rides are made with this technique (I heard somewhere) which is why they are so good. I can’t write about it here so here’s a link to how to do it.

Problem Statements

A problem statement is:

problem statement is a concise description of an issue to be addressed or a condition to be improved upon.


The way that I typically run a class around problem statements is to find products online and either use their statement or make one up if I can’t find it.

Then give students the list of problem statements and have them try to match a product they find online with the statement.

Some will race through this so making sure they find the best solution to the problem should be stressed.

Drawing Exercises

Learning how to draw is important to help communicate ideas. If you are remote it’s a perfect time for some drawing exercises.

There has to be plenty on YouTube.

Sketch-up / CAD Drawing Time

Students can install it at home if they don’t already have it and away they go. Sketch up has some good videos to start with

Social Media Market Research

Students have plenty of time to post stuff to social media, then why not do some research on peoples needs and what they want.

Students can post polls, and have people answer questions via comments on their feed. It’s a great way to easily connect to others when they are working remotely.

To do this they will need to think of the questions they want to ask, and possible answers.


Want to have a go at running an online practical class?

Marble run / Rub Goldberg Machine

A different spin to do it from home. Students can raid their recycling bin, shed or their room for different ideas and materials to use.

Here are some different types of simple machines you can ask for to make students do a little research and use some ingenuity:

  • Lever
  • Pulley
  • Inclined Plane
  • Wedge
  • Domino Chain Reaction

Kids can video it when they get it working and send it through via your online learning platform (or YouTube has an ‘unlinsted’ privacy setting if you are worried about privacy)

Mock-up Building

Using whatever is at home make a scale mock up instead of a ‘real one’. A mock up just means a model, typically used for demonstration or instructional purposes.

They aren’t perfect but they do force students to answer questions about joins, sizes and aesthetics. Students should have some material to make something resembling what they want to make.

That’s What I’m Thinking Anyway…

This is what I am thinking for remote teaching.

If you have any ideas i’d like to hear them.

I’ve had to turn comments off but you can contact me here and tell me what you do remotely and if I think it’s a great idea I will add it to this post and give you credit.

Thanks for reading my ideas on teaching a practical subject remotely