Sunday, March 13, 2016

Creativity and Design (Part 1 -- Del Mar High)

The final days of my adventure were spent in the San Francisco Bay Area.  This part of the trip involved a heavy dose of Oliners and design-centric education.  Though unusual by traditional standards, it was what I was used to from my own undergrad years.  The application to K-12 was really amazing to see first-hand.

My first stop Thursday was Del Mar High, home of the Dons (interesting mascot) and my Olin friend, Becca.  She is at a traditional, high-poverty school teaching physics.  The quotes around the walls scream growth mindset.  After greeting each student at the door, she facilitated an open-ended water wheel design activity.  Teams of 3 needed to use cardboard circles, dixie cups, straws, and skewers to make a wheel.  When the team poured water on the wheel, it was supposed to turn with enough power to lift a cup on a string filled with metal.  The tough part was that most of the students seemed to have no idea how to deal with a open-ended design-build challenge.

It was interesting to watch Becca return student requests for help and direction with questions that prompted them along in carrying out their own design.  As I interacted with some of the groups, I found it interesting how many students felt very comfortable taking the cardboard circles, attaching them to each other, and putting them on a spinning axis, but had no idea how to approach the problem of capturing water in order to make it move.  Like most people, they simply avoided the hard part, hoping a teammate would figure it out.

The morning reminds me of the challenges of open-ended learning when students have been trained for years on recipe/fact/algorithm-based direct instruction.  As we move towards more of these experiences for students, this becomes less of a challenge, but until then we need to invest a lot of effort into teaching strategies to students that help them create their own structure in open activities.  Sets of questions (sometimes called lenses), such as "what is the most important mechanism in this product that will make it work" or "what is the hardest component to design", are the kinds of questions I ask myself before jumping into a new construction activity that give me focus and direction amongst the ambiguity.  Keeping this in mind as I plan for next year will be huge if I want to be fully hands-off by the end of the year.

It was also awesome to see her school's old, abandoned wood shop.  There are a number of amazing machines (a laser cutter, multiple lathes, don't get me started) and a huge open space, but since the district made cuts in their career tech programs four years ago, it became a junkyard.  Becca was recruited to the team of teachers who are planning to transform the space into a modern makerspace.  She will be teaching the IB Design Technology course next year in the newly renovated space.  Becca's planning will be much more constrained by the IB requirements than my own planning (purely open elective), but I hope to use some of the principles of this course to add structure to my own and create enough points of overlap in the curriculum that we can work together and help each other design amazing experiences for students in both schools.

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