Friday, March 27, 2009

Design as a way of thinking

Design in the classroom: facilitating creative growth for a temperamental century.

In the summer of 2002 I was fortunate to attended the week-long Cooper-Hewitt Design Institute for educators. The Education Office of this branch of the Smithsonian Institution located in the Andrew Carnegie Mansion at 91st Street and Fifth Avenue pulled together the greatest minds in the design community to meet, talk with and conduct workshops with K-12 teachers. I doubt that any other professional group in America does a similar service in providing enrichment for teachers from the brightest bulbs in their field!

The first morning, I walked in to search out the coffee pot and found myself talking to one of my cultural heroes, John Maeda, of the MIT Media Lab then, and now, President-Elect for RISD!
The line-up of design greats was legendary and the opportunity to talk with them directly was a profound experience. Now I see that the CHDI is a traveling show! Since the Cooper Hewitt is the National Design Museum it makes all the sense in the world. So if you know educators in close proximity to Atlanta, please read the following and also go the their website to learn the details, quick!

"Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is accepting applications for participation in its week-long Cooper-Hewitt Design Institute, April 6-10, 2009. The training will take place in Atlanta, GA and is only eligible for Atlanta area K-12 public school teachers.
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, in partnership with the Global Health Odyssey Museum, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is pleased to present the Cooper-Hewitt Design Institute (CHDI), an intensive, process-based program that will train K-12 teachers to use design-based learning in their classrooms. The CHDI will explore the ideas presented in the upcoming exhibition (February 17-May 29, 2009) at Atlanta’s Global Health Odyssey Museum, Design for the Other 90%, featuring the work of designers attempting to improve the lives of people living in poverty or recovering from natural disasters."
At the program that I attended another presenter from the pantheon was David Kelley, co-founder of IDEO. I noticed that the February issue of Metropolis magazine (image above) is devoted to the theme of design as a strategy for learning in the classroom. Trust me, nothing can take your mind and stretch it in so many directions all at the same time!
Below is a copy of IDEO's "Ten Tips for Creating a 21st-century Classroom Experience" by
Sandy Speicher.
"1. Pull, don’t push.
Create an environment that raises a lot of questions from each of your students, and help them translate that into insight and understanding. Educa­tion is too often seen as the transmission of knowledge. Real learning happens when the student feels the need to reconcile a question he or she is facing—and can’t help but seek out an answer.
2. Create from relevance.
Engage kids in ways that have relevance to them, and you’ll capture their attention and imagination. Allow them to experience the concepts you’re teaching firsthand, and then discuss them (or, better yet, work to address them!) instead of relying on explanation alone.
3. Stop calling them “soft” skills.
Talents such as creativity, collaboration, communication, empathy, and adaptability are not just nice to have; they’re the core capabilities of a 21st-century global economy facing complex challenges.
4. Allow for variation.
Evolve past a one- size-fits-all mentality and permit mass customization, both in the system and the classroom. Too often, equality in education is treated as sameness. The truth is that everyone is starting from a different place and going to a different place.
5. No more sage onstage.
Engaged learning can’t always happen in neat rows. People need to get their hands dirty. They need to feel, experience, and build. In this interactive environment, the role of the teacher is transformed from the expert telling people the answer to an enabler of learning. Step away from the front of the room and find a place to engage with your learners as the “guide on the side.”
6. Teachers are designers.
Let them create. Build an environment where your teachers are actively engaged in learning by doing. Shift the conversation from prescriptive rules to permissive guidance. Even though the resulting environment may be more complicated to manage, the teachers will produce amazing results.
7. Build a learning community.
Learning doesn’t happen in the child’s mind alone. It happens through the social interactions with other kids and teachers, parents, the community, and the world at large. It really does take a village. Schools should find new ways to engage parents and build local and national partnerships. This doesn’t just benefit the child—it brings new resources and knowledge to your institution.
8. Be an anthropologist, not an archaeologist.
An archaeologist seeks to understand the past by investigating its relics and digging for the truth of what was. An anthropologist studies people to understand their values, needs, and desires. If you want to design new solutions for the future, you have to understand what people care about and design for that. Don’t dig for the answer—connect.
9. Incubate the future.
What if our K–12 schools took on the big challenges that we’re facing today? Allow children to see their role in creating this world by studying and creating for topics like global warming, transportation, waste management, health care, poverty, and even education. It’s not about finding the right answer. It’s about being in a place where we learn ambition, involvement, responsibility, not to mention science, math, and literature.
10. Change the discourse.
If you want to drive new behavior, you have to measure new things. Skills such as creativity and collaboration can’t be measured on a bubble chart. We need to create new assessments that help us understand and talk about the developmental progress of 21st-century skills. This is not just about measuring outcomes, but also measuring process. We need formative assessments that are just as important as numeric ones. And here’s the trick: we can’t just have the measures. We actually have to value them."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Carnival a la Virgin Island Style

These are very old images from the Carnival on St. John, Virgin Islands

Sadly I have no student-made image for this project. When I first began teaching at the high school I was assigned to help a student develop an independent project. The student had no visual art background and was entirely intimidated (I will not go into why she was assigned to me...). Her strength was in dance, voice and choreography. She arrived after the start of school from her family's home in the British Virgin Islands. We had vacationed in the U.S. Virgin Islands that summer so I knew a little about her cultural background.

So together we brain stormed and came up with a super idea....she would design carnival costumes, and have them made up in the BVI, she would keep a journal of her process and progress, and choreograph a dance for her and select friends to perform for the school audience at the annual holiday event for performing arts at the end of the semester.

I helped her design a "paper doll" image by tracing around a figure of a model in a catalog. This was then photo-copied along with an area for notations for fabrics and trims. The student then drew her designs (front and back views) and also created headgear, foot ware, and other accessories and created a palette for each design.

She researched and wrote about carnival history and culture. We lunched at local Caribbean restaurants. During the Thanksgiving break she flew to the islands to pick up the finished costumes from the seamstresses. She also got a cd of steel drum music written by a cousin and performed by him and friends. While she was there she also borrowed some traditional costumes.

Back at home she choreographed her dance and worked with the other students...and would not allow me to see their progress! The night of the event, the new head of school's wife sat next to me. I explained the independent project and her response was something like, "How could you let her do that?", or something to that effect. Needless to say, the dance was an amazing success for her, me, the dancers, and the students and their families...and hopefully the wife of the head of school.