Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

8th Graders "Design" Their Way to Learn Math, Science & Writing

CJ Westerberg, August 18, 2012 9:29 AM


"There's a mismatch between the way subjects are taught
and how students like to learn.

We compartmentalize and reduce learning
to nuggets of skills."

                                       --Meredith Davis

Science, Tech, Engineering, and Math
+ the ARTS = STEAM


by C.J. Westerberg

If creativity shown by our students appears to decrease with each passing school year, what is a school to do?  Why isn't "design" a part of our curriculum when we know design synthesizes
so many disparate elements to solve problems?  We all know why.  Because we continue to
teach "subjects" in little bits and pieces - where students are supposed to figure out how it works together.  Some day.

Enter Rinat Aruh, of the industrial design firm, Aruliden.  She created a seminar, "Tools for Schools," with the idea that students would learn how design works through creating classroom furniture.

Recruiting North Carolina-based Bernhardt Design, this program was integrated into the yearlong curriculum for an 8th grade class in New York. Students were segmented by three different challenges - to design a desk, chair or locker:

It became part of math class, where students studied ratios and proportion; science, where they investigated materials; and English, where they worked on their presentations. "The theory is, if you have deep learning, you have more hooks to attach new learning onto," says Annette Raphel, head of the School at Columbia. "When you get out of school, that's what really happens. You don't learn math to pass a test but to solve problems that require math skills. That's bigger than a standardized test."

Big surprises awaited teachers, administrators and the students themselves.  In fact,
prototypes for the kids' designs will be featured at the upcoming International Furniture Fair at New York's Javits Center in May. 

"The kids came up with four or five things that are significant in how furniture is designed," says Helling. "I had no idea, for example, that a locker was so important, both psychologically and for efficiency. And the idea that they need to fidget to concentrate is really key."

What's most interesting, however, are the larger ramifications of this project as they relate to education:

Clearly, the project showed that kids as young as 13 can grasp the rigorous process that designers undertake. It also reflected the fact that students are enthusiastic learners -- of math, science, and writing -- when those subjects are integrated into a project they care about.

"There's a mismatch between the way subjects are taught and how students like to learn," says Meredith Davis, who authored the study of design in K-12 education for the National Endowment for the Arts. "We compartmentalize and reduce learning to nuggets of skills. Design, meanwhile, goes out to the big-idea world: What is the bigger goal and what skills are important to getting there? Students gravitate to that."

"This will transform how these kids think about education " . . . read more . . .
 from Fast Company here.

Click HERE for a gallery of student work.  Impressive!!


Related from The Daily Riff:

Time to Change STEM to STEAM

How Design Impacted a Rural School System - TED talk

Cool, Cheap & Clever - 7 Designs for School

Are We Preparing Students for Our Age or Theirs?  by C.J. Westerberg

Why Can't Playgrounds Look More Like This? 

The Creativity Crisis in Our Schools

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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