Teaching a tool or teaching a design process?I follow and teach the Design Thinking process. Design Thinking is so vital because it fosters communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking, the vital skills you need to be successful in life. There was a great presentation done this year at Punahou school by their high school students for our First Lego League team. The students walked the whole team through Design Thinking by using the process to solve a problem with us. That was a moment of clarity for me. It is like the scientific method for makers! I felt like it gave me a simple, powerful, repeatable process that Kailua Elementary students and teachers could follow and be successful.
Design Thinking means getting to know someone (Empathize), and figuring out what their “pain point” or challenge is (Define). After determining these, we brainstorm like crazy to come up with as many solutions we can (Ideate). Then we draw our designs on paper, make models out of cardboard and other materials, and finally create a working prototype (Prototype). Next we test out the model, get and give feedback, and share our experiences (Test). This cycle can continue over and over again until the team is satisfied with the results. Recently, I found AJ Juliani’s “Launch” framework and want to explore that more this summer during our robotics camp.
This year we focused on students using Easel, Inventables' simple and powerful 3D carving program. I think it's incredibly important for students to digitally ideate and prototype in addition to making low-fi models. When students have choice and control they want to master the tools available. The first question I would hear in the morning is, “Did you look at the design I posted yet?” We need to understand that being creative and solving problems takes time and effort. The agency for the students is in their ability to create the content they want anywhere and anytime, and take it as far as they want.
Do you teach how to operate the tool?
I walk students through the steps of what is happening when I'm setting up the X-Carve. Honestly, I feel like they can learn to tighten a router collet later. Personally, I want to have a workflow that is efficient and safe. I have been learning and adjusting the hardware setup to make sure we are safe, and that their experience is consistent. I want students to have as much control as possible, but it has to be gradual and sustainable. I want them to be resilient when things don’t go as expected, but I do want them to have a positive outlook and expect things to go right.
Do you start with something like the tiles Jeff Solin did with his class?Yes! At first we explored Easel and the project section of the Inventables website. I didn’t really tell students what I wanted because I didn’t know. We talked about making signs and the students found the tile project. We substituted ¼" plywood for the project. I told them they could make anything they wanted. Some students chose icons inside of Easel but others went online to find certain characters they wanted to incorporate into the design. One of my students imported a dragon she had created and brought it home to paint.
We have not stepped into that arena yet. I think if we do, it would be for a class fundraiser or for our 3rd grade mini-society unit.
Do you allow the kids to design something that can be sold?
Do you give them a budget?No, but I am pretty verbal about costs and about students being stewards of whatever resources we receive. For this year’s main project, students made most of their projects from ½" plywood. Kailua Elementary is not a rich school but our administration is very understanding and supportive of STEM and our growing maker space. We have been using a lot of recycled materials for other projects but I need to do a better job of connecting with our community to see if anyone has materials/resources to share!
Not sure what your maker lab should look like? Check out Greg's classroom lab!