Tuesday, January 3, 2017

From Making to Designing: Moving Beyond Following a Recipe to Big Ideas

As a teenager growing up, I have many fond memories of Shop Class.  In fact, I still have a few of the items I made during my formative high school years.   We learnt many valuable hands-on skills related to woodworking, welding and photography.  Each project or assignment allowed us to follow a set of
instructions in order to build something that looked just like an example provided by our teacher.  Students who excelled were careful and meticulous at following directions. 

Fast forward almost 20 years, and you would have a difficult time finding Shop Class in many high schools across North America.  Many influential thinkers in education, like Sir Ken Robinson, argue that we should be resurrecting vocational education, especially Shop Classes.  Mr. Robinson argues that because of the pressures on governments to focus more on academic excellence many schools have eliminated vocational skills and training.  Alas, these programs, argues Robinson, promote creativity and help schools offer a balanced education that students need. 

Whilst I agree with Sir Ken Robinson, I would push this notion one step further.  The issue with some vocational curriculums is that they fail to challenge and engage students in authentic problem solving.  My Shop Class experience was riddled with recipe following leaving little room for creativity,
inquiry and critical investigation.  We were given a set of instructions to follow in order to carefully build a predetermined product.  At the end of the unit, every student made the same item (some looked more aesthetically pleasing than others :)  We were asked to be makers and not designers.  In my humble opinion, there is a difference.  Please see this chart which outlines my beliefs on the difference between makers and designers.

So, how do we move from Shop Class to Design Class? 

As a International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Design Teacher, I have learnt the importance of moving assignments or projects from conceptual understanding to conceptual understanding or from making to designing.  Instead of having students make the same thing, whether that is the same box or the same cup, we move to more open-ended products.  One way to ensure this is to use the acronym G.R.A.S.P.S, which stands for Goal, Role, Audience, Situation, Product, and Standards.

For example, let's say you have a 3-d printer in your classroom and you want to use it as a tool to help students engage in learning.  A traditional Shop Class might teach all the students how to use a 3-d modelling program like Tinkercad.  Then, you might have all students create a product like a bag tag.  If we wanted to move students beyond making, the project might look more like this:
Products for All Design Challenge
Your design company has been hired to develop a small prototype of a product for a child with a specific disability.  You will need to do some preliminary thought on who your target audience will be?  In other words, what disability are you making a product for?  Here are some examples, a) missing or amputated arm/hand/or legs, b) cerebral Palsy, c) Multiple Sclerosis, d) Severe Arthritis, e) Parkinson’s Disease, f) Muscular dystrophy, g) Blindness, h) Deafness
Goal-By understanding the perspective of others we can design toys that enable children to fully participation in their community.

Role-You are a product designer who has been hired by the Matel company to design a product or device that makes life easier for someone with a specific physical disability.

Audience-Your target audience will be someone with your chosen physical disability? In other words, what disability are you making a product for? Here are some examples, a) missing or amputated arm/hand/or legs, b) cerebral Palsy, c) Multiple Sclerosis, d) Severe Arthritis, e) Parkinson’s Disease, f) Muscular dystrophy, g) Blindness, h) Deaf Person, i) other?

Situation- Products for people with physical disabilities are often and after-thought. These people are not given the same opportunities are the rest of the able bodied world. Stores often sell products only for the regular population. It is time to consider designing things for people with physical disabilities. 

Product- To research and design a prototype of a product that is 3-d printed for a child that has a physical disability.

Standards- See MYP rubrics for Criterion A, B, C, and D.

Here are other examples of projects or assignments that emphasizes conceptual understanding and help move students from making to designing:

1) The Indian Train project.
2) Hacking Ikea Project
3) Reflecting on Automation

As I stare affectionately at my wooden key chain holder I made in my high school Shop Class, I want to be crystal clear about the message of this blog.  This is not about supremacy of one program over the other.  There is nothing wrong with making, maker spaces and the maker movement.  Children deserve the opportunity to work with their hands and develop skills necessary to build products.  Additionally, children deserve to be cognitively pushed and move beyond making something from a set of instructions.  My interpretation of designing allows them to engage in a problem, think critically and connect to bigger ideas. 

Brown, Tara Tiger. "The Death Of Shop Class And America's Skilled Workforce." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 19 June 2012. Web. 03 Jan. 2017.
Robinson, Ken, Sir. "Why Schools Need to Bring Back Shop Class." Time. Time, 08 May 2015. Web. 03 Jan. 2017

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