Hillbrook’s 5th grade, the class of 2019, has embarked on this year’s spring hard problem, a semester long deep project in science that addresses rigorous research practices, as well as a challenging engineering and design prompt.
Ilaria La Manna is an extraordinary children's educator and director of Fab Lab Argentina, who works with FabLat, an organization that connects children and educators learning and making all over Latin America. She is in Boston taking some courses and generously offered to connect our Fab Lab to a network of Fab Labs doing an Emosilla or "Emotion Chair" workshop in Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica and Columbia on Saturday 5 December 2015.
In 2011, I became the 5th and 6th grade science teacher at the Hillbrook School (Los Gatos, Ca). That same year the school undertook an audit of the science program for areas of strength, as well as areas for improvement. Simultaneously, the Next Generation Science Standards, emphasizing problem solving and engineering, had just been released, and that spring (2012), I attended my first Bay Area Maker Faire. After reviewing the available research on teaching and learning, attending workshops such as FabLearn at Stanford, and the Innovative Learning conference at the Nueva School, I was inspired to bring more engineering and design into the science curriculum. To learn how to do this well, I consulted with experts, such as Ed Carryer of Stanford’s Smart Product Design Lab (learn more about SPDL in Tony Wagner’s book Creating Innovators), to learn more about the use of prompts for semester long engineering projects. By the 2012 school year, I felt ready to prototype the new 5/6th grade science curriculum, now renamed Problem based Science. Problem based science (PbS) encourages students to gain a love of scientific thinking, applied math, and the creative use of technology, while learning through the lens of invention, design thinking, fixing and tinkering. Now in its fourth year of researched-based development, this blog describes how problem based science differs from traditional middle school science classes (i.e., how I used to teach) and lists the four core units of the curriculum. While these units currently make up only the 5th grade science curriculum at Hillbrook, the units are designed to be open ended enough to be applied to any age/grade level with varying degrees of content detail, technology integration, and design challenge difficulty.
I am sitting next to one of my 6th graders, J., as he flips though one of his favorite books. This book accompanies him to MakerSpace every day and if he is in the lab after school he typically has the book so he can refer to it. The book is a large picture book of the planets and their moons. He is showing me some of his favorite parts, and reading passages to me. As he is doing this, he is holding a model of one of the moons described in the book.
I once heard teaching compared to the act of launching boats. I love the visual evoked by that metaphor. Could we think of the work we do in our makerspaces a similar process to preparing for, and ultimately taking off on a self-guided journey? Students captain the ship and teachers watch from the shore.
Design Thinking as Constructionist Learning, Lessons from a Spring Hard Problem
My sixth and seventh grade STEAM students immersed themselves in the wonder of electricity this school year. They started out by exploring basic circuits, using blocks that I constructed using the Exploratorium’s ideas from their electricity exploration curriculum.
The overall learning targets for this unit were:
Earth Day 2015 is coming this month! So, celebrate by having your students do an upcycling activity. To help you out, I'm giving you a free upcycling curriculum.
Here are the 4 easy steps:
- Download the free Design Case Curriculum PDFs using this link. (I'm making this opensource under the creative commons now so feel free to pass it along) and unzip it. (see quick start below)
- Go to your local bike shop, climbing wall, upholstery shop, etc. and ask for some of their hard-to-recycle items like rubber tubs, old ropes, discarded fabric, corks, burlap, etc.
- Use the activities in the Design Case Curriculum to help your students create a new upcycled product.
Much hype has been made about incorporating Design or Design Thinking into education, but what is design and why is it “suddenly” a valued 21st century concept in education? Anyone who has taken a Design Thinking workshop knows that little is gained from a one hour design cycle, especially those based on product development that may or may not be a sustainable use of resources. On the other hand, understanding the actual process of design through first hand practice requires time, a lot of time. Years in some cases. That being the case, are schools that are pushing design into their programs allowing students to know more than the terms of design (brainstorm, iterate and empathy) or are they truly teaching the value, and intricacy of the design process? Inspired by Paulo Blikstein’s contribution to Agency by Design’s Makeology book (in press), I am focusing this blog on the importance of “fostering a culture of deep projects” as it relates to the design work that I do in science with my 5th graders.