Critical Making

I owe it all to my wife and a little bit of curious wandering. She is an artist. For a mechanical enginerd, Spock-like logical thinker, and excel spreadsheet fanboy, she might have well been an unicorn of cognitive disruption. I followed her on lots of dates to museums and galleries. I made the novice mistake of saying things like:

“Those are just solid colors. That’s not art!”

“A kindergartener could splatter paint like that, but you don’t see those in a museum.”

“That is just plain weird…and I’m a little uncomfortable.”

If I knew then what I know now, I would have been able to see the inquiry, experimentation, and fabrication that went into those works. Each artist was incredibly capable of landscapes, portraits, sketched figures, etc, yet they chose – with purposeful intentionality – to create the works masterpieces above. Rothko’s work reflects inquiry into how color can can affect behavior and moods and consume the viewer. Pollack experimented tirelessly to challenge the status quo of painting on an upright easel and instead explored a technique that allowed paint to meet canvas from multiple dimensions. Pras piled a bunch of trash in a way that…seriously…I don’t care who you are…that is awesome. He fabricated something from nothing while exhibiting extraordinary craftsmanship. Hmmmm..starting to sound like our Maker|Design|Engineering culture.

Years later, I hope I’m a little wiser and find myself leaning increasingly more on the art world for inspiration not just from a creativity standpoint, but on pedagogical one. I’m desperate to learn more about how to cultivate creative thought and action AND assess and provide feedback in a way that cultivates our value standards for Maker|Design|Engineering at MVPS.

A recent source of inspiration is the book Art of Critical Making published by RISD. I’ve read it, highlighted a ton, and initiated a book study with some of our arts faculty to better understand how to bring the ideas in book into actionable classroom norms. It’s that good, and I’m convinced that the art studio model of critiques and self assessment holds at least part of the secret recipe to meaningfully assessing MakerED builds. Additionally, I feel even more strongly that the maker community we imagined over a year ago along with the culture we hoped to cultivate is rooted in what I now know to call the Art of Critical Making:

Indeed, works of art are the result of inquiry, experimentation, discovery, and innovation, and as such, they offer the opportunity to develop and exercise these very same skills. (Art of Critical Making, loc 1775)

Below is a sampling of segments from the book that seem to directly align with our value and process standards for Maker|Design|Engineering at MVPS.

Fabrication:

RISD’s studio model is built around two key elements: critical thinking, the ability to process and evaluate information while challenging assumptions and employing multiple ways of knowing; and critical making, the process of creating things by altering materials and giving form to ideas. Critical making requires critical thinking and social consciousness along with embodied knowledge if it is to be distinguished from making in general. Critical making should also be understood as different than production where the thinking is complete before the fabrication begins. In critical making, the very process itself opens up new possibilities for deep, expansive thinking and the serious inquiry that stimulates discovery. (Art of Critical Making, loc 1555)

Craftsmanship:

RISD is a place where students are developing their own creative capabilities as professional artists and designers, learning how to use their own hands to craft diverse materials into objects. Walking around campus, one primarily sees students working with their bodies at easels, drafting desks, kilns, saws, and machines, and lots of things propped, pinned, piled, strewn, and hung. Yet contextualizing is always there. In expressive arts such as painting, ceramics, or sculpture, context is often fairly subjective. While most artists consider their work a contribution to society and social discourse, they frequently draw on personal experiences of the world as sources, trusting that unknown audiences will share their interests or appreciate their perspectives. In design fields such as architecture, graphic design, or industrial design, context is often made explicit in the creative process. Designers make things for particular people, places, and situations, whose qualities and meanings they study in order for their designs to be most relevant. (Art of Critical Making, loc 874)

Idea Exchange :

Artists and designers train to approach the lively aspects of the materials with which they work with multileveled engagement and creative play. They become absorbed in the conversations, dip in and out, and enter experiences of making collaboratively in working states that reject the question, “Where does your input end and the input of the material begin? (Art of Critical Making, loc 2118)

Observation & Judgement:

Critiques can be behavioral learning experiences that help participants learn about social interaction, expressions of support, and disagreement. Successful critiques are about perceptive, constructive feedback, not a judgment of good or bad, but an offering of “I experience this — was that your intention?” or “What if . . . ?” Critiques provide a pathway through which students develop a lifelong ability to self-evaluate and to reflect on improving, articulating, and evolving their ideas. The benefits of this kind of conscious awareness of how a work succeeds in communicating an intended outcome and the cultivation of honest response surely have applications not just in art and design but in multiple circumstances. (Art of Critical Making, loc 453)

I hope that readers (that’s you!) will comment on what they like, what’s missing, and how they might translate to their own classrooms or places of work. Steve Jobs said that “you can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards”. I’m at a place where I’m committed to the idea that self assessment a-la the art studio model should be considered an increasingly valid and reliable method of assessment especially for domains like art and design that are rooted in creative thought and action. I genuinely want to invite this reader community to engage in some discussion to help me connect some dots.


Maverick Maker

3-2-1-Launch. My syllabus for this semester’s edition of my T.E.D – Technology, Engineering, & Design – class is live. This year at Mount Vernon Presbyterian school our Head of School, Brett Jacobsen, provided a bold provocation to the entire faculty: Be a Maverick. In a vague, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous(VUCA) world an innovative mindset is necessary to navigate. One pathway to innovation is by being a maverick. That is, mavericks vary and change their routes. They challenge assumptions. They experiment and test. They think big.

The pioneer in me – recently validated via by the StandOut Assessment – took the maverick message to heart. As such, I’m varying my route in the T.E.D. course this year and testing at least 3 new ideas:

  1. HMW I redesign my syllabus to inspire and engage parents and learners?
    • Which is preferred? Static content that clearly delivers “just the facts” or dynamic content that engages and generates questions?
  2. What if the E in T.E.D. were changed to entrepreneurship?
    • While students have previously had opportunities to build and make projects that were meaningful to them, that element of choice will include and added dimension this year. In addition to submitting a build permit (standard procedure for our Maker|Design|Engineering program) students will create a business strategy for launching their product to the marketplace. The hypothesis is that this additional dimension will help learners more meaningfully consider usability, marketability, and feasibility.
  3. HMW practice PBL in an interdisciplinary that creates real meaning for each class involved?
    • You May have read about last year’s edition of this experiment. This year, T.E.D., AP Physics, and Pre-Calculus will partner to design assistive technologies for real users. The hope is to better embed the designing process > generate more empathy > fabricate more meaningful products.

I’ve worked each of these tests into a syllabus I created using LucidPress (a favorite tool, BTW). Because I’m testing new ideas….I’m craving feedback. Bring it on!

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Quick post: The Rise of Any Time, Any Place, Any Path, Any Pace Learning

Amen! A beautifully written piece after the jump below that includes the importance of developing T shaped students and the positive changes we are making in education.

@OpenBadges: RT @TheCLAlliance: The Rise of Any Time, Any Place, Any Path, Any Pace Learning: http://t.co/a2ynDMLp9p via @edutopia #edchat
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Technology, Engineering, & Design Magazine Project

I’ve been thinking alot about the previous entry (activity playlist)  and how I can do a similar thing in my new TED course. I have to say….I’m REALLY excited about an idea I have. I want to offer students a menu or playlist or activities like what was suggested above. I also have at least two other goals that I feel are important: 1) I want students to collaborate – not merely work on their own chosen activities and 2) I need students to consider different areas of engineering that I had already outlined in my course description (Biotechnology, communications, energy, entertainment and recreation).

 

Here is the plan….students will create and publish 4 issues – one for each unit – of an e-magazine. The look and feel should be something of a mashup between Wired, Fast Company, and Popular Mechanics. Because the course is called Technology, Engineering, and Design, I need to be intentional about incorporating each of those disciplines. In a broad sense the magazine itself will contribute to the majority of the design element. My vision of the mag is to be highly designed using LucidPress and have the styling of glossy magazine like Wired. Within the magazine will be a variety of entries that will cover both the engineering and technology components. An unit specific infographic might be an additional demonstration of design learning.  Specific to engineering, I will expect students to submit DIY articles like you would find in Popular Mechanics or Instructables. I imagine students designing a communication devices using arduino in the communications unit. A step by step tutorial of how to build the device could appear in the magazine as a demonstration of the student’s engineering learning. In the realm of technology, I really want to focus on human issues with technology (ie. ethics, socio-political influences, product lifecycle commentary, technological privacy issues). Here I imagine student editorial pieces about GMO’s in the biotechnology unit for instance. All together students will be bounded by the magazine issue topic (goal #2) and will have to collaborate to put an cohesive magazine together (goal #1). In essence, the magazine project itself is PBL-esque that can take care of the design component of the class and will also serve as a sort of portfolio of student work.

 

I still need to wrap my head around how I facilitate the right amount of articles of each type in each issue while also maximizing student choice of assignments (like the playlist idea). If I assigned a group of students to the “written editorial” section on this unit and then the “diy tutorial” section in the next unit, would that preserve enough student choice and create the differentiated experience that got me excited in the first place?

 

Would love some feedback…is this an idea worth pursuing?  OR scrap it?

 


Assignment “playlist” and hacking a curriculum

This tweet came across my feed that really got me thinking about delivery of Technology Education.

 

Via@Learn21Tech: HMW create an assignment bank similar to this one used in an online classassignments.ds106.us cc@boadams1#playlist

 

The link takes you to an online course, ds106 (digital storytelling), where you will find a list of assignment categories.  The categories are not necessarily anything new.  There are writing assignments, video assignments, web assignments, etc.  There are some, however, that piqued my interest a little more….audio assignments, 3D printing assignments, and design assignments. As I dug deeper, I found that the suggestions for these different types of activities are really cool! You find things like create an infographic for your favorite movie, mash two different 3D models together before printing, create a self reflection podcast, and create a poster worthy image from schematics found on patent searches. I would love to take this class!

 

What is super intriguing is that the course seems to be totally student driven and differentiated according to students’ interests. I wonder how a teacher might require that each student completes each type of assignment? I suspect that only doing writing assignments for example would not qualify as a pass for the course. This particular teacher rates each assignment “suggestion” on a difficulty scale from 1-5. The teacher might suggest then that students earn X amount of stars in each category. Brilliant! I really want to use this idea for my new Technology, Engineering, and Design course next year.

 


Engineering Design vs Design Thinking

I have been posed the question before, and was most recently solicited on twitter: What is the difference between engineering and design thinking. As most of my colleagues know, I’m a fan/student of design thinking. My intuition tells me it is right for use in school. However, this particular conversation really forced me to lean in and think about specific differentiators between the two.

One bit of information that I left out of my “argument” was perhaps my all time favorite definition of designing thinking as proposed by Roger Martin – @RogerLMartin – of the Rotman School of Business. Martin describes design thinking as the overlap between analytical thinking and intuitive thinking.

 

 

His visualization of design thinking is so elegant to me – perfectly capturing the tension between the analytical (ie. engineering design; “prove it”) and the intuitive (ie. trust your gut; “love it”).

Matin's Definition of Design Thinking (1)

Anyway, I captured the previously mentioned twitter convo using Storify.  How did I do? How would  you differentiate between engineering design and design thinking?


Quick Post: Is this what school should look like?

Charles Tsai at Good sought to find out and did some fantastic work.

Interested to hear some feed back. These students are inspiring and ambitious. Would this format work for all (or even most) students?

Reblogged from Good:

Tsai, Charles. “What If Students Designed Their Own Schools?” GOOD. N.p., 14 Feb. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2013. <http://www.good.is/posts/what-if-students-designed-their-own-schools&gt;.