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 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.


For student engagement, drop a challenge and get out of the way

My bio classes just wrapped up one of my favorite projects.  As part of our unit on structure and function (physiology), I have students create a functional prototype for a replacement limb organ.  As part of the project, students also present an 8 min TED talk where they must 1) build empathy for a particular user or set of users 2) describe a problem with existing solutions 3) demonstrate their own prototype.

I’ve blogged about this project before, but this year was a little bit of a different experience.  I introduced the project much later in the school year than in the past and within days of attending my 5th TEDx conference.  Experiencing TED in person reminded me to spend more time in class on presentation skills.  So, we watched about 8 TED talks – including Mike Ebeling (below), Dean Kamen, Tom Chi, Anthony Atala – over the course of the project and discussed as a class how effective the talks were and for what reasons. 

The class concluded that talks with a real user (ie. empathy was developed) as well as those that demonstrated some product were their favorites.  This was apparent in their own talks as students did a great job of generating empathy, highlighting a problem, and story telling how their prototype could make a difference.

The second change this year was that I was behind the eight ball in terms of trying to cram this project in before exams.  It was not an ideal scenario, but I felt the experience for students was worth it.  In fact, I did not even grade the project as I felt it was too close to exam time for a large project grade to go in (I did, however provided feedback to students).  What was crazy was how engaged students were in the process.  At a time of year where it can be hard to capture the attention of students who are looking forward to summer break as well as being bombarded with other school stress, I took special note of students’ willingness to work when confronted with real and tangible problems.  Students brought in materials and tools from home.  They suggested improvements to other groups’ prototypes.  They (apparently) rapidly iterated ideas at a weekend sleep over.  They wowed each other with their stories and working models.  This was with much less direct instruction and guidance than in years past.  All I had to do was get out of the way…..



Design Thinking in Bio Class

ReBlog: Design Thinking in Bio Class

ReBlog from my school’s website.  One student project in particular gave me goosebumps with excitement.  Students empathized with kids that had cochlear implants – an amazing biotechnology that can restore hearing to deaf people.  Students discovered that these implants can draw unwanted attention and become potentially inconvenient if swimming or bathing (processor needs to be removed).  My students’ elegant solution: use off the shelf technologies like Android speech to text apps + pair of sunglasses + small directional microphone to create the EyeTalk.

The EyeTalk uses a small directional microphone embedded int he glasses frame to listen to whoever the user is looking at.  This audio is converted to text via opensource android technology and projected on the interior of of the glasses lens.  Inspiration was taken from HUD (heads up displays) commonly used in aircraft cockpits.  Their prototype was built in class using readily available and cheap materials: oversize party store sunglass with an android smart phone (prepped with speech to text app) mounted to the back of one lens.  The prototype was not glamorous as I asked students to keep them decidedly “low resolution” (meaning cheap, quick, and dirty).  The result, however, did everything I could ask for in a prototype – it’s a way to make hope visible.

Making Design Thinking Actionable (Part 1)

Design Thinking is necessarily vague…..applicable to products and procedures alike…vegetable peelers to your experience at the book store (Barnes and Noble was among the first to redesign store layout to the index of topics that we are used to today).  I get it.  But teachers tend to not like vague.  I need to have some way of anticipating where my students’ work is going to lead.  It’s the same frustrated feeling many of us have experienced after leaving a training seminar of one kind or another.  We tend to cheer enthusiastically “YES!”  then dejectedly wonder “but how?”.

Fortunately, I just finished Tim Hurson’s book “Think Better”.  It’s awesome. It lays out specific, actionable, exercises for design thinking which Hurson calls “productive thinking” (told you designers can’t agree on a definition).   Just to be different, I want to consider using Hurson’s methods in my classroom, but call it “Innovative Thought (I.T.)”.  Productive thinking sounds pretty corporate to me.  Understandably so since Hurson’s book is aimed at businesses and found in the afore-mentioned business section at Barnes and Noble.  Innovative Thought ties nicely with my school’s mission to incorporate innovation into 21st century teaching and learning as well.  So I want to get my thoughts on this book down, completely selfishly, to try to frame how Hurson’s process might look in a classroom.

Lets’ first agree that thinking is hard.  My students remind me of this every day.  Getting the answer (presumably from me, but also from and the like) is far easier than generating an original response.  I can’t say I blame them.  The outcomes look the same…the answer.  But design thinking is different because there is no answer….yet.  Design thinking is for the world’s wickedest problems.  If that’s a little dramatic for you, consider the hurdles/challenges you face every day at work.  Is there an answer that your boss checks you against, or are you expected to generate something plausible/workable/logical on your own accord?  Exactly.

As Hurson proposes, innovative thought is a series of iterations of divergent (creative) and convergent (analytical) thinking.  I like it; and consider it validated by Roger Martin’s work in general and this graph in particular.


Roger Martin – via Mutually Human blog


Design Thinking is hard work because of what it’s not…Reproductive thinking.  Six Sigma and TQM are business world examples of fine tuning or micro managing the details of a process to improve quality.  Is this a good thing for business?  Sure.  Is it an example of innovation?  No.  As Hurson says, this is an “illusion of innovation.”  The product or process improves, but nothing is done to ask the question “can we do this in an entirely new way?

Example:  DVD/VCR combo


Designed so that you can purchase and use any type video media available.


Netflix stream video so that you don’t need to buy physical media in the first place or go to brick and mortar store to rent one.

To start an innovative process you first need a problem…an issue…or as Hurson says an “itch” to tackle.  To do this with students, I imagine having them tap into their everyday experiences.  What annoys them?  List it…as many as possible.  This is divergent thinking and we should consciously try to free ourselves from any inhibitions and us our imaginations.  It can be hard to resist our analytical mind’s urge to mark an idea as “dumb” or “…will never work”.  Ignore it.  We will use convergent thinking to refine the list later.  I asked some seniors at our school what annoyed them and got these responses:

“I wish I had better access to a printer, like in the hallway on the way to class”

“I wish we had a better place to put our back backs during lunch”  (these pile up everywhere!)

“I wish freshmen would get out of the hallways”  (I presume this means the halls are too crowded?  Lockers should not be centralized?)

With a list generated, it’s time pick one that feels right.  Which “itches” are the team drawn too?  I like the third one about crowded hallways.  I want to know more about what is the root of this….the real problem.  This intuition is critical to the creative process (as suggested by Martin).  With an issue identified that pulls you toward it….piques your interest…you’re in business.  The ball is rolling.

Quick Post: Bruce Mau’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth”

I’ve mentioned Bruce Mau before, but just recently found his firm’s “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth.”   (thanks @jonhusband for tweeting) This is a fantastic resource for anyone interested in positively affecting their world.  Depending on your perspective this is good parenting advice, cliff’s notes for Design Thinking, learning objectives for a design class, or humorous satire.  The “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth” has 43 points.  Which are your favorites??

Intro to Biomimicry

Since I mentioned biomimicry in my previous post, I thought I’d link to a few resources until I can devote a full post to the subject.  This TED Talk from Janine Benyus is a great intro and will hopefully get you excited about biomimicry, how relevant the subject is, and how much potential it holds.

Here is a brilliant product called Sharklet (mentioned in the video).  Imagine proactively defending against bacterial infection by using this stuff on “touch surfaces.”  What a powerful alternative to continually cleaning with disinfectants and harsh chemicals.

Speaking of which, proactively rethinking how we design chemicals and reduce environmental impact of existing chemicals are a few examples of the 12 Principles of Green Chemistry outlined by Beyond Benign.  Please check out their website to learn about the 12 Principles.  Their ideas relate closely to Design Thinking in that they challenge us to rethink how industrial chemistry is currently practiced so as to reduce the potential for waste and toxicity.  For us teachers – they also have some great lesson plans available for all ages.  (Here is the obligatory Creative Commons License link: Beyond Benign / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)  I’m currently taking a class offered by Beyond Benign and am thrilled at the possibilities of integrating these lessons into my existing Chemistry (and Biology) curriculum.

Back to biomimicry… Beyond Benign also posts great biotechnology lesson plans.  For even more lessons and a curricular map, follow the link from Beyond Benign to one their partners at the Biomimicry Institute.

I hope this inspires some ideas for science teachers out there!  I would love to hear feedback from any of you that are implementing Biomimicry or Green Chemistry concepts in the classroom.  What works and what doesn’t?