Wednesday, I posted Part 2 of "A Place for Everything, and for Everything a Place". The article was basically the start of a reflection about the last middle school unit where students built and designed tool holders to help with our goal: "a place for everything, and for everything a place by the end of the 2017/2018 school year."
Here I shall continue my reflection and, to recap, the unit looked something like this:
1. Partner Assignment
2. Tool Assignment
3. Find two solutions online to your problem: one solution you like, and one solution you don't like.
4. Come up with your own five solutions with your teammate.
5. Pick one solution and build a prototype out of Styrofoam and cardboard.
6. List parts and dimensions of assembly.
7. Draw front, top, and right view of each part with dimensions included.
8. Draw exploded view of entire assembly. (This ended up being me modeling isometric sketching for most teams.)
9. Build design.
1. Partner Assignment: Teamwork is tough to teach. I pair randomly because to arrange pairs in your favor is time consuming and usually ends up just as good as random. There will never be a perfect arrangement.
The toughest pair to manage is one in which a dominating personality is paired with a passive personality. Coach repeatedly to split the work and to take turns, if it's appropriate for the task. It's one of those necessary daily reminders until it is ingrained in the culture. If I could add anything, I'd have added a team meeting/evaluation with myself to give students feedback.
2. Tool Assignment (also random): Random tool assignment worked well with students being in pairs. If they were working individually, I probably would not have done random and would have chosen based on difficulty to each student.
3. Find two solutions online to your problem: one solution you like, and one solution you don't like: Called "bench-marking" in the design world, I see no problem letting students see prior solutions in this case, as long as they see multiple solutions. Some chose to directly reverse-engineer what they saw, but many ended up finding their own way because they had to...
....4. Come up with your own five solutions with your teammate: Don't expect to deliver this expectation without grumblings. The first idea is always the best idea in many new designers' eyes. Experienced designers know this isn't so. Experienced designers know to come up with as many ideas as possible, even ridiculous ideas, to get the juices flowing and to end up stumbling on the best option. In a world that pushes convergent thinking, posing a divergent problem creates a lot of resistance. Hold your ground, be firm, don't be critical, get your motivational speaker tone on.
5. Pick one solution and build a prototype out of Styrofoam and cardboard: This took a lot of time, but I'm extremely glad I chose to do so. There's a common teaching proverb that states: teach slow, to teach fast. This experience was proof.
6. List parts and dimensions of assembly: The prototype was priceless for this step. Students could physically see and measure the "boards" they would need to build their assembly. Measuring errors were common, yet manageable. Since the unit, I have retaught a measuring unit and students have been more receptive to measuring instruction than any group I've ever had. I have to believe the frustration caused in this step, by lack of measuring skill, may be a motive behind their reception.
7. Draw front, top, and right view of each part with dimensions included: No mastery here, but good exposure. In the interest of progress, I had to overlook a few flaws in their front, top, right view drawings. Spatial reasoning is a skill that's tough, but fun to teach. When the light bulb goes off, it's usually blinding.
8. Draw exploded view of entire assembly: Definitely no mastery here. Most of this step was taught through me modeling sketching and not much more.
Sketching and drawing is a stupidly sensitive topic to teach. What kids once did without care or judgement, and with enough pride to ask you to hang their work up, now creates sulky and whiny kids who revert to the maturity level of a disappointed 5 year old with the added fearful inhibitions of a teenager. So, in modeling sketching, I use isometric sketch paper. I show students how the lines work. I talk while I draw, and I explain I can do so because of the lines on isometric sketch paper, that most people can't draw well and talk at the same time, myself included without the isometric sketch paper. Then I show them that, and let them see some lower than quality, but still communicative sketch work. Like before, hold your ground, be firm, don't be critical, get your motivational speaker tone on.
That being said, having to meet with each team and sketch up their design with the team was extremely beneficial for both students and I. The reasoning behind visual literacy became clear to many students, sketching inhibitions have decreased, and I was able to develop a full understanding of their designs. Turns out, I was the one with many misconceptions.
9. Build design: Pocket screws and plywood. Worked great.
A couple of confessions:
1) Painting was done by our English teacher during a work bee day over spring break. Painting with students is a nightmare. God bless art teachers...and our English teacher.
2) There were some last minute tweaks and projects I had to complete over spring break for the students who were behind. At some point though, you have to get complete closure and move on. Pull the students in during your prep, after school, or doctor it up yourself if you have to. I'll post my detailed strategies on project pacing and closing out projects in the future.
Run a similar unit again where students complete similar work individually for two reasons:
1. Help us reach our goal faster.
2. Allow for informal assessment of students' individual abilities.