Learning Is... Architectural Design

Posted by Jeff Cacek on 4/4/2016

"Education is what people do to you and learning is what you do for yourself," - Joi Ito


Many of the professionals at North are devotees of TED talks. The annual TED conference 2014 took place in Vancouver a couple weeks ago. Since, I have spent a lot of time sorting through the presentations that have been posted online in search of new favorites. The first talk that has caught my attention - and spurred my imagination - was presented by Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab. Ito argues that innovations that do not make it into the "real world do not count." Ideas that do not become reality are worthless.

As our third graders entered into their year-long Project-Based Learning (PBL) unit, their teachers understood this idea. Students were charged with redesigning our school courtyard that has become a poorly maintained patch of overgrown weeds at the center of our school building. Many initial ideas were quite unrealistic - a ferris wheel is neither practical nor small enough to function in the space available.

In short order, the collaborative student groups brought more reasonable ideas to scale and put them on paper. This is where there was a turning point in their projects. The adults in their learning studio knew these 9 year old digital natives were capable of learning the web based architectural drawing application Sketch-Up. It took the students about a week to acclimate and become comfortable enough to put their ideas into Sketch-Up. Next, cost analyses were performed to prove the viability of their projects and presentations were prepared. Each group presented their project to the larger group of 90 students and 4 finalists were chosen to move forward to be judged by a panel consisting of school district administrators, a parent and one of the architects who had facilitated their learning studio design.

Throughout the process, I was astounded with the skills I observed students acquiring and practicing. Most of all, I was impressed by the level of collaboration that I saw students exhibit throughout the process - there was never a hint of competitiveness as students learned from one another. It was not unusual to see groups sacrificing lunch and PlayWorks time in order to serve as audiences providing feedback for practicing presenters. In the end it paid dividends as the judges were blown away by both the presentations and designs. It was difficult to choose an overall winner, so the panel created an award for each design team. In addition to an overall winner, there were winners of most original idea, best use of space and best presentation.

Next, our winning team will join our grant writing team to secure the funding to make these ideas into reality. This design will make it into the real world - it is going to count.