Archive for February, 2017

So I’ve been thinking about the catapult project in my Digital Fabrication class. This is the first project in the course and the goal is for the students to gain some familiarity with the iterative design process and the 3D design software that we use.

However, this class lives in the STEAM department. The amount of art in the project was virtually nill. Earlier in the year, I already mentioned my newfound appreciation for cardboard as a makerspace material. And, I have incorporated the cardboard step in my new process here as well. However, it was too focussed on function. Although it can take people too long, in my opinion, to complete the catapult, more of that is about my management than the use or not of particular materials. Anyway, back to the Art. I vowed this go round to be more intentional about the design aspect of the project.

Here is the new process:

  • Some basic work with Tinkercad (skills based, not related to this design challenge)
  • Informal assessment of some key Tinkercad skills
  • Design walk
  • Drawings of catapult ideas
  • Cardboard
  • 3D print models, review, redesign, etc

The new steps here include the basic Tinkercad work, now unconnected to the final project (which at first seemed like a step back from an integrated approach), informal assessment, and the design walk.

CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

I am using this image as inspiration for my new catapult design. CCO public domain image by Pily63 on Pixabay.

The design walk was something I tried to do more informally last semester. I tried sending folks out around the campus to notice design elements in our buildings several of which have interesting and thoughtful design elements. It turns out that students going on independent design walks at the beginning of the course are not my best idea. So, this semester we went to two specific locations as a group. We went to our former library space and our newly built library space. Even though there are no longer shelves or books in the old space, the students remember what it looked like since the new space has been open for under a year. We talked about the functions that both spaces fulfill in addition to the more subtle message that each space conveyed to visitors about how to exist in the space and what it means to study and acquire knowledge.

I also suggested about thinking about their catapult as art pieces and asked them to consider in what type of museum or exhibit it would belong–to take inspiration from that discipline/time period/aesthetic in their design. I am also designing a new catapult.

 

Let the designing begin!

 

So, I’ve been thinking about when the right time for professional development is. Is there even an answer for this?

In an ideal world, professional development would happen just-in-time. The practicalities of this approach are a challenge. It’s hard to plan to attend conferences if one waits for just the right time and certainly hard to get a good airfare or hotel rate. Online, asynchronous professional development to the rescue! I’ve participated in and continue to participate in plenty of that type of learning. It’s a great option that is weather resistant and family friendly. On an individual level, I can do a lot on the spur of the moment.

CCO Public domain image by Antanias on Pixabay

CCO Public domain image by Antanias on Pixabay

However, there are some events worth the effort of planning ahead. Bigger events, national organization events, for example, do take time to plan and don’t change dates because I have had a tiring week. Whenever I plan and attend conferences, whether they are informal EdCamps, conversation driven EduCon, or conferences with big presentations like Project Zero or ISTE, I come away tired and glad to have attended. I am wondering if I can train myself to be ready for learning at a particular time of year or at a particular location. I am not being silly here. Habits are powerful. For example, I have trained myself to sit silently in a room with other people for an hour and not find it strange. For me, this habit is inextricably linked to the time and place. Another example–when I was younger I was lucky enough that my family went to a very simple house in the Poconos regularly. We didn’t have any TV or cable or anything there (it was the dark ages, there was no internet); I got used to and came to appreciate that time there was different, and more importantly for this discussion, I got in the habit of changing my mindset upon turning in the driveway. Conditioned response anyone? It is clear to me that I can and have done this on a small scale for myself. How can some of those habits of mind, attitudes, conditioned responses be applied to professional learning?

An entire faculty is never going to be in the zone at the same time. (And, if everyone were in the zone at once, wouldn’t that be some kind of foul anyway?) Maybe it is more realistic to think about the routines we can develop to do some of the get-in-the-zone work for us. How can I/we engineer that turn-up-the-driveway response when there is a schoolwide initiative that requires professional development?

 

So, I’ve been thinking about too many things. It’s all swirling around in my head and sometimes it gets overwhelming. I’m trying to find some books to hold me up, balance the yelling, and remind me that there is sense to be made.

fullsizerenderI turned to Maira Kalman. When my personal kids were younger, we used to read Last Stop Grand Central a lot. It was the basis of our first family trip to New York. We went to lots of the places we had read about over and over in the book. And, since my kids got me for a mom, we also spent more time that they might have liked in The Met.* Anyway, I have read and enjoyed a number of Ms. Kalman’s works and illustrations. I appreciate that she is an observer and a connector of disparate ideas. I would like to think that I connect ideas in a somewhat similar way. Although we have never met, when I read her books, I feel like we should be friends and take collecting walks together while wearing hats and stopping for snacks. Even though I know Ms. Kalman is not a Quaker, this is the phrase that comes mind when I read her books “that Friend speaks my mind.”

I need to read something that felt familiar, but that also seemed to make sense and that combined facts in ways to help me think about complex ideas rather than something that creates alternate facts to try to get me to simplify complex ideas. Ms. Kalman wrote And the Pursuit of Happiness after President Obama was first elected and she was feeling positive about the country. I would like to be able to feel that way about my country now. I remembered the optimism of the book; however, upon rereading it, I also appreciated the acknowledgment of conflict and imperfection in our origins and ourselves.

This set me on a Maira Kalman rereading adventure. Like my taxonomy projects, I thought 5 was a good number of her books to reread.

I reread The Principles of Uncertainty, which, not surprisingly given the title, is more disquieting. For example, she writes “my brain is exploding. Trying to make sense out of nonsense, trying to tell you everything (everything?) and all the while time is fleeing.” (p.11) Again, this Friend speaks my mind.

I reread Girls Standing on Lawn.

I reread My Favorite Things.

I reread Ah-ha to Zig-Zag.

(I didn’t reread Next Stop Grand Central)

I google her and wandered around her website. I read an interview with her on The Great Discontent.

For me, Ms. Kalman provides one model of how to think about the world in a personal way; she shares her favorite artworks and admires hats in one sentence and in the next takes on the contradictions in our nation’s founding documents.

 

*It is never too early to take a kid to an art museum, says me who strapped my daughter into the baby-bjorn carrier and headed to the Terra Museum in Chicago (sigh, so sad that it is gone) when she was 3 weeks old. It will not surprise anyone to know that she does not remember this trip.