Archive for December, 2017

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So, I’ve been thinking about student choice and format of work. I have been trying to remember and put into action what Marc Prensky said at an ADVIS event several years ago, “assign the verb not the noun.” This means assign what I want students to do, not exactly the tool or format it must take. (I wrote about something else from the event at the time; isn’t it interesting what you think is going to really stick with you and then what does stick with you?)

To date, I have been able to put this idea into action on more creative assignments. This year I have assigned things like “research and share your findings” or “demonstrate interdisciplinary thought” (that one really made folks crazy) but not “powerpoint presentation” or “podcast”. As it turns out, most students ended up choosing a similar format for these exercises, but I made a real point to talk about the actions and the important thinking work rather than numbers of slides or minutes of audio.

The current assignment my English 12 students are working on is the first time I have assigned “write” and not added “a paper” or “a story” after it. The assignment is, for the most part, an analytical paper that is meant to get students thinking about two works of fantasy and some other big ideas of the course. It is an assignment that lends itself to a typical English paper, but it is not an assignment that REQUIRES a typical English paper. It turns out that for the vast majority of my students, a regular, old English paper is just fine right about now. However, for one student a screenplay was the format of choice. He is SO excited about this prospect. Now, I did not just say, “great. Go for it. See you later.” We chatted about some of his plot options, and I definitely pushed for one particular idea over the others (which I thought was manageable and better answered the requirements of the assignment). It still may not be great. However, the student has been working hard on it, and, given that. I think there is a better chance that the finished product will be a better representation of this student’s best work.

Whenever I assess work, I want to learn something about the student’s progress with a particular skill or mastery of a particular concept. If I know that the student didn’t put forth much effort or that the format in which I collected this data was particularly difficult for the student, then the results on the assessment are less meaningful for me. Of course, there are some assessment formats that may be important skills as well. In that case, I just need to be aware of what I am actually measuring when I evaluate the particular assessment.

Back to my student. I have read the first draft and have made a number of significant suggestions. So far, the student continues to be willing to engage in the discussion; therefore, I am still positive about the experience for the student and the amount of thinking the student has had to do about the ideas and content. Since I always want my students to be successful, I hope that there is a lot of revising between now and the final draft. The screenplay has a lot of potential. But, even if it doesn’t get a lot better, I will know that I am looking at the result of significant time and engagement.

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So, I’ve been thinking about the iterative process in Digital Fabrication, the STEAM class that I teach. The course is a minor and only a semester long. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have some goals.

One of the things my STEAM colleagues and I have been talking about is how important it is that everyone who takes a course in our department, major or minor, experiences and practices of the iterative design process. We really want students to try to make something and then try to make it better. Most importantly, we want students to believe that this process is the way design and creation work, not just what you do when something doesn’t work the first time.

What I have been noticing is that some students want to keep working on that first design until they think it is perfect before trying it out on the 3D printer or laser cutter. Here are my issues with that strategy:

  • Too much time has been spent on the initial design without any testing
  • So much time leads to so much investment and often less willingness to alter fundamental parts of the design
  • And, now there is just less time to spend on the next drafts

So, I’m looking for ways to force my students to get that “shitty first draft” (term courtesy of Ann Lamott and her book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which I am reading at the moment.) out of the way so that we can move on to the better second draft. Currently, we are working on making geared drawing machines. (We are basing our design on this Tinker Crate project.) Finally today, I gave the group a time limit to get a cardboard model built and ready. Students were in groups and I may also have said that I was also trying to complete this challenge and it would be sad if with many people to work they could not get something done and I could. I do NOT like to do that kind of thing where I put myself in competition with the students in this way, but I was desperate. I did make it clear that I had not done this project either.

In the time frame, we had 3 models. Then, we made a list of information we learned that we could take to our next versions of the various parts–actual sizes, relative sizes, pieces to be made with each tool and in each material. We also considered some ways that we would stage the creation of some of the pieces to give ourselves more margin for error. Then in a next draft, we could add in another set of specifics. And, we divided up the jobs so that we can get a next draft completed very quickly.

Finally!

I think there might be something to the idea that we make several cardboard models so that we each have to wrestle with the project as a whole, and then collaborate in bigger groups or one big group to make the next version. Once we get a few more pieces ready, we can test our machine for real. If it works, I totally want one.