Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Preparing to do the group project

 By Foyn McDevitt

We start out with a three part assignment that will help the students define themselves.  They were asked to consider their  actual, ideal, and perfect day. Secondly, they had to  write a letter to a grandson or granddaughter, and finally draw a picture of what they think they will look like at either 43, 63, or 73 year of age.

The first exercise, has three pie charts. Their actual day as it unfolds, then their ideal day and then their perfect day. I try to convince the classes that to simply divide their perfect or ideal day in half and just put sleep and video gaming is not realistic. I want them to think more openly, but if that is their ideal or perfect day, then so be it. Their average day must include all of their responsibilities as well. 

The letter is explaining  their younger days and letting their grandchildren know how they grew up. The last part of the assignment is to draw a picture of how the students think their future will turn out. The students can share this work with their group members and, if they want, the class. This is both an ice breaker and a great way for the students to introduce themselves to each other and me. It also gets them to start thinking about the present near future and distant future. I also do one, but I'm old and boring yet the students get a charge out of my view. 
My being involved is important to let them know I am in the class to learn as well. I am not the oracle of knowledge ready to pour wisdom in their ear but to guide them to information and let them decipher it as they see the need. 

This assignment gets the groups to realize each member is not that much different and  the group may have more in common than they think! So when the groups start on their sculptures they are a little more open and willing to listen to other ideas. 

Project Based Small Group Learning

By Foyn McDevitt

I wanted my class to start out by understanding what we were going to be about this year, project based small group learning. This statement usually comes with groans of agony by 9th grade students. They have been burnt by group members doing little work but reaping the benefits. Well our project based small group work is done a little differently than they may be used to doing.. Each member has his or her part. Together they must coordinate their work with the other group members work. This way every member has a part. If someone is not working then I can help and get that person on task, with the assistance of the group. If one person chooses to do substandard work, then they receive the lower grade. The group will lose no more than ten percent of the total grade due to one person not working. This still shows the group must work together and also stops the group that says “no one will work in the group but me”.  One person may choose not to communicate with the other members because it is easier to go solo, but if they lose ten percent they could still get points but their own actions will  lose credit. I am trying to teach them the importance of learning together. The different points of view will help you understand your opinion on a subject is not the only opinion. Others have a say and it may be different but their view is just as valid.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Wikiseat Project: Emersonian Wikiseat Manifestos. ( If you want to make a chair out of TVs, make a chair out of TVs.)

by Sean Wheeler

Ralph Waldo Emerson in a chair.

Last Friday we dove into some more Ralph Waldo Emerson as a way to get us thinking about our approach to the Wikiseat project.  Here's what we read:

Excerpts from, Self Reliance (1841), by Ralph Waldo Emerson
There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried.
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being.
Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world. I remember an answer which when quite young I was prompted to make to a valued adviser, who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church. On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested, "But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied, "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it.
What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.
 For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The by-standers look askance on him in the public street or in the friend's parlor. If this aversion had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs.
 The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.
 A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. "Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood." Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood. 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841
After spending the whole day on the text, (btw - flexible group scheduling is great!), I asked the students to think about all of the ways that Emerson's text connect with our Wikiseat project.  They are about to start heading off to their own workspaces, teaming up with friends, calling up uncles, etc. and I asked them to end the day by writing a Wikiseat Manifesto.  I explained that a manifesto is a statement of both principles and intent.  I asked them to adopt the principles set forth in Self-Reliance and combine them with their intent to design and build their own Wikiseat.  There are so many great responses.  So many students wrote epic manifestos, and I'll be sharing them here for awhile, but here's what Courtney wrote.  Following is the prompt that the students received, and Courtney's response.
For this journal assignment, I'd like you to write a personal manifesto in relation to our work on the Wikiseat Project and our work on Emerson's, Self-Reliance.
manifesto is a public declaration of principles and intentions.  I want you to write a passionate and inspiring statement that relates Emerson's principles to your intentions on carrying out the Wikiseat Project with a high degree of success.
"I am one of those kids that can’t stand school. I’m the person that complains about being at school all day every day. That was true up until this year, when we learned about Ralph Waldo Emerson, and were introduced to “the chair project.”  “Self reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson makes it clear that you are who you are and no one can change you and that being yourself is key. “There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide;” What Ralph means by this is that if you don’t do what comes from your heart then you are just following someone else’s idea. I do not want to follow, I want to lead.
                When we were introduced to the chair project, my ideas were pretty basic. I planned on making just a basic chair. That would be a followers thought, but now I am thinking more on how to make my chair “me.” I want people to look at my chair and know that I made it and that it expresses who I am. Only I can think up my idea. My chair is going to be different, creative, and unlike no other.
                Ralph says “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.”  This is very inspiring because if you think about it, most decisions people make are based on what other people think. For example when you get dressed in the morning, you don’t want to wear something that your friends don’t like, because you don’t want to be made fun of. Be yourself. If you like “hippie” outfits, then wear a hippie outfit. If you want to make a chair out of T.Vs, make a chair out of T.Vs. It is important to do things your way and if others don’t like it… then that’s too bad, because you know that it is always fun to do something out of the ordinary. This is what lead me to the idea of my collage chair."

Wikiseat Project: Chair Design Journal #4 - Meta-Learning Goals

by Sean Wheeler

After asking students to outline the steps that they will take to get materials and begin work on their Wikiseat, and after asking them to discuss their plans to document their work at home, I asked them to do write down a few learning goals that were more personal and over-arching.  Following is the prompt, and a whole slew of responses that really impressed me.  I'm especially glad to see the studentsreally investing in these goals.  There is a real sense of determination in this writing and I'm starting to feel optimistic about our results.

I would like you to be very specific in telling me what you'd like to get out of this project besides a chair.  What will you know about yourself and how you learn by the end of the project?

“When you first told us that we were going to be making chairs, I thought you were joking, or that we were going to make design ideas and send them to a chair company. It will be a big accomplishment for the people who complete this chair project, and I'm excited to see how these chairs look."
  • Justin
"I'll get if I'm good at building things. The only time that I can remember building things is when I was little and I played with Legos. I would also like to spend time with my grandpa, because I don't really get to see him that much lately."
  • Branden
"By doing this project, no actually by  simply preparing to do this project, I've already learned that I'm still a procrastinator. I'd like to get out of this project most a sense that I'm overcoming that."
  • Doriyan
"I really hope to learn how to use my originality in school. I think I have a strong imagination. But since school , I haven't been creative with myself. I hope to put my imagination out there for the whole world to see."
  • Jumoke
"One thing I hope to learn is keep on working, even if it's a difficult exerience for me. Another thing I expect from this is to learn to be patient. I know this will take time, so patience will be a major factor in this."
  • Owen
"What I would like to get out of this project is to learn how to use old materials to make something new."
  • Roy
"I want to get out of this a sense of pride and knowing that it's okay to screw up thing sometimes. Not everything is going to be perfect but you can't let it get you down. I want to learn about myself that I don't always have to "go with the flow".  I can stand out. "
  • Jenna

"I'd like to discover a new side of myself. i want to find out whether i am the handyman or the guy calling the handyman."
  • Alex

"What I would like to get out of this project is to get the satisfaction of knowing that I have thought of this project that I thought to be really hard, then actually building it. At the end I will feel so proud of myself. I will know that if I put my mind to something I can accomplish anything."
  • Dan
"Besides the chair, I am hoping this is really going to help my learning and the way that I go about doing other projects and my school work. Usually, when I get homework or a project I don't think I can do or that I don't understand I kind of just ignore it and make a bunch of stuff up at the last minute. I want this to be over at the end of this project and I think I will learn that I can do something that I have never done before and succeed."
  • Alison
"Something I am hoping to get out of this project is to learn how to finish something I started, and to be proud fo myself and my work. I will know about myself by the end of this project that I learn better when things are more hands-on and fun."
  • Bailey
"I hope this project increases my ability to operate tools and to learn to do more hands-on work. The designing of the chair is important because I don't want to make anything "normal", I want my chair to stand out so that instead of me looking at others chairs to see how to make mine they will do that with mine."
  • Nickolas
"I would really like to learn how to stick to a project once I start it withough giving up. Usually, when I do a project for school by myself, I wait to the last minute to get it up and it usually doesn't turn out well because I gave up during the process. When I do something that's not related to school that's difficutlt, most of the time I give up half-way through. I want to avoid doing that from now on and I feel like this project will help me reach my goal."
  • Sarah
"What I'm trying to get out of this project is making an object all by myself and being able to stick with it. Even if i don't finish it I will not stop trying. Which I think is the real point of the project. At the end of this I will learn how to accept failure and to not give up. Chair or no chair."
  • Emmet
"By the end of this project I hope to think like a real constructor would think and learn about being handy like a man. By the end of this project I am sure to figure out that things don't come easy. You have to really sit down and evaluate what it is that you want to, because sometimes just doing it as you go will lead you nowhere."
  • Jasmine
"The thing I want most out of this project would be spending time with my dad and having something that shows and will have memories of just my me and my dad doing something."
  • Gabrielle
"I would like to get something that me and my dad did together and know that its homemade and not just bought and maybe someday I can show it off to my kids someday and tell then that anything is posible even if you dont know to do it."
  • Samantha
"I have a pretty close relationship with my dad, but I'm hoping that it can grow through this project."
- Lillian

Sunday, September 25, 2011

On My Mind.....

by Ken Kozar

I have been thinking about different ways to incorporate formative assessment into lab activities to make lab reports just a little bit more authentic for my students.  One of the tools I have been using is Voicethread.  Voicethread transforms media into collaborative spaces using video, voice, and text commenting.  I believe it hold students a little bit more accountable than the traditional lab write-up.  Here's an example of one of my student's pH investigation.  Any thoughts?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

On My Mind......Form and Function

By:  Ken Kozar

I've been thinking a lot about form and function lately.  Our kids are building all sorts of things like marshmallow towers and chairs and I keep hearing Sean say that form follows function.  Kids are designing wiki seats but are first describing what function they want their chair to serve.  The design or form of their chair then follows. 

Form follows function is a long-standing principle associated with modern architecture and industrial design in the 20th century.  The principle is that a shape of a chair, building, marshmallow tower, etc should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.  But.....does this long-standing principle apply to biology and biological systems?  We've all heard it before in biology..."form fits function".  Meaning, an organism is designed or structured in a way that will help it perform a certain function.  Lets look at a couple examples.

Jean-Baptiste Lamark's discredited theory of evolution states that an organism's anatomy is structured according to functions associated with use, in other words, the "theory of use and disuse".  For example, a giraffe possesses a long neck in order to reach leaves high up in trees.  By contrast, Charles Darwin stated that form precedes function as determined by natural selection.  Lamark - form is altered by function and Darwin - variations in form allow parts t function "better".

Proteins are macromolecules that fold into very precise 3-dimensional shapes.  This shape will ultimately determine its function.  Smaller subunits or monomers called amino acids link together to form proteins.  There are 20 naturally occurring  amino acids that can link together to form a dizzying array of combinations to form proteins.  These amino acids possess a variety of chemical and physical properties.  Each sequence gives the protein a unique profile along its chain.  This profile then determines how the protein folds and ultimately interact with other proteins to form complexes that are crucial to our survival.  Hence, the amino acids sequence (form) ultimately determines its function,  since the amino acid sequence determines the structure and structure determines function.

So I ask you......does this long-standing principle of "form follows function" fit biology or is it the other way around?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Wikiseat Project: Chair Design Journal Assignment #3 - Materials

by Sean Wheeler

As we've discussed in class, the Wikiseat project will require a good deal of ingenuity from you.  Perhaps the most essential question will center around materials.  What are you going to make your chair from?  How will you get these materials?  Is your plan realistic and achievable?

(Please do not simply answer the questions.  Give this some thought and give me your response to the whole issue of materials.

"My biggest problem doing this project is getting the materials to build it.  I have asked my family members and they said that they would be able to help me a bit with this problem. My grandpa said I can look around in his garage if needed. Hopefully I can find some metal to make the legs out of, really, anything but wood for the legs. As for the seat I was going to use wood, then drape some cloth over the wood so it won't be so hard. Lastly I'll need screws to hold the chair all together. I believe that my plan is realistic, but not easy to do." - Branden

"I would like my chair to fit comfortably for the sitter. I would like it to be cushiony nad relaxing. In order to fulfill my sitter's desire I think I want to use cotton, styrofoam, and anything else that I can maybe find for cheap. I hope these materials will make me a good chair so I may need help from a professional chair builder or someone close to it. I'm going to have to get my materials for cheap. I will search yard sales, garage sales, lawns, or from people that aren't using materials that I need. The plan that I imagine I feel like it may be realistic with a little help, but on my own I don't think I may be able to pull it off. But overall, my chair will come together and hopefully it's a success." - Jasmine

"My first major challenge in the making of my chair would be for me to figure out what my chair can be made of while also keeping the idea realistic and the cost at a medium range. I would like to build the frame of my chair out of wood then make my arm rest, backrest, and seat cushioned. I’d like to have a foot rest coming from the bottom of my seat that is retractable. It would stand on three wooded legs. I would like to make my seat reclineable so I would have to look into getting the piece that allows my chair to recline and also have to figure out if my wood frame will allow me to have a reclineable chair. My secondary problem would soon become getting these materials I would use pieces from the old chair we have in our basement and I would ebay the needed piece to make my chair recline.  Asking family members and friends, I believe, will take me a long way to achieving a medium cost range chair with the power to hold me up." - Jianna

"My chair will be somewhere cozy! Its gonna have fur! Its not gonna be from an animal or anything its gonna be just like one of those fake furs from the store or something! I will get the legs.  from Home Depot. Then for the cushion and the fur, probably Joann Fabrics. It's one of those stores where you can gets arts and crafts from. I think i will be able to do it. Right now it doesn't seem that hard but when I actually get working on it I hope it won't be too difficult. It shouldn't be! I think the hardest part for me will be getting the cushion to stay on and making sure the bottom isn't too wide and making sure the top is perfect! My fear for this project is cutting something wrong then having to redo the whole project again. But I know for a fact it's not gonna turn our perfect the first time. Wer'e suppost to screw up on our chair. It's how we learn!" - Morgan

Wikiseat Project: Chair Design Journal Assignment #2 - Influences

by Sean Wheeler

I'd like you to use this journal entry to occasionaly post pictures of things that you find interesting or perhaps useful in the design of your chair.  You shouldn't limit yourself to only finding pictures of chairs. 
For a great example of desing influences, check out this page.  If you look in the left hand column, you can see the way that jet design influenced Marc Newton's chair designs.

This assignment was intended more for student use, so I'll not be posting any of their responses here. 

Wikiseat Project: Chair Design Journal Assignment #1 - What's the Problem?

by Sean Wheeler

For this journal assignment, I'd like you to write a paragraph that takes into consideration the following questions:
- Where do you envision your chair being used? (ex.  Is it an outdoor chair?  Does it have to fit in with the decor of your bedroom?  Will this chair be used everyday, or just once in awhile?)
- Who will use your chair? (A kid?  You?  A specific person?)
- What problem do you hope to solve with your chair?  (We know a chair is for sitting, but what, specifically, does your chair do that would be useful.  Essentially, I want to know the specific function of your specific chair.)

"Have you ever got that feeling that you just want to sit in a chair and chill with your favorite music? Or when you have to do home work and you just want to listen to something to get your mind off of the boring work, and want to lay down because you had a rough day. Well that’s my problem. So I’m going to do something about my problem for me and others that have same problem as me. I will make a chair that you can listen to your favorite tunes in and not just for sitting but laying down in also. This chair has speakers that you can hook onto your iPod, iPhone, and cell phone. The laying down part of the chair is that you can fold it back from a chair to a bed.
- Chris

"My room is going to be remodled as an arabian genie in a lamp theme and I need a chair that will complement my new room. I don't have any seating other than a rocking chair that not only does not go with my theme, but it is also very uncomfortable to sit in and I use it more as clothing rack than a source of seating. My colors for the room are fuschia, aquamarine, bright orange, and gold accents."
- Kali

"My room has alot of collages on my walls. There is one empty space in my room and it would be the perfect place to watch tv comfortaby in my room. there is not a good space to watch tv in my room right now because it hurts my neck to look at the tv for too long in my bed.

I think it would be really cool if I made a collage chair to fit the empty space. It would match my room perfectly. I would make sure that it is very comfortable, and will have a foot rest with padding. I also like the idea of a collage made out fabric, like a quilt pattern on my chair, that way it would be a very comfortable place to sit in my room. I also like the idea of using parts and pieces of old bikes.

I can picture this as the perfect place to watch tv, and I won't have to watch tv in the living room with my parents anymore, because I will be perfectly comfortable in my room, and my neck won't hurt anymore. Also, my room will no longer have an annoying empty corner anymore." 
- Courtney
"I want my chair to solve problems that others may have. Lots of chairs seem to hurt people’s backs, or strain their legs, so I thought of a more curved chair to make things a bit more comfortable. I also found that armrests seem to be nice also, so I will try to put that in with my chair. Chairs are almost everywhere you go, from in the park, to in your bedroom. I would like my chair to be located in someone’s living room where it would be used the most often. Not only are chairs everywhere, but on top of that, they have their own textures and colors, from leather to wood. They can match, but they don’t have to. I think that if a chair matches everything else that it is around, it just adds to the room, where if you have a chair that does not fit the room at all, it may make the room look bad, because of that one thing which stands out. I would like my chair to be the one that fits in best."
- Andrew

The Wikiseat Project - Getting the "Catalysts" and Emerson's "The American Scholar"

by Sean Wheeler

The "Catalysts" were handed out on the 14th of September, and I've been a bit busy since then!  The video above shows the first group of students as they picked out their "Catalyst" and the project suddenly became very real for them.  It was a great day and I was sure to take tons of pictures and conduct a few video interviews.  I haven't had a chance to edit the interviews together yet, but I can honestly say that the whole project took a definite turn when they got the parts in their hands. 

The "Catalysts" were constructed by John Malloy, a local tradesman, as a side-project/favor and they turned out great.  Our pieces still need the holes drilled, and might require some paint, but John was super helpful with his pricing and he came through for us as I was starting to worry if this thing would ever get off the ground.  He documented his process and will be meeting with the students to discuss his process in the upcoming week or two.  I look forward to having my students get a glimpse into the steps that John took in learning how to build the part, as well as the discussion that my students will be able to have about their own learning process as their work on the Wikiseat begins.

We're reading Ralph Waldo Emerson as well.  Last week had us working with "The American Scholar", this week we're tackling "Self-Reliance".  In the opening of "The American Scholar", Emerson lays out what he saw to a crucial issue that he hoped the American students would come to both realize and confront, 

It is one of those fables which out of an unknown antiquity convey an unlooked-for wisdom, that the gods, in the beginning, divided Man into men, that he might be more helpful to himself; just as the hand was divided into fingers, the better to answer its end.

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man, -- present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier. In the divided or social state these functions are parcelled out to individuals, each of whom aims to do his stint of the joint work, whilst each other performs his. The fable implies that the individual, to possess himself, must sometimes return from his own labor to embrace all the other laborers. But, unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters,--a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.

Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things. The planter, who is Man sent out into the field to gather food, is seldom cheered by any idea of the true dignity of his ministry. He sees his bushel and his cart, and nothing beyond, and sinks into the farmer, instead of Man on the farm. The tradesman scarcely ever gives an ideal worth to his work, but is ridden by the routine of his craft, and the soul is subject to dollars. The priest becomes a form; the attorney a statute-book; the mechanic a machine; the sailor a rope of the ship.

The students and I got pretty deep into this one.  I started by asking them what they wanted to be in ten years.  They told me they wanted to be doctors, veterinarians, athletes, business executives, salon owners, artists, and rappers.  It was a set-up question, of course.  I pointed out to them that nobody said "happy", or "in love", or "interested", or anything of that ilk.  They all told me that ten years from now they wanted to be a job.  They didn't say anything about wanting to be a person.  What would Emerson think of these answers?  He'd say we hadn't learned anything since he pointed out the problem over 100 years ago.  My students have the message loud and clear.  They go to school, to get into college, to get a job and then they can start their "life".  Emerson holds that the American student should be more closely tied to what Walter Gropius referred to when he said of his work with the Bauhaus academy that,  "Our guiding principle was that design is neither an intellectual nor a material affair, but simply an integral part of the stuff of life, necessary for everyone in a civilized society.With his admonitions to "study nature" and to acquire an "active soul", Emerson calls on American students to recognize and confront the dignity of creation as a vital component of our educational mission.  He goes on to point out that all too often, "Meek young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon, have given; forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote these books."

This project, for us, is a way of exploring Emerson's ideas.  The students are doing instead of getting, making instead of regurgitating, and engaged rather than being passive participants in their learning.  I've got tons to process and the project keeps moving forward at a rapid pace.  I'll be posting the journal assignments (and hopefully a few student responses), posting random interviews and pictures,  and discussing all of the interesting turns the project is taking along the way (ex.  The Geometry teacher and I have been holding cross-curricular classes for the past three days!).  Stay tuned and please be patient as I try my best to work with the kids, plan the next step, and reflect on the vast amount of learning that has gone on thus far.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Wikiseat Project: So You're Going to Build A What in English Class?

by Sean Wheeler
A Wikiseat by Nicolas Weidinger
This past spring I stumbled onto an interesting project designed by Nicolas Weidinger called, Nic explains the project by writing,  "Wikiseat is a three legged stool that is built by hand. Each WikiSeat starts with a Catalyst that acts as a central support structure. The creator of a WikiSeat has the freedom to gather materials and find their own methods for building the seat."

The "Catalyst"

At the time, I was immediately struck by a desire to give it a go.  But I'd never built a chair before, I didn't know how to get a "Catalyst", and I'm terrible with tools.  I felt stuck before I even got out of the gate.  Navigating the project and learning all I would have to learn seemed so daunting.  My seat would probably stink anyway.  After a few weeks of having this gnawing feeling that I really did want to have a try at building a Wikiseat, and falling back on my litany of fears about actually learning how to navigate the project successfully and have it not end in abject failure, I realized that this was exactly like so many of my students feel when working on schoolwork.  It's a case in which the will to learn is there, but it's consumed by an inability to actually dive in for fear of failure or frustration.  I needed to learn how to learn, to navigate, and to talk about the process with someone who might listen and help.  So I decided to order 100 "Catalysts" and make the Wikiseat project the main focus of our first quarter in 10th grade American Literature.

A brief bit of context... I teach in a cohort of students and teachers in a program called LHS 2.0.  The teaching group consists of 9th grade and 10th grade core-subject teachers (Math, Social Studies, Science, Language Arts), an academic coach, and three Special Education teachers.  We use mastery grading, flexible block scheduling, blended online instruction, and problem-based learning as the core foundations of the program.  Each grade level contains a mix of randomly assigned students taken from our regular and special education population and the average class has 25 students.  Each student has been assigned a school-owned netbook.  The 10th grade team often uses a large lecture hall as a classroom, and we frequently hold classes with all 100 students at a time.  We work in two time blocks, each consisting of three 40-minute classes, and students take electives and lunch in the middle of our school day.  Cross-curricular and content area specific units share time throughout the school year.  

The thrust of this unit is towards building a basis in our classroom culture for what it means to learn.  The design process lends itself as an excellent model for real learning, and the Wikiseat project is an ideal way for students to participate in the design process.  Encountering a "Catalyst", be it a few sections of metal at odd angles or a problem that needs solved, is the first step in learning.  The problem compels the learning.  This is contrary to most current teaching practice in that most text-book based classrooms allow what is supposed to be learned to dictate what "problems" students should have to do to acquire the skill.  They've got it backwards.  After encountering a compelling problem (i.e. "I've got this chunk of metal, how am I going to make it into a seat?") designers then begin brainstorming, hypothesizing, modeling, and drafting.  Each of these skills can be found littered throughout our academic content standards, and when students have something to accomplish (like making a chair or writing an essay) I've noticed that these steps don't feel tacked-on or tedious.  The actual composition of a finished product requires a healthy willingness to fail, learn from mistakes, and seek feedback and input from outsiders.  Students, all too often, get mired in frustration and freeze at this stage of the learning process.  Either that or they rush through in a half-hearted effort to get it done and over with.  Design is only realized in use, when it is interacted with by an audience.  The more real the audience is to any designer, the more important that it has an effect on that audience.  This is also true for learning.  My students have shown a tremendous concern for the quality of their work when they have the opportunity to share it in an authentic context beyond our classroom.

The Wikiseat project will be the main focus of my posts for the near future.  I hope that people will follow along, comment, and help me to teach my students something that I really need to learn.

(Next Post --> "'This Is American Literature Class, Isn't It?': Ralph Waldo Emerson's, The American Scholar and the Wikiseat"