Saturday, March 28, 2015

Designing Innovation in NOLA

Over spring break I joined my visual arts colleagues at the National Art Educators Association conference in New Orleans. Design thinking, digital badges, maker education and numerous other design topics were featured at the conference. Informal discussions and collaborations are always the best part of the conference. My visual arts colleagues and I also presented on Design Thinking and Innovation at The Ellis School where arts are infused across and within disciplines. The conference itself had excellent variety in the sessions, the exposition hall was interactive and lively and there was opportunities to engage in unconference and off-site workshops in the NOLA community throughout the conference. 

Rosanne Somerson, the new President of Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) was one of the keynotes. She described RISD’s approach to critical making, which involves the hand and mind working to create objects and experiences with real meaning and value. Somerson described how the academic program at RISD nurtures creative practice, from initial spark to finished outcome. Somerson also made a case for the value of critical making within and beyond the realms of art and design, suggesting approaches to navigating complex problems that may be relevant to people in a wide range of fields and situations. Somerson said that there is ‘magic’ in the art and design school learning model … and how might the creativity and expertise that result from this form of education be accessible to others? Art and Design will have critical roles to play in innovation as equally if not more than science or technology. Somerson says, " I want to look at education..It’s in a really challenged position right now and I firmly believe that the kind of immersive, hands-on-based, conceptual education that we do at RISD is something that will prepare the next generation for the 21st-century competencies that are now needed. I want to develop and articulate why this form of education is so significant at this point in history."

In addition to Somerson's talk a few other highlights for me included the talk that Cooper Hewitt gave on their Design Prep program. Students from all across the New York City area engage in earning digital badges that help prepare them for college and career readiness. I was most impressed with their well-developed themes and "level-up" learning pathway as well as assistance and support in terms of preparing potential students for design schools. One idea that I would love to replicate in Pittsburgh is a design fair that Cooper Hewitt held for 250 students that paired them with 40 designers in a career fair style evening. Given the emphasis I mentioned from Somerson's talk about design skills being essential for the innovators of the future, I would love to see the model Cooper Hewitt created being implemented for all students - whether they are pursuing traditional design school or not. I also attended a session on using Design Thinking to remake learning, a topic close to my heart. Given that I spend a lot of time on this very topic, I was interested to hear the presenters approach and take on this topic. They presented the Design Thinking Kit for Educators from IDEO and Riverdale and left time for discussion about lessons and things in schools educators want to change and how design can support the shift. We did not get to how students could be using Design Thinking in the classroom as the session was too short. Out of the 40-50 folks in the room all were fairly new to Design Thinking so it was nice to build empathy for novice teachers and support new ideation with them. 

In addition to the wonderful conference, I visited Louise McGhee school, an all-girls nursery to grade 12 school in the Garden District.  I completely enjoyed visiting with Margaret Ann Minihan to learn about innovation, STEAM and the technology program at her school. The buildings are beautiful and the campus blends in with the neighborhood. I was most impressed with the Lower School Tinkering Studio. It was obvious the girls love this space and what happens within the walls. From an electronics discovery station to the creation of musical instruments from found items, it's obvious the students are being engaged in deep, experiential ways where they can build confidence with making/STEAM. I also got to meet up with Garrett Mason from St. Martin's Episcopal School. Similarly to Ellis, St. Martin's is shifting from a more passive to active curriculum that focuses on design and making. In the "IDEA LAB for Innovative Design and Making," student are empowered through applying the design thinking process to solve real-world problems in the community. Garrett and I didn't have enough time to chat but our programs seem similarly aligned in terms of the community connections piece. Check out the Now in the Lab link on the IDEA Lab website. 

Although it was just a few days, the creative energy from collaborating, learning and working with amazing educators has inspired me to keep going and round out the last third of the year with just as much zeal as the first day of the school-year. This week at Ellis I am leading the PK-12 faculty meeting where my arts colleagues as well as several other teachers from across the disciplines/divisions will share their innovative work engaging kids. 

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