• Final Conclusions on Design Lab

    Posted by BRYAN ROSENSTIEL on 8/7/2017
    1. Description of grant


    The I-for-I Grant for the Mountain Brook High School Design Lab was requested to provide materials to allow students to design 3-D models to 3-D print, design and program smart electronics to perform a task, and combine both skills to solve problems.  The grant funded 3-D printers and a score of electronics and hardware.  Students used the materials to learn and employ the Engineering design process, increasing their skill set and solving real problems.


    1. What happened over the course of the grant


    Students took advantage of their opportunity to learn about the engineering design process, learn and use 3-D modeling software, use the 3-D printers to bring their models “to life,” learn about coding and build models to solve problems.  The students actively engaged with programmable electronics to build unique functional products that were employed to solve a problem.  Students learned to build ambulatory robots with varying degrees of autonomous control.  I witnessed being excited about learning new skills and then being able to use those skills in a real world problem solving way.  Students were excited to realize that a creative mind and technical knowledge are both needed to arrive at a novel solution to a problem.


    1. What you learned


    Not every student enjoyed projects that were assigned by the teacher.  By offering some student choice in their projects and designs, students showed ownership and were subsequently more likely to see the project through to a successful end.  By working on different projects, students could teach each other what works and what does not work in different circumstances.  I learned that students can be very good teachers.   I also learned that teaching the brainstorming process is an ongoing year long process.  I learned that students struggle when working on teams, but ultimately benefit from the joint effort.  There was also an unexpected lesson in realizing that most students are willing to stop at the end of class, and did not, in mass, want to come back after school to continue to make progress on their project, which was the opposite of my anticipation.  Therefore, some projects took a longer time to complete.  Failure is part of the design process, unless you are lucky.  Making students understand that fact will motivate them to problem solve until they achieve success.


    1. Recommendations


    I highly recommend this type of class and these materials that we used.  Students are very excitable about learning about new technologies and successfully employing their skills to produce an actual functioning object or product.  Have project options for each phase so that students can have some ownership as they venture into unfamiliar, and thus somewhat uncomfortable, areas of challenging learning.  Be prepared to try some things that do not go as planned, but still provide teachable moments.  If you are considering taking a similar path and having a program like this or projects similar to these, do not hesitate to ask for help to venture into an area just because you are unfamiliar with the equipment.  I am more than willing to consult with you on the same.


    1. Scalability


    The project offers multiple scalability.   First, it can continue to enhance and build upon the skills students are beginning to learn in middle and junior high schools.  Second, the projects within the class can be scaled up in difficulty with the existing equipment.  Third, there can be ongoing classes that easily follow this class that employ the skills learned in new and more complex ways.  Finally, MBHS is expanding the reach of the experience beyond the classroom by starting an extra-curricular competition robot team.  Class members and the school’s general population are invited to participate and learn.  Additionally, I am in discussions with an economics teacher on a joint class adventure in product design and marketing.


    1. Conclusions


    The Design Lab is a remarkable opportunity for students to work in a hands on environment, learn new and valuable skills and have fun doing both.  Students have more creativity than might be expected for people their age.  Younger students are much less fearful of technology, both in learning about it and using it, than most adults.  Giving students an opportunity to realize success, and then hold it in their own hands, makes a huge impact on their confidence as they go forward into the world.  I have witnessed transformations in the life direction that some of my students will take with their new found knowledge, skills and confidence.  The program was a success, and will continue to be a success, in my opinion.  None of this would have been possible without the generous support of the Mountain Brook Schools Foundation.


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