Extraordinaires Design Club: Designerly Minded Teachers

As followers of this blog may know, I have been working with and observing a group of Middle School learners since late November as they meet weekly to play and learn with the Extraordinaires Design Studio.  We started in November and December by getting to know one another,  learning about user-centered design and empathy’s central place in that endeavor, and exploring the Design Studio kits.

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In the intervening months, we have learned more about visualizing ideas, practiced the ancient Greek technique of “ekphrasis” with a high-school student and a Hollywood writer/producer/director, built 20-minute prototypes from Dollar Store parts; we even skyped with Rory O’Connor, one of the designers responsible for the Extraordinaires and generally had a lot of fun imagining how the world might be a better place, not only for the extraordinary characters who are the Extraordinaires, but also for us.

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However, the most interesting and rewarding event of the year and the one that holds the most promise for moving design-based learning into more of the classes in my own district was the Extraordinaires Design Sprint we held for teachers at Perkiomen Valley Middle School East on Wednesday, May 17th.

Over the course of four club meetings, the students in the Extraordinaires Design Club and I organized an experience for teachers that combined the Extraordinaires Design Studio, design activity sheets from the teacher’s resources page of the Extraordinaires website, and the Cooper-Hewitt’s “Ready, Set, Design” activity.  Teamed in pairs, six teachers from different disciplines received an Extraordinaire, a Project Card, and a Think Card.  They also received a brown paper bag containing equal parts of “structures, fasteners, and surfaces.”  Pairs squared off against pairs to compete for awards. Two teams designed cooking utensils for The Giant, two teams designed an object to clean yourself with for The Robot, and two teams (had we had more in attendance) would have designed a music player for The Superhero.

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I’ll not detail the full lesson here.  If you would like to run the lesson with your students, use it in professional development sessions, or just play around with it on your own, you can find a link to it here.  (If you do use the lesson, drop a comment back to me letting me know how it went, what modifications you made, etc.)

The club has one more meeting, next Wednesday, May 24.  We’ll be sharing ideas and stories from the year, reflecting on what worked and what we could have done better, and developing positive, critical feedback on the Extraordinaires product itself.

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