SPOOKY LIGHTS: EMPATHY, INTERVIEWS, DESIGN AND ELECTRICITY
WHAT IS IT? WHY DID WE DO IT?
After immersing the kids in the basic components of how circuits work, including practice with building both parallel and series circuits, we decided it was time to add in a design challenge. Every year at our school we have an epic Halloween celebration which includes a classroom party. We explained to our students that this year they would be designing "spooky lights" for our Halloween parties. We wanted to build on the empathy skills we had begun to develop in the backpack challenge so we decided to have them design lights for each other so we could dip back into interview skills and also provide more practice with feedback loops.
We started with interviews. We encouraged the students to dig into finding out Halloween "stories" from their partners: What did they enjoy about Halloween? What type of costumes do they like to wear? What do they find scary? Once again we encouraged using phrases such as "Tell me more..." or conversations extenders such as "Why?" as interviewing techniques that allow us to get the most information. We also reiterated what "interviewing" looks like versus "conversation." We did a quick fishbowl model so the students developed a better sense for listening to a partner and jotting notes on what they hear.
After the interviews, we had the students do some quick design sketches in their notebooks. Dividing a page into fours encourages them to sketch quickly focusing on quantity versus quality. We also suggested that they add some arrows and key words to their designs to accurately capture their thinking. We want the kids to do this work with intention and focus so we set a timer and have them find spaces where they can work solo in silence.
When the sketches were rendered, we had the kids come back together with their dyads and share their sketch prototypes soliciting feedback. After taking notes on the feedback, the students went off silently to sketch a new prototype design incorporating the new information.
Now it was time to build! We fired up the glue guns and put out the bins of potential building supplies. It was interesting to see the students begin to move from their 2-D imagined design concepts into the 3-D reality of building. It was much easier to imagine how to the motor might interface with the design than it was to actually insert the motor and the circuitry within the model. Of course with this type of work it is always fascinating to watch how our students contend with frustration; who can find the stamina to persist when the challenge gets tough and who needs a lot of encouragement in order to hurdle obstacles? A trait we're trying to cultivate in our kids is an open mindset and flexible thinking skills so it is interesting for us to watch which students can adapt their ideas, reconfigure based on experience and which students get "stuck" on their initial thinking, fail and can't find a way forward.
Our last step in the building and designing process was to collect some feedback from the students. We were interested not only at areas they enjoyed, but also what was a challenge. A goal of ours is to help the students begin to understand who they are as learners and how this impacts their learning situations.
Eventually, with differing degrees of support, all of the students were successful at building a circuit within a spooky design. And...the Halloween parties were quite a sensational hit!
© 2014 Dana Melvin and Susie Mutschler