Purpose Based Learning (a #FailUp moment)
Posted: October 28, 2015
I don’t want to say I planned to fail, but I also don’t deny that I didn’t see this coming. This year’s major project for my technology, engineering, and design class (T.E.D.) is a prototype in more ways than one. The Bike Project was born out of a generous grant from MVIFI’s XLR8 summer grant that was awarded to teachers proposing interdisciplinary PBL projects for the 2015-16 school year. The Bike Project is a collaboration between my T.E.D. class, AP Physics, and Algebra II. You can read my amazing colleagues’ – Robin and Zach – summary of the project on their blogs.
From the beginning, the project was focused on testing the hypothesis that we could pull off meaningful interdisciplinary PBL despite challenges with class schedule, student age gap, etc. In other words, the focus of the project was on executing the PBL process and facilitating meaningful student experiences. We purposeful in our planning by using the Understanding by Design (UbD) model to ensure that the project would meet learning outcomes for our respective courses. [Here are the respective templates for T.J., Robin, and Zach that guided the project in our classes.] Who is going to argue with that logic?
For the T.E.D. class, in particular, my goals for students were to 1) perform a functional decomposition (left) of a bicycle, 2) formulate design ideas based off of insights gained from interviews with bike enthusiasts, and 3) create a design brief that will guide future work on the project while demonstrating student teams’ ability to assess trade-offs and decision making. So what is the big #failup moment? Well…perhaps product is more important than teachers tend to let on?
Purpose based Project
Reflecting back, I am more and more convinced that product and process are equally important. p[-[ I don’t mean to devalue the process by any means. That is where the learning happens. But the product – the thing – the solution – is why the learning happens. This project (for my class anyway) suffered from the age old adolescent question “Why are we doing this?” Point taken. There was excitement for the project and high levels of engagement early on, but the T.E.D students noted that too much time had passed between their initial “take apart” and conceptual stage and the time where new prototyping could happen. In the end, though, there never was a planned intent to actually fabricate the new bike component designs (focus on process, remember?).
Last semester I had quite a different “engagement curve” with my T.E.D. class major project. In meeting Alex and 3D printing a prosthetic hand, my class and I made noticeable shift from working on a project to working for a purpose. You can read about that project in the MVPS Magazine on page 14 or watch the action here. On a global scale you might look toward Cesar Harada’s TED talk about the power of purpose based learning that is driven by a the creation of an innovation products.
The fact is that innovative products are sexy. Thinking made tangible is worth a 1000 words. Products demonstrate results, and, through making, the product lets you know if you got it right. Purposeful products – ones that are human centered and make an impact – are an awfully convincing demonstration that you got the process right.