In 2009 I collaborated with teachers, and my fellow students to co-found the Greengineering Design Lab in Newton, MA.
The goal of the program is to create and sustain an action driven classroom, and applying design thinking to reinvent the way class is taught and students learn.
My Design Story:
I consider one of my finest accomplishments to be the moment I gained the attention and respect of a group middle schoolers. They were more demanding than the post-docs I have worked with at MIT and the things they said could sting worse than a bee from one of the hives I keep. Going into the classroom, I was admittedly scared.
First, I learned to put my assumptions about middle schoolers being unruly and difficult aside. I needed to learn to see my students as people with their own assumptions, experiences, and preferences. As designers, we battle our human nature when faced with abstraction and ambiguity because our minds tend to our assumptions to cope with things we don’t understand. If it is true that our reality is framed by the questions we ask, then I had to motivate my students to question and grapple with the subject matter in a way that made asking the right questions an organic part of the process.
Humanity displayed itself in a most concise and beautiful form during those days in the Greengineering Design Lab. The students became collaborative and generous. Much to my surprise, they also wanted to stay after each class to keep working. I couldn’t help but wonder if my questions about assumptions could help me design better, design that has clients, students, and partners wanting to stay and return. As I began understanding my identity as a designer, I began to see that anything is possible if we grapple with our assumptions, abstract ourselves, and draw solutions up from the well of ambiguity--not stop it up at the fountainhead because we are afraid to be better and to be bold.
We want to:
- Prepare students for uncertainty with the necessary adaptive and creative skills to be successful.
- Present subject matter in a hands-on way to encourage experimentation and action as an organic part of the process.
Students have learned about:
- Making biodiesel to use as fuel
- Repurposing materials into new products
- Grow algae as a potential fuel source
- Grow hydroponic vegetables
- Turning sunlight into electricity
- Making smoothies with bike-power (yum!)
In 2010, I approached Newton Community Education about the possibility of teaching an adult night class on biodiesel production. And since then we have done several workshops for adults.
After the success of the program during the school year and the classes for adults at night, Newton Community Education asked if we could do a summer camp for kids. We took on the challenge and designed a summer camp that surprised us as much as the students.
Rooted in a Simple Question:
- How much fun can we have while learning how to save the environment?
Focusing on designing class for students (adults and children alike) that prompts their questioning of content leads them to an answer that they are better equipped to hold on to because the experience is grounded in action. Designing an experience like this empowers the students to explore the ambiguity of a problem, while still being in a productive and encouraging environment.