There is potential in using Design and “making physical models” in education

June 16, 2010 at 7:13 pm 2 comments

Photos: Mauritania, Oasis Legueila, (CMiranda)

The concept of “Learning with design” is more popular than what normally people think. Nonetheless, this concept can be linked to the Understanding by Design methodology (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998). This methodology is really complex, and it involves themes and stances on curriculum planning,  progress monitoring and knowledge assessment.

Considering that nobody reads a blog when it is too long, it seems interesting to us to share some “natural and innate” examples of kids and sophisticated “model making” found in Mauritania (Legueila is an oasis located in the region of “Atar” in Mauritania. There, families come to make their living out of the collection and selling of “dates“) and in Saint Louis, Senegal. These examples show how kids build and create “models” innately. In these cases, in the form of toys. Shortsighted, we can consider these toys as the “new toys for the ones that cannot access to them”. On the other hand, we can look at these toys with the potential to be models.

Models, as we’ve pointed before in the blog, are a mean to embody knowledge. They can help make complexity more manageable. These models, as these examples show, do not need to be sophisticated (as the candy models that some schools in the States use to teach biology in schools). They can work with anything you have at hand: a can, two wires and a rubber band.

We are not going to debate on what UdB means, but, humbly and briefly comment what “Design Thinking” and the “making of things” can bring to the process of learning.  How do we make students to really understand what they are being taught? As the preface of the book Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998) promotes, it is not enough that students “recall” what they are taught about, but that they really understand…. Wiggins and McTighe propose a new approach to curriculum design for achieving this purpose. Design Thinking fits perfectly in this approach as a way of getting an insightful experience by making.Kids do it naturally. They express their creativity and expertise in making: artifacts, toys or even “scenarios”.

These examples (toy cars) may be present all over the World, no matter if the country is called developed or undeveloped. Why shouldn’t we use more of these types of methodologies and encourage students to develop and make physical models or design that can capture the way they are understanding the content the teacher is transferring? Why shouldn’t we evolve from working with “curriculum” towards assessment and coaching of their creativity and the way they acquire knowledge?

This has a lot to do with Gowin and Novak’s “Learning how to Learn” .  These toys are not just a mean for entertainment, but also for learning and teaching. They have the potential to be a “way for understanding”. It doesn’t take much.

Hints from this post
01. Making physical models might be a useful method to help students really “understand” in an educational environment. Kids are used to it and they can make the difference when resources are scarce.
02. Models can be costless (as these little cars), they don’t need to be sophisticated


Entry filed under: Diseño Productos/Product Design, Educacion, product design, Social Design.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. MIK  |  June 18, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Why do you call these carts models?
    What are they for?
    Are they really toys or do they serve other purposes?

  • 2. Bonnie  |  July 6, 2010 at 8:31 pm

    I do believe making models of what they imagine would make students more conscious of what an object weights, costs, etc.
    My designs always change after I make a model.
    And actually trying the models hopefully would incite students to become more “usable” designers…


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contact + citing (CC license)

Constanza Miranda PhD(c) design.anthro
* Currently @ DILAB
* Ex.VR @ Stanford's Center for Design Research [DesignXLab]
* Ex.Instructor @ PUC Chile [Design+Engineering]
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Design for Social Innovation initiative by Constanza Miranda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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