Sunday, August 24, 2014

Creating a Culture

By Barbara Soblo

It’s not easy organizing 50+ freshman all at once, but that’s what we did this week.  Using several team building and communication activities, students began to learn each others names and some of the concepts that drive our design thinking process in Studio D.  And whether they knew it or not, they also began the process of building a classroom culture that will become the foundation for all we’ll do this year.

Whether they were constructing towers with spaghetti noodles (& don’t forget the marshmallow on top), guessing which celebrity they were using “yes or no” questions only, or lining up by birthdate without talking, students were beginning the process of being comfortable outside their comfort zone.  Our work in Studio D is all about innovation- creating something that never was.  Doing something different requires stepping away from old habits and ideas, but doing the same as everyone else doesn’t create anything new.  We like to say “if everyone is thinking the same thing then no one is thinking.”

But the activities were also training for what we’re going to be doing later in the year.  The students practiced a formal greeting and firm handshake in a scavenger hunt;  in teams, students dreamed up a whimsical product then presented it to the class.  I was really impressed at their poise in presenting to a room full of 50+ peers and four teachers!

All of the activities were connected to our process and design thinking.  This gives us a starting point for next  week as we add some Studio D specific vocabulary and begin working some mini design challenges to build on our beginning exploration of the four Cs (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication).  In everything we’ll do, individual reflection helps students step back and examine their thinking and learning.  As teachers, we get a chance to evaluate them through these reflections and use this information to guide future instruction.  This week we also started doing reflections and I want to share of our student’s thoughts with you.

We asked them about a major lesson they learned:
“Not to underestimate my colleagues because we all shoot for the same goal.”  Hector V. 
“No one can have any negative energy or the work won’t flow.”  Jacob F.
“Be open to friendly criticism.”  Faith E.
“That everyone can have an idea that can benefit the group.”  Winnie T.
“It’s important to listen and test our teammates ideas because they could be right.”  Dayonte F.

We asked them to explain the significance of prototyping:
“It gives you a chance to work out the kinks before the final product.”  Aiden C.
“See problems with the model before you build it so it saves you time and materials.”  Destiny M.
“It provides a visual for the outcome.”  Darius H.

     I love it when I see them making connections on their own!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Studio D 101- Welcome to a New Year!

By Barbara Soblo

So you’ve made it to high school and have become a member of our RedHawk family- Congratulations!  You’re one year closer to being an adult, being self sufficient and being able to make all your own decisions.  But best of all, you enrolled in Studio D and that’s something to really celebrate!  You made a great choice to join Studio D!  The teachers are going to guide you through a design process that will help you learn about yourself, learn about your world, and create spectacular work.  In our classroom, good is just the starting point. We don't settle for the norm; we push beyond to make something new and exciting.  Our students get opportunities that few other high school students do; we are truly on the leading edge of education innovation.  As your teachers, our job is to create a culture of open and respectful communication that will both challenge and support you while you work toward independence and making a difference in the world around you.  As students, your job is to be present, open-minded, and engaged each day.  You are at the beginning of a new life stage, a new school, and a new learning experience, so get ready to jump in!  I know you probably have a few questions about what we do & who we are.  Well, read on my curious friend, and I’ll do my best to give you some straight talk about what Studio D is, and what Studio D isn’t.

STUDIO D IS different from other classrooms you’ve been in. 
We strongly believe that school is the real world and that trying to separate the two is impossible.  We are passionate about project based learning and design thinking.  The methods we use in Studio D are proven to develop critical thinking, confidence, and leadership and to prepare our students for whatever the future brings.  As student designers, you’ll collaborate with experts beyond our classroom walls in order to find new solutions to real problems.  For many of the challenges we set, you’ll interview people through email, phone calls, and face to face meetings in order to benefit from their expertise and share ideas.  Forget the notion that your school work is seen only by teachers and parents.  We believe that in order to do authentic work, you must have a public audience; this means your final designs will go beyond our classroom walls, too.  This certainly ups the stakes!  In here, we never settle for good enough because our name and reputation are on everything we do.  Through our creative design process and a classroom culture of excellence, you will learn how to design and create unique products to meet real world needs.

STUDIO D IS sometimes noisy and messy.
            In our classroom, you get to speak up about what you know and what questions you have; this is the first stage of learning in our design process!  Our students come up with the questions that lead us through the content together.  The end stage involves students explaining solutions they’ve designed and why they best fit the challenge.  You will present your work to the public, but first you will practice by presenting your designs to each other.  A big part of Studio D is critique and revision of our work.  Students learn to look with a critical eye in order to provide meaningful and honest feedback.  As teachers, we believe we are smarter and more creative designers when we work together as a team.  We all have strengths we bring to the table.  Our design challenges are set up so that each person adds value to the team.  Our process sets the framework for and facilitates building these dynamic teams. By creating a culture of respect and cooperation, Studio D will help move you further than you thought you could go.  Your job is to be open to the mind blowing experience of expanding your world view through this type of collaboration.

STUDIO D ISN’T a pat on the back or a prize for every piece of paper you scribble on.
            Our design process emphasizes high quality work and the idea that the product can always be improved.  The journey to this level isn't quick or easy; to finish with an end product that has lasting value, many drafts get left behind.  The process of designing never stops; this is how design works in the real world.  Just look at one innovation near and dear to your heart- the computer.  The first computers took up an entire rooms and having a bug in your program was a literal thing.  Today, most of us have a smartphone with us every day, which is basically a computer in your pocket.  And while the phones of today are pretty cool pieces of technology, the designers haven’t stopped working to improve the design.  In Studio D we’re going to introduce you to our five design stages: Gather, Glean, Generate, Gauge and Go!  This process is really the heart of what we do.  Get rid of that notion of a rough draft, a few edits, then a finished product and you’re done.  Sometimes you might present a seventh draft, and it’s still not ready for a public audience.  That's ok, because it always centers on the product we're creating, not on the person who's creating it. 

            We’re going to ask you to come up with solutions that haven’t been designed yet.  This isn’t a cookie cutter classroom where teachers give you all the steps to come up with the same finished product that everyone else has already achieved.  We expect you to blow us away with your creative solutions - ideas we didn’t imagine when designing the challenge.  I’ve seen amazing work from students that left me speechless; I have no doubt that will happen this year, too.  Being innovative isn’t easy, but don’t worry.  As teacher innovators ourselves, we get that.   We’ll be working right beside you everyday helping guide you and push you to keep those creative juices flowing.

STUDIO D IS life changing.
            As part of Studio D, I’ve seen students work harder and create more than they ever thought they could.  I’ve seen student teams do amazing things when I wasn’t sure they’d get off the ground.  But when the work matters to the students, they show incredible drive and passion, and never settle for mediocre.  As teachers, we believe in designing challenges that have relevance and that students can relate to.  As part of Studio D, I’ve watched students present their work in front of an auditorium full of their peers, families, and community members and confidently lead question and answer sessions.  These students worked with me, cried with me, fought with me, and laughed with me. But they all came in to Studio D just like you.  They weren’t really sure what to expect from this kind of environment, but they all jumped in with both feet.  Watching them gain confidence, expand their minds, and imagine new possibilities for what they could become changed me forever.  I look forward to watching you take on Studio D challenges this year- I know I’m not done changing.  I look forward to an amazing new year with you!