Archive for November, 2010

A Visit from Transportation Alternatives

November 22nd, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Programming, Teaching

Last week we were so excited to welcome Julia de Martini Day from Transportation Alternatives! We’ve been working with Julia over the past few months to develop a lesson that would be meaningful to our class of students. We wanted to structure the lesson to include many of the skills we’ve used so far: things like sketching, brainstorming, problem and solution definition, and refinement and presentation. That sounds like a lot of stuff to cram into one lesson, but our students are getting used to quickly thinking through ideas!

Julia began the lesson with a presentation about safe streets and what it means to engage in healthy living in an urban area. It was really interesting to see where each student stood in our “human barometer” test at the beginning. Most were in the middle between agreeing and disagreeing with the statement, “The best way to stay healthy is to walk and bike around my neighborhood.”

Human Barometer

Julia did a wonderful job explaining the mission and goals of Transportation Alternatives to our students. She put activism in terms that were easy for them to understand, like describing protests: “Sometimes the people in charge don’t listen to us, so we get a lot of people together who can talk really loudly together!”

For the rest of class, we all looked at the intersection of Jay St. and Tillary St. near the students’ school. Many of them cross this dangerous intersection each morning to get to school. When Julia asked them to sit down and talk about the problems with the intersection they had no trouble coming up with a ton of ideas.

Group Work

After each group defined a set of problems, they focused on one problem that they could attempt to solve. We asked them to come up with a quick solution and sketch it, either on the map we provided them, or on a separate sheet of paper.

At the end of class, each group presented their ideas. Not surprisingly, there was a lot of overlap in the problems each group defined. It was really exciting for us to see how thorough they were in their definition of the problems in the space.

Presenting projects

Problems/Solutions

Our Reflection

This was a tough week for us in class. Carmen and I are feeling the strains of our own course load increasing near the end of the semester, while also working with students who are feeling the pressures of their semesters coming to a climax. And, as much as we valued the lesson from Transportation Alternatives, it occurred to us after class that teenagers may have trouble grasping the value of the message “don’t drive, use alternatives instead.” They’re right at the age where they are dying to get a car and drive, and the idea of voluntarily not having one may have been lost on them!

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High School Stories

November 15th, 2010 by Katie & Carmen | No Comments | Filed in students, Teaching

We had a bit of excitement in class this week! We invited two of our friends to visit our class and tell our students about what they do for a living.

As usual, we started class by asking students to share their latest sketches in their Moleskine Sketchbooks.

What’s your story?

Rachel Abrams started by telling her story. She began with a career in geology, then studied policy and lawmaking before transitioning into her work as a designer. She has a wonderful way of talking about the apparently unrelated events of her life story in a way that makes it logical that each should lead into the next. The girls absolutely adored her, especially her English accent!

Prior to Rachel speaking, we asked the students if they knew what a design strategy consultant does. One of our students, Tessa, brilliantly described the role and we were happy knowing that we had something to do with that.

We asked the students to take notes on post-it notes during the presentations. They were able to create pretty complex little thought sketches during the time they were listening.

Our second guest was Matias Corea, a graphic designer and co-founder of Behance. We were so excited to have Matias join us! He started his story by pointing out everything in the room that has been touched by a designer. He talked about his evolution from being a terrible student, not into math or English or anything else, to transforming into an excellent and motivated individual through design. One of our girls wrote on a note, “He was destined to design.” If you have a conversation with Matias, you will immediately see his passion for design. We’re so happy he could bring that to our class!

(Special thanks to our guests for speaking, and for being flexible with our lack of technological accommodations!)

Interviews!

During the beginning weeks of Project: Interaction, we discussed ways for the girls to get to know each other. Since we have a mix of 9th and 10th graders, it is likely that the girls don’t have classes together throughout the day. We thought it was important to give them an opportunity or two to get to know each other and possibly dispel any assumptions they may have about their fellow classmates. Interviewing seemed like the best activity to do so. So for the remainder of class we randomly paired the girls up and asked them to interview each other using a set of five questions.

If you had a million dollars what would you do with it?
What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened to you at school?
What do you want to study in college?
If you had a superhero power what would it be?
Name your most recent act of kindness?

We then asked them to choose the most interesting response and tell a story about it. We encouraged them to tell stories in different ways, and they took our challenge! One student performed a skit, a few drew a comic strip about their story, and one student wrote her story.

At the end of class we asked them to present their ideas, with commentary from our guests. We can definitely see how they girls have improved over each class. They are becoming more confident in their ideas, eager to sketch and draw their thoughts, and have continued to develop their presentation skills. We are so excited to see how far they have come since our first class! It is also always great to see the girls support each other and give positive feedback during these very quick presentations.

Next week we’ll be kicking off our final projects with a workshop with Transportation Alternatives. We’re really excited to see our students put all their new skills to work!

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What’s your problem?

November 9th, 2010 by Katie & Carmen | No Comments | Filed in Sketching, Teaching

In last week’s class we focused on future thinking and the dissection of big ideas. We wanted to encourage the students to think bigger than themselves and tackle tough problems that at first appear too big to solve.

As usual, we started the class by asking them to share their sketchbooks. We had a few excellent drawings this week!

Samarra's sketchbook

Jackie's sketchbook

Class Activity: Problems & Solutions

We jumped into the lesson talking about transportation. There are many issues and complex systems involved in running a citywide transportation system that could seem daunting to a group of high school students. On the other hand, we decided that this would be an interesting area to look at as we all are customers of the MTA. Like most New Yorkers, our students had no problem coming up with issues that they experienced during their daily commutes. Asking students about the problems they noticed or experienced, they shouted out everything from not knowing when train service was disrupted or changed, to crowded buses, to the boredom that comes with waiting for the subway or bus to arrive.

chalkboard

Since class is so short, we decided we would all focus on one problem – creating solutions to tackle boredom while waiting. As a class, we worked together to create a problem statement that would be a catalyst for designing solutions to solve it.

New Yorkers don’t have anything do it, and there’s not enough seating while they’re waiting for the train or bus.

After we defined our problem as a group we asked them to spend 2 minutes sketching a lot of ideas on post-it notes. Some of their solutions were simple: just add more chairs to solve the seating problem. Some of them were more complex, like introducing a pop-up chair that would hover around the platform until someone needs it, when it would pop into action as a full-sized support.

Evaluation

We held a quick critique of the ideas they came up with. We asked them to each talk about an idea that wasn’t their own. They had a hard time with that task, and wanted to mostly describe their own work. With a little nudging they did just fine at talking about each others’ work.

As a group we chose 7 ideas to work on. In small groups the students were assigned an idea created by one of their peers and were asked to make a poster about it. They were a little confused by this direction, asking if we were telling them to make an ad. We responded a concrete example:

If a teacher walked into the room right now and asked you to tell her about the idea you’re thinking about, how would you describe it? What do you need to communicate through your poster so she will ‘get’ your idea without you having to explain it?
They came up with a ton of great artifacts!

At the end of class we asked them to stand up in front and present their posters and concepts to us. We told them to pretend like they were presenting it to someone they’d never met before, instead of just their after-school teachers and classmates. They did an excellent job of refining their thoughts and presenting the ideas in a clear, concise way.

No Buttons for the Rowdy…

Despite the great ideas that came out at the end of class, this week’s class was pretty hard to teach. It was practically impossible to get the girls to quiet down, and most of our lectures and discussions were overrun by side conversations and gossip. It was totally out of the ordinary for our students, who are usually so well behaved. We left class feeling ever so slightly defeated.

After talking to some other teachers last week we discovered that all students everywhere are notoriously misbehaved during the week following Halloween. In one teacher’s theory, they’re all hopped up on sugar. Another teacher told me, “I don’t know what it is about the 7th or 8th week of school… but high school students seem to forget every single thing you’ve taught them. They regress through about 4 years of maturity overnight.”

Thanks for the support from our fellow teachers. We’re feeling much better about not being able to control the class last week, though we will be starting this week’s lesson by reviewing our behavior expectations. Hopefully they’ll be better and earn their reward button this week!

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Student Profile: Dominique

November 3rd, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in students

We interviewed one of our awesome students about her experience in Project: Interaction.

Dominique

9th Grade – Urban Assembly Institute of Math & Science for Young Women
from Canarsie, NY
What’s one thing you’ve learned in Project: Interaction?
That they deal with a lot of design, and creativity.

How can you use the knowledge you’re gaining in Project: Interaction in another class, or in the work you do outside of class?
I’m starting this architecture thing in Atlantic Mall and I could use the info to help me be more creative when I’m thinking about designs for the building.

What’s your favorite part of Project: Interaction?
To work in groups. To sit around, and work together and be creative.

What do you tell your friends about Project: Interaction?
If my mom asks, I tell her what we did that day and show her some of my drawings that I did in the sketchbook you gave us.

Do you have a story about a project or sketch you made recently?
Um, I don’t think I made anything creative this week… Wait! During the Halloween dance on Friday I created most of the decorations, like cutout bats. But they didn’t like the bat I made. I didn’t like it either. Cause I didn’t know how to really cut it. I made one spider and hung it up. I tried to make a spider using the scrap pieces from the bats, like those ridges from the underside of the wings, I decided to turn those into legs. And I made witches hats, like green and black witches hats, and I made a long broomstick that I didn’t get to put up.

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On the Move

November 1st, 2010 by Katie Koch | No Comments | Filed in Programming, Teaching

We started our class by recapping last week’s field trip for the girls who couldn’t join us. Overall, they were all super excited about R/GA and its work. Thanks again to Chloe, Chris, Bertha and the others who hosted us and made the day really special for the girls.

Jumping right into our lesson, Carmen led a discussion about the concept of “mobile.” What does it mean if something is mobile? What are some things we use mobile devices for, other than texting or making calls? There were all kinds of ideas that came up, including watching videos, listening to music, using the internet, and also going to a museum or exhibit and using a mobile device there.

In preparation for our class activity we discussed the most basic elements of a story: establishing context, conflict, and resolution. The girls knew a lot already from English class, and they were quickly able to pick apart the key elements of any story.

Carmen talking about design

Bodystorming!

We divided the girls into groups and had them work together to act out a few scenarios. The catch? They had to randomly choose a year in which to act it out.

  • PAST 1990: No cell phone, no personal computer, no text messaging. (You can use: Phone booths, which cost 25 cents per call, the people around you, paper maps, cable television, a walkman, landlines, etc.)
  • PRESENT 2010: Cell phone, GPS, personal computer, internet, texting, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc.
  • FUTURE 2030: Assume you will have everything you have today, and whatever you can imagine. What will you have? What would you like to be able to do?
The scenarios we used:
  • You’re meeting a friend at the movies tonight. You’ve already made plans. How will you find each other once you get there?
  • You’re late for school. How will you let your parent or guardian and the school know you won’t get there on time?
  • You’re at Foot Locker checking out a new pair of sneakers. You want to compare the cost of the Nikes to the Sauconys you saw at the Sports Authority. How will you find the prices?
  • You get to your neighborhood subway stop and see that the train isn’t running. How will you find an alternate route?
  • You just left your friend’s house after hanging out all afternoon and you can’t find your way back to the subway. Assuming you can’t go back to your friend’s house, how will you find your way home?
  • You are a design intern and you are delivering a package for your boss. When you get to the office, the receptionist tells you that the name of the person that you are suppose to deliver the package to does not work there. How do you get the package to the right person?
  • You are going to take the train to Philadelphia. You need to purchase your ticket for the train, but the line is really long and the train leaves in 15 min! How can you purchase a ticket for the train?
  • Your friend is coming over for dinner and you know they love deviled eggs. Unfortunately, you don’t know how to boil egg! How can you find out how to boil eggs?

We encouraged them to incorporate emotions and a variety of characters into their skits, posing the challenge to add richness to the story by making up details that enhance the plot. For example, what does the phrase “You’re late to school” really mean? How can you communicate the anxiety you feel in that scenario in a way that is compelling for the audience?

Girls planning

It was really interesting from our side of things to see which girls took the lead in their groups. Just like in our classes, and it collaborative groups anywhere, each group had one person who led the sketch. In most cases we weren’t surprised to see who it was.

They had some really funny ideas for the past, like in one sketch where the main character had only a paper map to find her way home, but it was the wrong borough’s map. It was great to see what the girls came up with for the future, too. At first they wanted to just make everything a hologram, but when pressed to come up with alternate ideas they were able to dream up some more creative solutions, like beaming in a professional chef to your kitchen to teach you how to make eggs.
Future of egg making

Dominique (middle) is figuring out how to make eggs in 2030. D'Leslie invented a futuristic vehicle using the lid of our supplies box as a door.

train to philly

Tessa (left) is taking a train to Philly. In their story, Tessa missed the train because she got distracted talking with her friends.

The bodystorming activity also led us into some interesting discussion about communication. For many of the present time period groups we talked about why texting may or may not be useful as a method of communication, bringing up the point that there’s little to no feedback from the system. In essence, you can text your friend all day long without knowing whether she got your messages, or whether she cares to respond to them. In some cases it might be better to call.
They even made us do our own sketch, using the scenario of needing to find our local polling location in 1990.

In the end they could clearly see the value in acting something out. They were pleased with the ability to describe their ideas over time, and to communicate about technology and new ideas in a way that actively holds the audience’s attention.

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