Context: Information is cheap and is being generated at a rapidly accelerating rate. This abundance of information, and our constant access to it, is perhaps the most profound way that the internet is changing the world.
My questions: How does that affect my role as a teacher? How does that affect the stance I take with respect to my students, or the stance that my students take with respect to school? How does our new relationship to information affect our relationship to learning?
A story that illustrates my answer: A seedling of an idea has blossomed into an exciting learning trajectory for me over the past year. Retrace my steps with me to see the lessons I have learned.
A lightbulb turns on
Last spring I came up with a concept for a desk lamp. I spent some time trying to build it during a week of professional development at NuVu Studio in Cambridge, MA, and I learned a whole lot in the process. (Click here to read my reflection on this process.) I’m still tinkering with the idea, and I hope to have something useable on my desk some day.
Since that summertime exploration, the desk lamp idea has expanded: I think it would be cool to develop a whole line of kinetic furniture and share each of the designs as open source projects online.
The idea is still in its early stages, and may never come to fruition, but it has already led me down a pretty incredible path of learning. Here are a few of the milestones that document my curiosity, my learning, and my growth along this path:
- I started with a sketch during spring break last year.
- The sketch then developed into a prototype while at NuVu Studio.
- In the fall, a YouTube video acted as a catalyst that transformed my desk lamp idea into a whole line of kinetic furniture.
- I texted Keith, my mentor/ friend/ physics teacher colleague, to ask how the furniture in that video could be working.
- I then started my winter break researching counterweights and dashpots. I was just walking through a garden of ideas. Before too long I came upon Gene Duval’s demonstration of two counterbalance mechanisms.
- I was so impressed that I looked for more work by Gene Duval. I found that he has a patent for counterbalance systems.
- I was overwhelmed by it. And I didn’t find much else under his name that was more approachable.
- But then I saw his name listed next to Lecture 13 of a Stanford robotics course.
- I started following along with this robotics course, watching about two lectures per week while winding down in the evenings.
- The Stanford lectures somehow caused me to bump into Gearotic Motion, a 3D modeling program for gears and mechanical systems. I started watching these videos too.
- I’m now teaching the things that I have been learning about as I guide students through (tangentially) related projects.
Ideas and empowerment
Up to this point, my goal was just to spend time with interesting ideas. I stumbled from one video or website to the next, looking for snags to catch my attention, hoping to stub my toe on ideas that might be too important to miss and too foreign to see coming.
As a teacher I see that this experience has affected me in two ways: firstly, the concrete things I have learned have offered me new opportunities to guide and support my students. In STEAM I have been able to talk about the different kinds of escapements we might consider when building a mechanical clock or the flanges we need on the CNC machine we’re building. Secondly, this experience has given me a context and an opportunity to sip slowly from the firehose of information on the internet and safely explore things I previously knew nothing about.
Building bridges as we walk across them
And that is the capacity I want to figure out how to pass on: I have somehow built my own multi-modal scaffolding for learning and kindling my own curiosity. I have talked with experts online and in person, researched a patent application, watched training videos, read software documentation, and followed along with a robotics course from Stanford. And I’m aware that I have just scratched the surface.
In addition to gathering more online and offline learning resources, I wonder how much more I could accomplish with a supportive cohort, mentors to guide me, and dedicated time to pursue these ideas.
Although I am still left with questions, they now seem more actionable than the questions that began this post:
- How can I help transform moments of formal and informal learning with my students into seedlings of curiosity that they, themselves, can nurture and grow?
- How can I help students learn to sip from the internet’s firehose of information in a way that empowers them to have agency as capable, self-directed learners?
- How can I develop the patience, intentionality, and resourcefulness in students that will equip them to build bridges to new territories of thought and walk across them at the same time?
Just for the record: I still haven’t finished my Transmission Lamp, and I’m not even close to starting my kinetic coffee table.