While I was perusing my iPhoto library this morning, I came across photos of the final project I did with elementary school kids back in 2006, when I was still in graduate school and teaching a few afternoons a week at an upper NW charter school for an after-school enrichment program. My class was “Architecture.” That may make you a bit confused, because you see, I’m not an architect. But these kids were eight and they weren’t exactly ready for their M.Arch yet. They were however, eager, focused, sharp, and they impressed me so much with their enthusiasm for learning and their limitless creativity. It took a matter of days before I realized that I could divide them into teams, give them each a box of straws and a handful of rubber bands, and they’d start figuring out how to build stable and structurally sound towers by using trial and error. I didn’t even have to show them first — they got it, and they liked it. Our final project was to build a neighborhood using boxes and “trash” they brought from home – cereal boxes, yogurt cups – the kinds of things that parents of school-aged-children know all about having to save. Their task was also to plan the city so that it made sense and was efficient and safe. Beyond suggesting that they rethink locating the jail next to the neighborhood school, I was able to mostly take a backseat to their ideas; they had good ones. This is what the town ended up looking like:
Finding these images is fortunate timing because I’m starting to think about future classes that I’ll be teaching this year – for graduate students, not kids. As heavy and stressful as that can be, I do love it, and I find that once I get some basic themes and a good structure going I tend to find good ideas for class exercises and projects all over the place. They come in the form of podcasts I hear in the car, rise out of conversations I have with vendors about new products, and they’re always popping up in my RSS-feed. As advanced and worldly as the adult students I now have are, I’ve found that they benefit greatly from some of the same exercises I used to give eight year olds. Not because they’re in need of review or an easy activity to keep busy, but because some of the most creative solutions come when your tasks are fun, open-ended, and colorful. In many ways it’s more challenging to work that way.
Being a designer is great, and being an instructor on top of that is awesome. It’s a complementary pairing, and I feel lucky to be able to do the work that I do. In fact, I’m lovin’ it (…get it?).