Thursday, April 13, 2017

Design Challenge Adds New Dimension to Learning

Ask SBISD Librarian Renae Van Zeelst why she loves her job, and like most educators her answer is about engaging kids.

“My curiosity is innate, and I’m always looking for innovative ways to spark interest in a subject area,” said Van Zeelst at a recent campus visit to her library at the Memorial High School.

And if traffic in her library is any indicator, passions are poised to set afire the learning space in her library, via a humming 3-D printer and countless inspired minds.

From a glowing artificial leg design to a compact, marketable shoe rack and a double insulated coffee cup, students are lining up to render their dream projects as part of Van Zeelst’s recently issued student design challenge.

Van Zeelst, a self-professed STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) teacher at heart, offered up confirmation with the challenge she put forth to students.

“Everyone is an engineer just like everyone is an artist,” said Van Zeelst. This thinking, coupled with a system-wide Renaissance to empowering educators to be proud, brave and bold in their instruction, is at the heart of the students’ work and Van Zeelst’s instructional approach.

“We just need to give students the opportunity to build their inner STEAM” she said. “This design challenge incorporated the Engineering Design Thinking Process.”

Van Zeelst challenged students to identify a problem, research a solution and work collaboratively to prototype and deliver a product using a recently acquired 3-D printer. 

"I wasn't going to do this project," said Kyra Rubinstein. "When I learned we could use the 3-D printer I was excited about the work. The fact that I could print my idea in 3-D helped. I think this kind of project inspires students to have a deeper understanding." Rubinstein design for a prosthetic leg that was as creative as it was functional won her the Mustang Innovation Award in the challenge.

Van Zeelst was herself inspired to engage students from her own design challenge experience as an educator. As part of SBISD’s new strategic plan, The Learner’s Journey, educators around the school system are encouraged to find a challenge and rapidly innovate a solution based on data and a deep understanding of the end user – students. 

Van Zeelst’s ability to model and replicate this challenge with her students holds huge promise. Video Spotlight: Listen to what her student had to say about this here.

“Librarians are looking at how to use best or redesign library spaces,” she said. “Before I refresh my library, I want as much data as possible so I can provide the best learning environment for my kids. It’s about creating optimal learning. This experience is helping me explore and uncover that information.”

From developing a point of view about what needs to be addressed to generating quick and rough solutions, prototyping then testing ideas with the users the solutions are intended to help – and doing it all very quickly – the process required collaboration and flexibility. It also requires accepting failure as part of the learning experience, something her students recognized as they worked to turn idea into deliverable.

"We work really hard to avoid failure, but it helps us learn," said Yunuo Sun. Sun designed an interior space called Tomorrow, winning the challenge's Best Presentation Award. "This project was a reminder that you have to try things and learn from them. It's not about learning just the facts. It's about having an experience."

Part of Van Zeelst's experience involved a process of research and data collection to explore the range of options available to her in Makerspace and technology applications. Another influencing factor was how to provide students not enrolled in formal coding or engineering classes an avenue to explore and experiment on their own time.

As luck would have it, Van Zeelst was selected by the SBISD Integrated Resource Media Systems to pilot the Dremel Dream Builder, a 3-D printer containing a Dremel, build tape and filament. While a refurbished unit, it’s now seeing daily use along with an HP Sprout, an all-in-one computer, and an itslearning website portal.

“It is an incredible learning opportunity, and students are mesmerized by it,” said Van Zeelst.  “I’ve watched students work their way through simple software to more difficult design software.  It is the best machine for self-paced exploration.”

As her library redesign focus moves from research to implementation, she is planning on ordering a larger Dremel model. The upgrade will provide for bigger builds, which is already adding to her students’ excitement about building and learning.

Students like Sun are thrilled, already planning for next year's competition. "I learned a lot. I worked through my problems and finished my design. It was a great experience. I am already thinking about what I will design next year!"

Van Zeelst's advice to inspire thinking differently for adults and students alike?

“The Design Thinking Process works for every profession and every decision,” she said. “You be the spark. It may sound quite cliché, but in this case, if you build it, they will come.”

For more information about SBISD’s strategic plan, The Learner’s Journey, click here.

Congratulations to all the student design challenge winners!

Competition Award Winners: 
(Click here to see a listing of awards and designs.)

BEST OF SHOW (Individual): Alex Carriles
An extremely well-done animation Venin 

BEST OF SHOW (Group): Amir Pashael-Mirandi, Arun Ruhfus, and Pablo Say
A highly empathetic idea to build a one-handed gaming controller for individuals with physical limitations

An incredibly original idea to give those individuals with prosthetic limbs the opportunity to express their individualism by designing prosthesis that are not only functional but artistic

A thorough presentation of an Interior Design project called Tomorrow that included a fully finished prototype and documention

A Bluetooth Mustang Model car with an incredible amount of audio options


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