How many 8th grade students does it take to change a lightbulb? None, they will use LEDs instead.
No? Nothing? Alright, I tried. The point is, children are extremely creative, intelligent, innovative, and most of all – knowledgeable about current technologies. We have become a nation of superb retail shoppers. But who is raising the planet’s future product developers?
Children of today have great skills of using products – their bedrooms are full of the latest toys from iPod to Razor Skateboard, but I don’t think much of it could be dismantled and then reassembled into anything functional. Children of today, just like children of any generation, crave active involvement in the meat of their toy. They want to use their eyes, hands, brains in the service of innovation, even if it is confined to their bedroom laboratory with a bent paperclip as the only tool available.
I witnessed this craving firsthand, when I taught a course at Carleton University SID department this May to 8th and 9th grade students with the help of my friend and colleague Corey McMahon. In this hands-on course titled Re-Making Your World: From Garbage to Goods! students got a taste of what it was like to design a new product from materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill. Or, as nature likes to call it, upcycle.
The course was structured around a collaboration with Patricia Lemieux, president of Ottawa Neighbourhood Services (ONS), and Brian Burns, an expert on Life Cycle Assessment. Christopher Viney was right on the mark, when he proposed a PhD thesis, to anyone interested, on the topic of “Why are children fascinated by nature?”. It’s even easier to get students excited about studying industrial objects. The job of a teacher is to guide students to a conclusion and stimulate ideas.
Identify and Interpret
Students visited ONS and purchased objects that later would be transformed into a useful product. They got a tour of a facility, where people sorted clothes to either resell or compact them into plastic bags to be sent off to Third World countries. I was amazed with how quickly the students picked out components of their future products! The room filled with laughter and discussion as everyone rushed off to shelves and bins, already brainstorming and laying out their designs in small sketchbooks. Some have already started putting components together to rough out manufacturing processes.
Abstract and Match
Test and Discover
There were many discussions around the concepts of sustainability, which students brought up during all of these phases. But above all, these discussions grew into tangible results, which students presented in a form of final projects. Examples of products included table manufactured from golf clubs and old vinyl records, bird house from wooden dish rack, line of fashionable bags and purses out of old clothes.
I’m sure, students learned some important issues through this course. However, the biggest lesson I learned is that if these kids were at a design table with any of the professionals, we would probably stop designing lightbulbs, and move toward sustainable future in a much speedier fashion. Or, at least, those dreaded brainstorming meetings would become more like inspirational games and less like a chore.