Design course for elementary school kids

I don’t really know where to post this since it’s not really about design schools. Hope it fits here.

I am quite passionate about education since about 10 years ago when I taught in a rural elementary school as a part of my national service. Utilizing design skills to understand students ( design research, ethnographic interview skills ) and come up with quick and effective teaching materials ( Industrial design, prototyping skills ), the result was amazing and rapid. It was also extremely fulfilling.

Then I taught full time in college for about five years, realized that there wasn’t THAT much I can do to make real changes, and decided to do it my way.

So apart from my usual ID work, I collaborate with local rural elementary schools to host workshops and after school programs. For the last three years, I’ve accumulated a range of workshop themes, but this is the first time I’ve done a video with English narration (usually I include Eng subs) . It’s been way too long since I spoke English regularly. My tongue couldn’t move like it used to lol.

Anyways, here’s the video of the program that I just completed. We designed and built three public “benches” for the school. “We” as in with the kids. Ever thought about teaching design theory to kids? It’s actually not hard. This program was about 20 weeks, about 2.5 hours per week. It’s tough, had to do a lot of work off the scene to make everything work, especially when it’s mostly a one-man team from course design to execution to video. Anyways, just want to share this and hopefully discover folks who are on similar path. I myself haven’t met any so far.

I too have experience with design and education in Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, Korea, China). I’m curious to know more about your work if you don’t mind.

You mention there wasn’t THAT much you could do to make real change at the college level. Why was this?

Have any of your elementary school students gone onto more high levels of design education? Are any of your students at the college level now since you began?

What you are doing with rural education is very pure in its nature with regard to design. Do you find that your students are able to include other aspects of education easily (i.e. math, reading, writing, civics) to their projects?

I’m now spending more time in the USA and observe that children at the primary and secondary levels of education have many additional aspects of learning (race, gender, sexuality et al) besides their core disciplines that compete for their attention. I notice in your video that female students are captured doing more abstract planning activities (sketching, research presentation) whereas boys dominate the practical implementation areas (i.e. digging post holes). Is this something that you consider in your teaching?

Thank you for sharing your experience…

Hi, very glad to answer your questions, but they will be lengthy.

You mention there wasn’t THAT much you could do to make real change at the college level. Why was this?

This is subjective to Taiwan. I am a Taiwanese, but I grew up in Singapore and received my design education and professional experience in the US. The biggest shock I saw was Taiwanese college students have no sense of urgency and direction. They lack professional attitude(not skill, but attitude) towards many things in life. The local culture shelters them from the international scene, they have no idea of the level of competition they are up against else where in the world. It was very difficult to push them, they were simply not ready, mentally mostly. As a full time instructor, I spent way more time on coaching basic things like time management and getting their fundamentals to a certain level, than teaching professional skills. I was exhausted and I missed working with adults.

Have any of your elementary school students gone onto more high levels of design education? Are any of your students at the college level now since you began?

Nope, I quit my college job three years ago and therefore elementary school kids I’ve taught through these programs are at most in middle school by now. I don’t expect any of them to pursue design career. That wasn’t my goal. My goal is to introduce problem solving skills, something as basic as it sounds, but is severely lacking in Taiwan’s education. Taiwan’s society has too much ideological influence. The idea of Science is very weak in Taiwan. May be it’s the same in other parts of the world, but from my experience growing up in Singapore, I was glad that the culture was very pragmatic in nature.

What you are doing with rural education is very pure in its nature with regard to design. Do you find that your students are able to include other aspects of education easily (i.e. math, reading, writing, civics) to their projects?

I am not a school teacher so I am not involved in their curriculum. However my goal of bringing these programs to local schools is to bring exposure of alternative teaching philosophy to the teachers. It never worked as I hoped. Local teachers, for the most part, saw me as “extra work” and never took interest to participate or even to understand what I am trying to do. The principal was very supportive however, and hired assistant teachers to assist me in my program. However that was the extend of how it went, never really achieved the effect I was hoping for, but I am not surprised.

I have, however, been invited to give training courses to smaller groups of teachers else where, to share how to integrate design thinking into classroom. The feedbacks have been positive, however I haven’t seen any follow up as to how it may have influenced their curriculum.

I’m now spending more time in the USA and observe that children at the primary and secondary levels of education have many additional aspects of learning (race, gender, sexuality et al) besides their core disciplines that compete for their attention. I notice in your video that female students are captured doing more abstract planning activities (sketching, research presentation) whereas boys dominate the practical implementation areas (i.e. digging post holes). Is this something that you consider in your teaching?

This is a very interesting observation, and yes there are differences in attitude and behavior between boys and girls in Taiwan that I’ve observed, both in college and elementary school level.

Generally speaking, I find that girls in Taiwan are much more proactive and willing to get involved. Guys/boys tend to be less passionate. This is very true in college level. Whenever we needed help, the ones who volunteer and are reliable are always the girls(true in three colleges I’ve taught at). In elementary school, every school has different vibes. Some are very close knit because the school is so small ( eg. 10 students in the whole school ), some can be rather abrasive towards each other. There are schools where the girls are just as capable and willing to participate in the “hard labor” kind of work, where as some schools’ girls shy from it. I think the main factor is the local culture. As small as Taiwan is, different regions’ students have different tendency of attitude. For example, it is said that kids in the mountains are more mellow, whereas kids living by the coast tend to be more aggressive. I saw a bit of this, but I haven’t seen enough to prove its worth. My favorite bunch to interact with is the aboriginal community on the east coast. They are really tough but genuine kids. The kind who aren’t afraid to take a fall and get hurt for an attempt, literally.

BTW these kids in the video have been with me for the past three years, so they are very familiar with interacting with me and how I carry out the class. It took at least a year or more to get to this level of mutual understanding. Still, it’s hard to get them to be more passionate about being creative or have crazy ideas. I have to push them quite hard to dare to think like Spongebob.

Looks like the chair activity created many opportunities for surprise, exploration, and communication. Wonderful little models too.

ID education has been making inroads into secondary education lately here in the US, but I have never seen it delivered to the primary level as you have done so. Props to you for trying to herd cats…:slight_smile:

That’s amazing. It will totally depend on the motivation of the kids to do this. I remember also building many working models of ideas as a kid, mostly in cardboard. But then the creativity sort of gets trained out of you. Because you need to learn to fit development processes into a societal or business context. But I think it’s good not to stifle it too much and keep having kids engaged in applied projects from early on. The unbridledness of kids is something we tend to lose as adults, because it’s all so political and governed. This program will be good for the STEM-type kids, which are probably abound in Asia.