Wondering Wednesdays: Structure or no structure?

Based on my post yesterday, I had a few different conversations. One was virtual with John Spencer.  John has been thinking about creativity and design thinking for quite some time, he even wrote a related book recently called “Launch“.  Needless to say, John has some thoroughly thought through ideas about design and the design process. John and I exchanged some push back on each others’ ideas and as we often discover, we agree that nuance is an important piece of the puzzle. I was writing in reaction to overly prescriptive instruction that removes student creativity by determining a process for the kids and he was explaining how an initial process can provide a launch point for the creativity that will come. I conceded that such a support is not a bad idea, but too often teachers don’t allow for the student agency that he encouraged his students to embrace as they created their own process. He agreed and we laughed, clinked our beers together and continued to listen to the band we were watching.  Ok, that last part didn’t happen, but someday, John, someday.

So, for my Wondering Wednesday (remember I’m trying this whole alliteration theme thing), I want to share a possible study that came out of our conversation. Imagine two groups of students. Both groups are given a design/engineering task. One group is introduced to a design process to guide there work while the other group is only asked to complete the task. How would the two groups’ work, thinking, and processes be different?

Maybe one group would be more likely to complete the task. Perhaps one group would take longer than the other. One group may develop more diversity of products. The other group might have less quarreling.  

I wonder. 

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2 Responses to Wondering Wednesdays: Structure or no structure?

  1. Andy "SuperFly" Rundquist says:

    First of all, I’m loving this week of posts from you, thanks!

    I come at this post with a slightly different twist, I think. It reminds me of labs in our physics curriculum at the college level. My colleagues really like to scaffold things and I’m much more about just giving a task and seeing how it goes. I think the twist is that I want to assess their ability to plan and execute an experiment while it seems my colleagues care more about the students seeing a cool result or verifying something they’ve learned in lab.

    The anecdote that tells the story pretty well for me involves the time we realized we had an extra week of lab because of the way the calendar was set up in a particular semester. This was for a non-science-major class called the Physics of Sound and Music. I suggested we have the very first lab be “measure the speed of sound with what’s in your pocket.” My colleagues were intrigued but were also leaning toward having the first lab be “here’s how you use Excel.” We tabled the conversation and came back to it a week later. One of my colleagues said that we couldn’t do the pocket lab. I asked why not and they said that they had tried it and it wasn’t very accurate. Apparently they had gone outside and used the timing of an echo and their watch to figure out the speed of sound. I complained that I didn’t really care about the accuracy and would be much more interested in having a dialog with them about experimental design. Ultimately I lost that vote. Then, two years later, I got to be in charge of the lecture and all the labs for the same course. In other words, I didn’t need to collaborate with my colleagues. So I tried my idea and, in my opinion, it went great! So I ran with that idea for that the rest of the semester. We basically just used their smart phones for microphones and had them brainstorm what they wanted to do/explore/test. I thought it went pretty well but I know my colleagues were a little frustrated that the students didn’t get to experience more sophisticated equipment and sophisticated approaches to particular measurements, especially noting that for many in the class it was likely their last science class.

    Anyways, your post reminded me of that. It seems to me that if your learning outcome is that they can plan and execute an investigation, scaffolding the whole time might not be the right way to go. On the other hand, early labs with both scaffolding *and* dialog about the process is probably better than what I did. Thanks again!

    Liked by 1 person

    • jerridkruse says:

      Andy, your experience is similar to mine and informs much of my thinking about abandoning the procedural approaches. The fact that your students were likely in their last science class is exactly why you should be running it with a more problem-based, investigative approach. They aren’t going to become doctoral students in science so need to experience the act of doing science now!


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