Castles in the Sand

Field trip time!  Paul (professor and surfer extraordinare) took all of us to the beach to introduce our design class that we’ll be doing as part of the program.  Instead of simply telling us what we’ll be doing, we were challenged in a series of activities that gave us a glimpse of how design and learning work together.  One challenge involved building a functional sandcastle in 1 square meter that kept sand dry, but was as close to the water as possible.  My team talked through some ideas and quickly started creating breaks in the sand and a moat.  Then, our new friend Elliott walked by…

I knew that a child could build a sandcastle much better than I, so I asked him if he wanted to help us with the really important task of building a sandcastle.  He quickly replied, “yeah, I got a bucket and a shovel”.  I then told him we only had 10 minutes to try and build a good sandcastle, so he needed to hurry.  Elliott took off in a flash and returned with his sandcastle building supplies.  We showed him what we were doing and he followed up by saying, “you need wet sand”.  He ran down to the water and grabbed a bucket full of water, then proceeded to fill the bucket with sand to create a cement-like mixture.  While he was creating this mixture, he told me “you have to get wet sand so it can stay”.  Just when I thought we were ready to flip the bucket over and create our “tower”, he stopped me and advised “you need some more sand and then push your hand down to compact it, then we turn it over”.  He IS a kid, he WOULD know…Our time soon dwindled and he helped put some more sand around the castle to create the final sandcastle product.  We thanked him for his help and he was back on his way with his grandpa.

Upon evaluation of each group’s sandcastle, we didn’t fair so well because we had built too far away from the water and were considered “safe” builders.  I pointed out that we should get extra points because we commissioned a child to help us build and there’s nothing better than having the help of someone who knows how to build sandcastles like a kid…no one seemed to buy it..but it did start making me think…

Design is often the most simplistic AND complex when done through the eyes of a child.  Children can somehow dream up amazing ideas, create a plan of attack, and most often execute their plans to craft something amazing…original…inventive…or functional in ways never imagined.  To me, design and learning both involve frameworks..the foundations are laid, the blueprints are drafted, and the work begins to fulfill the said plans.  What if design was truly considered within the context of learning?  Would learning look different?  Would kids be more willing to take an active part?  Would our ideas go far beyond what had ever been considered?

I don’t know the answers yet, but I’m hoping that I learn how to address a learning problem and re-imagine its design…hopefully through the eyes of a child making castles in the sand.

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