Paths through the Garden by Matt Tebo

Sir Ken Robinson said, “Teaching is more like gardening than engineering.”

As a STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) enthusiast this quote simultaneously resonates with me and makes me uneasy. The uneasiness comes from the possible implication that Sir Robinson has ill will for engineering or engineers. Rather, I think he is pointing toward and prioritizing the human qualities that saturates all transformational engineering design. The main point that I really enjoy is that Sir Robinson’s gardening comparison is redirecting us towards a view of education that is non-linear. Plants adhere to cyclical seasonal patterns, but even within that predictable cycle we see variation from early thaws, late blooms, and a myriad of other factors. Not least among these is the intervention and tending that gardening describes. This is much more descriptive of the nature of education necessary for our day and age.

Thankfully, Spark students, aka Sparkers, are not the plants in this scenario. For one thing they will not stay still (I literally had to jump out of the way of a group of K-2nd graders carrying a cement forming tube to create their 8’ camera obscura design). Secondly, Sparklers are anything but passive. In fact, Sparklers lead the learning. Spark teachers, aka Guides, point sparklers to resources that might be useful to complete their projects. This student-lead learning is built into every project with Spark’s 5 step design path. The 5 step design path is: Ask, Imagine, Plan, Create, and Reimagine. It is a crisscrossed and connected path because steps do not necessarily happen in any particular order while creating solution. Sparklers decide when to skip a step or two and when to retrace their tracks to refine their thinking. This flexible framework allows Sparklers to problem solve with Guides when they get stuck, but ultimately kiddos pave the path and grow the garden.

Of all the objects Sparklers grew(made) this summer one of the most important was a paper airplane. Not just one paper airplane, but several hundred. After weeks of confiscating paper planes by the gross one Guide marveled at the incredibly varied designs. They were as individual as snowflakes and as plentiful as a blizzard. Some had curled wings, others performed tricks, and still others had a smaller plane folded into their fuselage's waiting to launch mid-flight like a booster rocket. Guides challenged Sparklers to apply their design thinking skills to this endeavor. Sparklers dog piled the challenge and decided to make the biggest paper airplane possible. The computer lab became a design lab where potential designs were modeled and dissected, a manufacturing operation sprang up in the cafeteria, and proving grounds were marked off outdoors. There was even a SOP manual for launching our largest and most fragile design (a 6 footer) to minimize costly repair time between launches.

Sparklers raced up, down, and across the design path tending their ideas, weeding out countless hypothesis, testing multiple prototypes, and sharing best practices. At that moment learning looked a lot like gardening.

To encourage this type of learning in summer 2018 afternoons will be devoted to Sparkler passion projects. This will take the form of clubs where kiddos with similar interests will design projects and products based on their area of interest. If a club topic has been exhausted the group will be dissolved and absorbed into new learning. Feel free to submit ideas for clubs to us in the comments or on twitter or facebook using #ClubADubDub