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Space to Educate: ThotPod Project and Concept by Allen Cai Index: Design Challenge 2010 School Facilities & Open Challenge PDF Submission

Space to Educate explores how the physical environment of the classroom can affect the quality of a child’s education through not only an ergonomic and comfort standpoint, but a spatial and psychological one as well. My primary goal is to promote creativity in learning by allowing collaborative and open ended workspaces, all while being able to retain the structure and discipline of more traditional styles of learning. By creating a dynamic and adaptable physical learning space through Thotpod, I can encourage and facilitate a balanced curriculum from the teachers, leading to a well rounded education experience for the students.

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Allen Cai

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Space to Educate: Thotpod

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Index: Design Challenge 2010

The Object: Thotpod Thotpods have a very simple design and construction, as well as some flexibility in the material of its parts. The primary component consists of two slabs cut from the same initial outline; these slabs are intended to be made of a solid wood (oak is a light but strong wood, for example), but can vary depending on availability of materials. It should also be noted that the thickness of the slabs can be variable, and thicker slabs can be made for softer woods or other materials. One slab is then cut around the inside to provide room for a softer mat surface, which will be sandwiched between the two slabs. The mat is again dependent on the region it is used in and availability of materials, but examples such as woven banana leaves and local textile mats are all viable. These pieces are then fitted together with five sets of dowels and plugs. The dowels are ideally made of steel with helical grooves, allowing the plugs (with the appropriate nut) to be screwed in to fit. Otherwise, the dowels and plugs can be friction-fit together with other durable materials). The uncut slab serves as the primary table surface, and should be finished as such to provide an appropriate writing surface for the student. Thotpods are meant to be highly portable and used on the student’s lap when utilized as a desk surface. When flipped over, the mat typically used to cushion the student’s legs can also serve as a softer, low-rise seat. What’s more, these seats can be arranged in the same way as the desks. The plugs serve to both clamp the slabs together as well as to elevate the Thotpods, providing minimal contact of the desk and the mat with the ground. These components are also simple enough to be easily replaced. Thotpods can be stacked on top each other to provide minimal space usage when stored. Handles are loacted on the back edge of the table slab to facilitate movement and portability between arrangements.

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Allen Cai

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Space to Educate: Thotpod

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Index: Design Challenge 2010

The Approach Creativity is not only associated with arts and music, as many people would presume, but also with a way of thinking. Creative learning involves exploring the subject matter, asking questions and digging deep to gain as much insight as possible. This engages the person in the learning process, encouraging him/her to take initiative and to be proactive with the pursuit of knowledge. This translates into a greater personal development, allowing the student to take these skills beyond the classroom and into real life situations as well. In researching the applications of creative learning by talking to child psychologists and looking at the Montessori teaching style, I was led to the concepts of active and passive learning, of which creativity was rooted more deeply in the former. Active learning involves open discussion amongst peers and a collaborative work environment, while passive learning is more individual based, focusing on personal initiative and discipline. How does this apply to the classroom space? Passive learning is seen in traditional, row-oriented seating arrangements while active learning is promoted in grouped arrangements. In pushing forth creativity within a curriculum, I need to be able to push both styles together but not necessarily combine them. A dynamic, shifting physical space is necessary to parallel the similar mental shifts between subjects during the school day. The first grade level (or equivalent, relative to primary school systems) is an ideal time to implement the concept of a dynamic physical classroom, as children at that age are still highly influenced by their physical environment when learning, and are also old enough to begin applying their current knowledge and experience creative and collaborative learning. Thotpod is the culmination of these concepts behind the dynamic classroom space and the promotion of creative learning, all contained in a portable and modular workspace. The students themselves are able to quickly and easily change classroom arrangements as orchestrated by the teacher, creating the optimal physical environment for them to pick up the lesson. Thotpods have a much more fun and engaging aesthetic compared to traditional desk spaces. The form is inspired by M.C. Escher’s tessellations, with clear visual cues for multiples to fit together as part of a pattern. Thotpods not only encourage both students and teachers to rearrange the classroom space, they demand it. There are numerous factors behind the design of the Thotpod. I need it to be portable, which means it has to be lightweight and safe enough for the first graders to move around (and use). I need the construction and material usage to be simple and straightforward so that manufacturers within target communities can make this without much trouble, as well as to minimize costs. I need it to be universally valuable such that its success is not context dependent - communities in various developing countries around the world (and even more developed countries like the US) should be able to benefit from its usage.

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Allen Cai

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Space to Educate: Thotpod

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Index: Design Challenge 2010

Impact The value of a higher quality education is universal, and while the Space to Educate project (aptly shortened to STEP) is directed towards the improvement of facilities in developing nations, its implications has potential to reach a much broader global scale. At an immediate level, Thotpod can be implemented in lower-middle class communities where simple manufacturing is within direct reach. STEP can work with local wood craftsmen and even plastics manufacturers, as well as textile merchants (for the mats) to begin production, even at a small scale. It is possible to keep production as well as maintenance completely contained within local businesses, allowing a self sustaining system of continual usage that much more feasible. In addition, local production takes advantage of the high potential variability of construction for the Thotpod, as certain materials and makes may be more affordable in one locale than the next - in turn, Thotpods in one nation can be vastly different from that of another, but the usage and viability will remain the same. Thotpods are standardized only by usage and concept, so different schools and communities may have different uses for it. What’s important here is that these schools are exploring the ability to work with a dynamic classroom space. Being able to try new styles of teaching (and learning) without losing existing values embedded in education within a given culture makes Thotpod that much more viable, and being able to bring these universal values to communities with limited resources further shows that no one should be restricted from a fundamental standard of education.

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Space to Educate: Thotpod  

The Space to Educate Project (STEP) and the introduction of the Thotpod, a modular and portable classroom workspace.

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