11 minute read

Learning Through Design by Ian Fogarty

signal the end of their intermission. Perhaps we can extend their lead and create a place for both the school and the public to come together and instigate high level conversations leading to changed opinions.

The project started with science students being challenged to consider questions around what is the purpose of art in general and what is the purpose of our art? Phillip Beesley, Director of the Architecture Systems Group (LASG) has been investigating how the built world might understand humans and also take care of them? Humans already add plants, paint walls and post art to influence our state of being. Is it possible for us to build something that helps us with our emotions, our sense of being, our humanity? Can we mimic human emotions to instigate dialogue? Perhaps future endeavours might proceed beyond mimicking and arrive at influencing and improving.

Students spent some time considering what kinds of messages lights send. How does a fast red blinking light compare to a constant green light? What happens when the light pattern is too predictable?

Are there lessons from fireflies and shore birds that could help us mimic biological systems to give the illusion of life? Many biological systems,like schooling fish, act as independent individuals making their own decisions but appear to behave as one sentient organism. How might we code such a thing in our installation to give a perception of life and thought? We used some theatre and improv exercises for students to act out different emotions. They made some graphs on how we might codify different emotions. They used custom designed software to help design a light profile to control how and when lights might turn on and off.

We can add different sensors to the installation to make it sense and perhaps seem intelligent. Do we want the light pattern to be one way if it is quiet and a different way if it is loud? Or perhaps a light pattern would be triggered if a person stands in one location. If we want people to come together, perhaps multiple people will need to stand closer together to trigger a pattern. The LASG built custom circuit boards that would read the sensors and trigger the light pattern. Students were required to develop an understanding of electrical engineering of the sensors and soldering parts to the actual board. At the present, we are becoming expert solderers as we build the customised microcontroller circuit boards, build customized LEDresistor combinations and start to wire the inside of the art. Rather than hiding the electronics, students are having conversations about making the electronics part of the art that might resemble nerves and ganglion, and the flashing lights might micic active nerves. 

Students first used cardboard to draft their initial ideas of the structure. While we had a starting point, as students learned, they would change their minds as to the size and shape of the installation, often because of a wonderful mistake. Students figured out that the friction acrylic pieces would require a compression to keep the parts together and opted to focus on a tension model that was aided by gravity. Too many chefs in the kitchen led to some misplaced pieces in the original plan and a deformed column. Some were discouraged and wanted to disassemble to make it “perfect”. Others decided to leverage that mistake, much like penicillin, Silly Putty, and Sticky Notes, and deliberately repeat the mistake to make a better shape.

Some organic chemistry ideas percolated into the conversation about how the acrylic will react to the increased ring strain when they moved from cardboard to acrylic. The students discovered if the laser does not penetrate through to the other side and melt the edges, small microfractures will be introduced into the acrylic making them susceptible to breaking under ring strain. Microscope skills from biology helped us count the microfractures and determine the optimal settings.

We have the ability to add different sensors to the installation to make it sense the space around it. We want it to be more than ‘smart’ we want it to be ‘intelligent’.

GLOBAL COMPETENCIES: The 4th Industrial Revolution will require citizens who can think critically, who can use their areas of expertise in a creative way and collaborate with

others to do good in the world. As His Majesty King Jaigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck of Bhutan says, “the future is neither unseen nor unknown. It is what we make of it. What work we do with our two hands today will shape the future of our nation. Our children’s tomorrow has to be created by us today.” It is imperative that we provide practical opportunities for students to practice these competencies. The large scope of this art installation requires interaction between many people in many disciplines and while it is ok to be an expert in one area or another, the interplay between the disciplines prevents people from being an island. It provides humble confidence as students begin to understand that they cannot do it all by themselves. Teamwork is needed. While realizing that they have a unique contribution to that team. As teachers and engineers, the adults could have planned out the details with a much more efficient process to the art. We could have created a paint by numbers “insert tab A into slot B” style recipe that would result in a more sophisticated, timely and less costly product that both students and the general public might consider as producing art. However, there is a significant difference between being a quality crafts person who is producing someone else’s art and students employing their own creativity and collaboration. Thinking critically to become their own artists. There is a special sense of empowerment that happens when students understand that this is not a program that is being done to them, but a project where they have significant control over the destination of both this project and their lives in general. In some cases, it is a first glimpse to take back some power to do good in the world that has been shaken by the pandemic.

STUDENTS RETHINKING THEMSELVES: As a natural part of teens trying to “find themselves” , they clamour to find their “thing” and are quick to put labels on themselves to claim their place in their world. Some of those include musician, artist, science, math, language, humanities, theatre, athlete etc… While claiming those labels is good for some initial self-confidence and self-identification, it can easily become an excuse, crutch or fence to stretch oneself. “I do not need to do this because I’m not good at Math or English or…. ” The Renaissance was fueled when people drew on a wide breadth of experiences to gain inspiration. This same breadth of experience will once again be necessary to leverage the emerging trends in different sectors. While we do not expect everyone to be an expert in everything, we also do not want students to be satisfied wearing only one sign. Rather, we hope they experience the strength and excitement of being a multifaceted person. This project requires coders to think about the sociology of bringing people together. It requires artists to ponder the computational thinking about how to mimic an emotion with lights or trigger curiosity in the audience.

EDUCATION REDEFINED: The Future of Education is now. Document after document from NB's 10 Year plan to the Green Paper talk about an increased connection between education and the community. I would suggest that there is a strong connection between the community and the classroom from k-8, but the content of high school begins to become more technical and advanced which seems to narrow the space available for outside partnerships.

The RHS LEO project is an example of how partners can come together, even at the high school level.

The pace of society and the possible number of paths available to students have long since surpassed the high school curriculum and overwhelmed even the most capable and hardworking professional educators. More than ever in the modern era, it will take a village to raise a child. If we are to personalize a student’s educational path where they have some voice and choice, we need to be flexible to adapt when they make their choices. It is a cruel tease to tell students that they have choice and autonomy to create and think outside the box and then confine them in a jail cell. However, this desire to give students a larger range in which to roam opens combinations and permutations of options that far exceeds the capabilities of a school. The reality of a personalized learning program will demand the enthusiastic participation of a whole village where individual citizens, and businesses take an interest in education, not from a self-serving point of view, but at the invitation of the classroom teacher in service of the student.

Businesses need a mind-shift that their participation in education is neither a favor to the local classroom nor a way to build their personal work forces, but rather the highest responsibility to the communities in which they are allowed to work.

The Living Architecture Systems Group chose education of human citizens as part of their social contribution mandate and so they partnered with RHS to provide the technical expertise and help direct the creative process. For the first little while, the benefit of the partnership was unidirectional from the LASG to RHS. It did not take long though, for our students to challenge the capabilities of the LASG and their technology. Students would ask, “Can we do this?” Often the answer was “ yes ”, but when the answer was “ no ”, the programmers would get to work to improve their interface. The Input from our students helped the LASG redesign their software. They brought the student requests to life with the benefit of adding to the capabilities of future LASG projects.

We cannot predict all of what will be needed as students create, nor will it be a single straight path- an idea that was embraced by Brilliant Labs. Brilliant Labs partnered with us to provide the electrical components and even when students changed their minds, Brilliant Labs was there to support. Sometimes that support meant laser cutting extra pieces over Spring Break or delivering the pieces well after dark so that students could continue the momentum.

A New Brunswick ArtSmart grant provided acrylic, a connection to a local glass blower and the tools to document the transdisciplinary learning process.” This project goes well beyond the capabilities of an individual teacher or school. The relationships were not artificially contrived in a “program” with any ulterior motives other than to work with young people to explore a Stay connected and follow the progress of this inspiring project on these twitter feeds.

This project goes well beyond the capabilities of an individual teacher or school. The relationships were not artificially contrived in a “program” with any ulterior motives other than to work with young people to explore a transdisciplinary experience that happened to require significant investment of time and energy from the partners. These partners exemplify the attitude shift that the village will need to make if projects like this will be sustainable. However, these types of community projects provide the needed variety of experiences for students to apply their creativity, collaboration, and citizenship to solve problems of today and the future.

CRITICAL THINKING & PROBLEM SOLVING:  The future is NOW and its challenges are facing us NOW. To solve the problems of today and tomorrow, “we cannot use the same thinking as was used to create them.”-Einstein Students will need a variety of experiences from which they can draw inspiration to think creatively. If the only tool you have is a hammer, the solution to every problem is a nail. So many of our breakthroughs have happened because of a connection from one discipline that is seemingly disconnected from another. Only those students who have some experiences in all disciplines that include how they might interact, will be capable of finding creative solutions that our world so desperately needs.

It was interesting to watch some science students struggle with acting out what different emotions mean and how we might code those reactions. Students who have never coded before now had to ponder the psychological or biological effect of delaying the light sequence or dampening the light sequence. Suddenly, content that was once an obligatory bore, had meaning and it was exciting to build those neurological connections. In an attempt to be transdisciplinary, too often pieces are added on to an otherwise good project that become bulky and awkward. In these projects, the acronym S.T.E.A.M. is telling. Each discipline remains separated in its own silo and students do not experience the motion between the disciplines. The LEO Tech-Art-Architecture project is a fantastic example where each letter loses it own meaning and contributes equally to a single word “STEAM” with its own meaning greater than the whole. The future of education needs this kind of project on the near horizon because students need not only a diversity of experiences, but experiences that frequently and purposefully crosses the borders.