In a recent New York Times article, Learning to Think Outside the Box, Laura Pappano demonstrates a growing need in the workplace for creative thinkers – individuals who can develop innovative solutions to problems that others might not even recognize as a problem. Similarly, in another New York Times article, Tony Wagner, Expert In Residence at Harvard University’s Innovation Lab, argues:
|Building a working farm – in the middle of |
Canadian winter – requires Green Industries
students to be independent thinkers, while
working collaboratively to overcome obstacles.
These articles caught my attention as they speak to one of my primary goals as a teacher of Green Industries: To develop students who are resourceful, resilient problem solvers, confident in their own personal strengths and intelligence. I hope to create a classroom where learning becomes not only about what the students know, but what they can do with that knowledge.
Teaching Transferrable Skills
The project starts with a challenge: In order to address food security and sustainability, students must build a working farm to grow their own food – in the dead of the Canadian winter. The process then unfolds over several weeks as follows:
- The project starts with several small design-thinking and problem-solving challenges as warm-up activities at the start of each class.
- Next, the students complete research into various soil-based and hydroponic gardening systems, factors that affect plant growth, the specific needs of different plants, lighting and watering techniques and appropriate fertilizers.
- Then, with the help of an Industrial Designer who visits the classroom, they learn about various problem-solving approaches and start designing their gardens.
- From here, students build their designs. This prototyping phase of the design process requires on-the-spot quick thinking, innovation and resourcefulness to complete. From cutting up recycled hockey sticks to drip systems that flood the classroom, this phase is often busy, noisy and messy!
- When they have a working farm, students create a marketing campaign to sell their farm system during a “Dragon’s Den” style competition.This requires them to explain why consumers should want to grow their own food, recalling information they learned about sustainability and food security earlier in the year.
- Finally, students round out the design process by reflecting on their work. This part is very important as it allows students to understand and explain why they were successful or where they failed, synthesizing information and making recommendations for future changes to their prototypes.
This project challenges the students to be independent thinkers, while also working collaboratively to overcome obstacles, and no two solutions to the problem are ever the same. Students are required to view the problem from many angles and to place themselves in the shoes of various professions, from designer to builder to farmer to businessperson. I also encourage students to make mistakes – there is no “right” answer and no prescribed method for solving the problem. Students are graded on their process, not just the product, so if all of their plants die they can still be successful by reflecting on the process.