Think Like a Designer but Play and Explore too!

This week we have had time to play, investigate, poke, prod, and experiment. Students set up accounts on Scratch and then started to look at all of the options. Hey! You can make games with Scratch! Stories! Animations! Cool!

Scratch is a project of the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. It is a programming language and an online learning community where students can explore the world of code. They learn to think creatively and systematically. Plus, they can share their work online and join in the community of Scratch-ers all over the world.

I set up “play” time as part of our MYP Design Criterion A investigation of Scratch. I required students to look at each of the different types of products that could be created in Scratch, animations, art, games, music, and stories. They were required to also use the “see inside” button to expose the code. My goal was for them to experience the general environment and ecosystem of Scratch but also make connections with the work that they have already done in Turtle Art. See! If you can do Turtle Art you can do Scratch too!

I had no other requirements but within 10-15 minutes most of the students independently started to create their own games and stories. This was not part of the assignment! What to do when your assignment is open and goes a bit sideways on you? Hmmm… I chose to let things develop and let go of my expectations. The drive to make, create, construct was taking over and I observed that it was a natural extension of play and exploration.

The next class I asked students to write in their process journals about their time playing and exploring in Scratch. Almost all of the students said that it was fun. Even my concrete sequential students who always want step by step instructions said this. The other thing that showed up in their process journals was the expectation and excitement that they were going to get to make a game or story too.

Then I introduced the Design Cycle, Criterion A: Investigate and Analyze. I watched all of their expectation and excitement drain away. My students were willing to follow my task as designed and answer the questions that I assigned them. They dutifully tackled the work and asked me clarifying questions but there was no joy. It was just work to them. As a teacher I almost felt guilty.

At the end of the day I had mixed feelings about my design cycle assignment. I could not help feeling like I had broken a natural process.   I also felt that slowing down the process and making students think like a designer, architect, engineer or other maker had benefits. Down the road will I see the benefits of both approaches?

As a teacher I am trying to find the path where students are creating and making in Design class and being able to understand how to develop and improve their work using information and thinking processes that I structure as a teacher. I have not found the right balance yet.