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AAE Grant Helps Turn Students into Makers
posted by: Melissa | September 12, 2018, 02:21 PM   

This week, we have a guest blog by Jillian Welch, one of our national grant winners. As a recipient of a $500 AAE Foundation grant, Jillian was trained in the design and incorporation of a new program for her classroom. Her story is below:

As an educator, I seek out new innovative teaching techniques. I believe teachers should strive to push their students to do the hard work, to be the leaders of the classroom, and to be innovative.

In seeking out new opportunities, I had the privilege of attending the first ever LAUNCH Academy, thanks to a grant from the Association of American Educators. Organized by AJ Juliani and John Spencer, this conference was a great opportunity for educators new to design thinking and The LAUNCH Cycle.  Design Thinking can be integrated into any subject as students are encouraged to design, whether that means designing a presentation, designing a product, or designing a way of thinking about something new. “The LAUNCH Cycle provides a creative process that can be incorporated into every class at every grade level” (AJ Juliani and John Spencer, 2016). When students are able to approach any complex task using design thinking, they go beyond just understanding a topic, they truly KNOW it. This way of thinking leads students to transfer new knowledge in unique situations, not just for a test, but to apply it to their own life and the real world. This is the deepest level of thinking and therefore everyday instruction will be greatly improved in the way students are able to think about what they are learning.  Students need to be challenged, to work hard at creating their own learning, to be innovative, and to collaborate with others in meaningful ways in order to truly prepare for their futures. Design Thinking is one way to accomplish this. My attendance at this conference has led me to push my students in the right direction, so that they can be in control and take initiative of their own learning. Design thinking can lead students to truly be prepared for the real world as it is the closest process in instruction to what jobs of the future will look like for our students. As AJ Juliani and John Spencer say, “If you dare to innovate and view creativity as an essential skill, you will empower your students to change the world–starting right now.”

In my classroom, we use The LAUNCH Cycle during our integrated units of study.  When the students are designing and making, they go through this process, sometimes we take the long, complete route, other times we do “design sprints” (fast-paced making where students engage in most steps of the process).  Here is an example of how I am using the LAUNCH Cycle in my classroom as we design wagons as part of our Journey West in 4th Grade…

  • L – look, listen, and learn – students engage in readings, research, and other experiences to gain understanding of a pioneers journey west in the 1800’s
  • A – ask tons of questions – students explore questions they have
  • U – understand the process or problem – students are posed with the question, “How will we travel over such a great distance?” and share ideas of how to design an effective wagon, then, in the middle of their design, students will be confronted with an extra challenge, how will their wagon be water resistant to cross rivers along the way?
  • N – navigate ideas – students will work together to design some solutions, writing down and drawing out their ideas and experimenting with possible materials
  • C – create a prototype – start creating!
  • H – highlight and fix – as students continue along this journey, they will try out their prototype and ask themselves questions such as Does it roll?  What improvements can we make?  Did another group have a successful idea that we could build on?
  • LAUNCH – launch to an audience – after improving on their designs, students will share their wagons, possibly with others in the school or community

This is going to be an ongoing project with many revisions and new challenges along the way.  When students view themselves as makers, inventors, and creators, they engage in problem-solving, critical thinking, and imagination, all skills they will need to be successful. My hope is that through this process and engaging in the LAUNCH Cycle, my students will see themselves as successful innovators.

AAE is proud to support teachers such as Jillian Welch through our scholarship and grant program. Tell us your idea! If you have a big idea, or an even not-so-big idea that needs some help to “launch,” apply for an AAE National Scholarship or Grant. You can do so on our website. Our next deadline is October 1st.

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