Learning Design Specialist – A couple of weeks ago, the Learning Design Team and the École Edwards Administration Team visited Ted Talk guru, Gever Tulley, at Brightworks School in order to understand his philosophy and to help inspire the Maker Space Movement at Edwards.

A self-taught software engineer, Tulley created a summer program called Tinkering School in 2005. The Tinkering School’s program provides children with a week-long overnight experience at a ranch outside of San Francisco. Participants are engaged in large projects, like designing a working roller coaster, constructing a rope bridge made out of plastic bags, or furnishing a three-story tree house. In 2011, Tulley opened Brightworks School, bringing the Tinkering School approach to a formal education setting, thus allowing students to learn through hands-on inquiry, facilitated by teachers, each and every day. Tulley explained that his school can best be described as, “lifelong play based kindergarten combined with the inspiration and questioning of graduate school.”

Brightworks develops their phenomenological approach to learning through “Arcs of Learning.” Every arc is divided into three phases of study: exploration (discover and explore deeply), expression (create meaningful representations of learning) and exposition (showcase and exhibit creations to authentic audiences).

The students at Brightworks are grouped into 10 bands based on maturity level (not age), each focusing on the same thematic arcs. This year’s arcs are: coins, fabrics and cities. Classes have an interdisciplinary focus and make use of community partners, experts and field trips whenever possible. With all students exploring the same arcs, collaboration between bands and ages is natural, and students serve as inspiration to one another.

The use of phenomenological arcs is based on the neuroscientific notion that everything in the brain is connected, and that learning is ultimately about creating connections and relationships between a variety of ideas and concepts. The arcs allow teachers to first explore the topic with their band through what Tulley calls, “facipulation” (facilitated manipulation) that guides students toward understanding the outcomes that teachers identify prior to learning, as well as co-learning along with the students. After exploration, students move into expression, where they participate in workshops to identify, design, and prototype ways to express their learning. Developing empathy and social understanding is also an important part of this phase. Finally, Brightworks hosts a one-week exhibition, during which families and community members are invited to view the work completed during the arc, and where students reflect on their experiences.

One of our insights from this visit was the notion that teachers should be co-learners alongside their students. Tulley mentioned that he started Tinkering School and Brightworks because he felt that kids were being educated primarily to be consumers, and not creators or manipulators of the environments they live in. By allowing students to express their understanding in ways that are meaningful to each individual, by trying, failing, fixing, and retrying, not only do students learn and understand more deeply, they can also apply the process later in life to remain lifelong learners.

Moving forward, the École Edwards administration will be using what they gleaned from the experience to inform the development and use of their maker space and the mindset that needs to be fostered built with it. The inspiration and direction gained from Brightworks will drive their design forward, and hopefully encourage lifelong learning, collaboration, and deeper understanding in their students.

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