Emily Pilloton is well known in the design community but she is a relative newcomer to art education. Pillotin is the founder of Project H, a design and architecture nonprofit that connects the power of design to the people who need it most, and the places where it can make a real and lasting difference.
Project H focuses on using design and full-scale building projects to activate public education systems in the US and provide a more engaged learning framework for K-12 students, especially in rural communities. Most recently, Pillotin started Studio H, a high school design and build program in Bertie County, N.C., with her partner Matthew Miller. Studio H is a year-long program offered to juniors in the county to help them learn design, drafting, and building skills to better their community and earn college credit.
On Saturday, April 23, 2011, 20 design and art education students collaborated to examine a problem: what can design do for education? The session was led by Pillotin and aided by Maryland Institute College of Art professors Ryan Clifford, Stacey McKenna, and Brockett Horne. The day began with a brief lecture from Pillotin. The participants were then asked to split into two groups – designers and educators. Pillotin asked the groups to think about what design can do for education. Participants wrote their answers on large sheets of brown paper, creating a sort of mind map across the table.
The groups then came together to look at their combined answers, some of which included: working within constraints, building people skills, teaching business skills and entrepreneurship, visual learning, serious play, core subjects within art, having real life experiences within the classroom, working with the community, and creating tools for educators.
After looking at the lists, the groups compiled “common ground” answers that they thought were most important for students. They narrowed the list down to serious play, social interactions, entrepreneurship, working within constraints, context, and the integration of core subjects. Finally, the group as a whole examined what were some of the most important components to think about when creating a lesson plan: team dynamic, age group (pre-k, elementary, middle, high), integration of core subjects, time-frame, developmental needs of the student, materials, output/deliverables, outcomes/objectives, environment, and metrics/assessment.
Once the participants had decided on this final set of variables, Pillotin had them break up into new groups to come up with a structure by which lesson plans could be produced quickly in the latter part of the day. In one group, students thought of a “tagging” system, in which the lesson planner could come up with a group of words associated with their lesson plan and give those words tags by which they could find other connected lesson plans or words. Another group thought of using a system of pictograms and die so that if the lesson planner became stuck, they could roll a die to help randomly decide what component would come next. Once the groups had a rough idea of their model for the day, they presented to the group as a whole, voting on the system that they liked best. The system was then modified and revised, and over the break, Pillotin and MFA candidate Aggie Toppins created a compiled version of the systems to work from.
During the latter part of the day, the tables were arranged in a long line. The groups were split again: along one side of the table sat the designers; along the other side, the educators. A “speed-dating” session began, in which a designer and an educator were partnered up for ten minutes to quickly come up with a lesson plan inspired by a theme, a random word, or whatever other inspiration the pair thought of. The pairs worked off of the model devised by Pillotin and Toppins earlier, in which they had one central idea, and branched off into Themes, Needs, Skills, and “Wild Card”–a random category where participants could devise constraints for a lesson that would boost creativity or lead the outcome to a more guided place. They then thought about different factors like the age range of the student, materials needed, and final outcomes, along with instructions for the lesson. Once the ten minutes were up, partners would scoot down the line and match up with their next partner. The process was repeated five times so that, in the end, fifty lesson plans were produced.
The vast array of lesson plans thought of within those fifty minutes were remarkable. They spanned the gamut of materials and disciplines, and branched out into different subjects. Many of them could not be considered merely “art lessons” but instead branched out into math, science, English, history, and all core subjects pertinent to students. One lesson plan was for students to create their own “how to” videos where they could act as the expert on something that was a unique talent of theirs. The students would work in groups and learn that every person in the process played an important role vital to the successful outcome of the project.
So in the end, what did all this work mean? Students presented their work at the end of the day to faculty within the design and education departments at MICA, and their responses shed light on this question. Many of the education students, for example, expressed that they began to think outside of the normal restrictions that they feel in their art education class and started to think more outside of the classroom rather than confined in a tiny space. By partnering with designers who were not used to the ins and outs of the education system, they were able to think of more innovative solutions and plans. Designers, on the other hand, were able to gain insight from the education students who were used to thinking of the developmental needs of the students and the standards of the school.