The Foundation for a Meaningful Life
Kindergarten - Grade 9 in Southborough, MA
Fay Magazine: Fall-Winter 2021

Lower School Update: Designing from the Ground Up

Daintry Duffy Zaterka '88
Lower School launches a new Creativity and Design course: Principles of Design, or POD Class.
This fall, a new class appeared on the schedules of Fay’s fifth and sixth grade students: Principles of Design, or POD class. Taught by Design Teachers Deborah Morrone-Bianco and Lisa Sanderson, POD is a foundational class in creativity and design that introduces students to the building blocks of the Upper School Creators Class curriculum. POD class meets once a rotation, or every six days. Students work on projects to develop technical design and fabrication skills, focusing on behaviors that foster creativity, such as brainstorming, risk-taking, and resilience. “We want students to build the muscles for design work,” says Lisa, “so that when they arrive in Upper School, they understand the terminology, possess specific skills, and have a good grasp of the design process.”
Developing a creative mindset
Every class starts with a five-minute warm-up exercise that helps students get into the creative mindset. At the beginning of one class this fall, students were given a blank piece of paper and five minutes to respond to Alfred Einstein’s quote, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” One student drew the first letter of her name surrounded by swirls, while another drew a self-portrait holding a book because reading fuels creativity. “These exercises are open-ended with no single answer,” notes Lisa, “and that makes some students very uncomfortable.”
Working through that discomfort is an essential skill and connects to the classroom norms that Lisa and Deborah have established for POD class. Students should be prepared to take risks, make mistakes, share ideas, listen and respect other opinions, and be open to giving and receiving constructive feedback. Even though students have just one term of POD class under their belts, “I can already see a difference,” says Deborah. Initially, students were tentative, but “now, they walk in, grab their paper, and get to work. They know this is their time to be creative and use their imagination, and you can see the free flow of creativity and ideas.”
Practicing brainstorming
A recent POD class focused on teaching students how to brainstorm, an essential skill to every academic discipline. Students divided into groups, and each group received a brown paper bag containing three different objects, which could include a notecard, a toilet paper roll, masking tape, a rubber band, a cotton ball, or a popsicle stick. Lisa and Deborah challenged each group to develop as many ideas for things that they could make with those three items as they possibly could in a set time.
Brainstorming is about churning out as many ideas as possible. “You can’t judge or eliminate ideas while brainstorming,” says Lisa, “So we encouraged students to play off each other because sometimes one idea spurs another good idea.” Some groups excelled at generating a steady flow of ideas, imagining designs for a boat, seesaw, treehouse, spyglasses, a hamster tube, a maraca, and a treadmill. Other groups struggled to get beyond three or four ideas and were eager to move out of the uncomfortable brainstorming process to the project’s next phase. Lisa and Deborah encouraged those students to keep digging for more ideas.
Exploring fundamental elements of design
Designers are inspired by the environment around them, and every design starts with a single point. The design teachers introduced students to the concepts of point, line, and plane as the fundamental elements of design this fall. Students practiced the important design skill of hand-drawing by creating examples of each. Then, students observed and identified these elements in their environment, finding examples in art, design, architecture, and nature. Using AdobeSpark, each student created a grid with three environmental examples of point, line, and plane to demonstrate their understanding.
As students enter the winter term, they will explore the connection between creativity and design and other skills like research, writing, and public speaking. Fifth graders will turn their creative skills to the art of thinking on their feet in the three weeks between Thanksgiving and Winter Breaks as they work on improvisation. Sixth graders will explore how designers help develop society by researching one of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals in a collaboration between their POD, writing, and science classes. Each student will choose a goal to research, such as zero hunger or climate action, and then brainstorm ideas for promoting that goal. In POD class, students will explore how they can present and communicate their solutions using technology, and in writing class they will focus on using language to communicate their ideas in a clear and compelling way. The project will culminate with each student giving a speech focused on achieving one of the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

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