Using design and engineering in an English class may seem to be an unusual way to teach, but it is part of design thinking, which combines books, interventions, and brainstorming.
At Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, there is a 3-D printer, a giant Lego box, and a full cart of electronics in Dan Ryder’s classroom. Near the end of the school year, he stood in front of the 9th grade English class with directions.
“You’ve gotta develop a prototype solution,” Ryder says. “A solution you think is going to work.”
The solution isn’t found in a model. Ryder wants them to choose a character from Romeo & Juliet and identify what problem the character faces. Then he wants them to design a solution to the problem.
The students head quickly for the small electronic components known as “Little Bits,” and the Legos. It looks like a robotics class as the prototypes whirl around. “English is what it says on the door,” says Ryder. “I’m teaching them how to write and how to read. I’ve just found if I take the approach of what’s the best practice for English teaching, I’m blocking out a whole bunch of transferable skills.”
According to Ryder, those transferable skills can be used through design thinking. It starts out in the usual way of having students read a book and talk about it. But then students empathize with a character, find problems and invent solutions. With the help of the tech materials in the classroom, students design their solutions.
“You can understand the text, understand the film, understand the audio, whatever your source is,” he says. “But that’s not literacy. That’s just comprehension. You gotta use it to make meaning, solve a problem. That’s what design thinking lets you do. So if you want to take it to the next level, you’ve got to do that!”