Monday, April 7, 2014

The Narrative Care Project

 This week my student broadcasting class is moving on to an exciting project called The Narrative Care Project. This project connects my students with senior citizens in care a our local senior care facility.

The students have been given the challenge to answer the following essential question: "How can we use music as a catalyst to evoke memories and how can we preserve these stories?". The ideas for this project came from a program in New Brunswick, Canada where university and high school students have been working to document the stories of seniors. 

It's a huge undertaking. Working with our school counsellor, we have presented them with the challenge and have had several classes where we have asked students to brainstorm and develop a list of thing they need to know and things they need to do. The list is quite extensive.  Students have done lots of research about what 'preserving memories' might look like, and we have agreed to use video of the seniors to make iBooks for each of the seniors, with an iPad being left at the seniors home for everyone to access, and DVD and other digital copies of the videos being made available for family members.

We recently spend an afternoon at the care facility where students were introduced to the senior they are going to be working with, as well as members of the seniors' families. The kick off visit was a huge success! My students were treated like family members by the seniors who started sharing so much about their lives

What is most rewarding and exciting about this project is that it is rooted in empathy. My students are truly going to understand and value the experience they have because they can take pride in not only making a final project for a class, but something that will be treasured by the seniors and their families for years to come. Hopefully at the end of the project students will truly appreciate how things were different when their partnered senior was growing up, and how many things are still the same. 

On the equipment side of things, there is also a challenge for myself and for my students. We are going to be using iPad minis to record, edit and share the video content for each senior's iBook. We're going to use our existing mics and rotolights with the iOgrapher case for the minis. I really want to challenge my students to use the minis to their fullest capacity with video.

Photo source: http://

One side note that is interesting is that I have also connected with a senior in the facility and I had a wonderful chat with her about her family. I'm looking forward to doing the project along side my own students!

Has anyone out there used iPads for documentary style interviews? I would like to connect and share ideas about which apps worked well for them!

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Prototyping and More Prototyping

This originally started as an outline for a post last year that never materialized and now is very relevant again this semester in my multimedia class.

Students in multimedia this semester will have more choice than ever before. After completing two compulsory modules (one to learn about Photoshop and the other the basics about Illustrator), students will then get to pick from 6 modules depending on their interest, and complete 4 of them.

The Idea
One project that I'm really excited about right now is a design project where students will design their own speaker enclosure for an mp3 device. I'm ordering mono speaker kits from a supplier which will allow students to solder together all of the electronics and then design the enclosure.

Students will sketch, prototype from cardboard, make mistakes, and do it all over and over again until they create a speaker enclosure that is uniquely theirs, all the while blogging about their work. In the ned they can make it out of wood, cardboard, acyclic sheets, or even recycled materials they've found around the house.

The kits have been ordered from a supplier in the UK call Kitronik. If anyone knows where I can get these kits in North America PLEASE let me know!

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Community Furniture Project

Students in my Media and Design class have been working on our "Furniture Design Project". Using  the design process students are challenged with the following essential question:

"How can we design and manufacture furniture for a community common space?" 

This project stems from a crazy idea I had a while ago where I'd like to see students use sketching, modelling tools and full sized machinery to make furniture. Now its becoming a reality.

This project is scheduled to take 8 weeks. We are scheduled to finish in the last two weeks of the semester to finish mid June. The outcomes for this project are from DES 1030 (3D Design) and DES 1050 (CAD 1). Essential tools are paper, cardboard, glue, pencils, plywood and Sketchup.


Students started with sketch ideas and seeking inspiration. We created Pinterest accounts with furniture design as the title of one of our boards. Here's mine. Students then spend a few days sketching out ideas for their furniture. By the end of the 3 days most students had made up their minds as to what kind of furniture they were going to make. Students were put into design teams to present their sketches and have discussions about their design, inspiration and seek input from others. We call this getting a 'reality check', and it happens after every step in the design process.

After learning about the CNC machine we had bought, I had to narrow the focus of our essential question. Making furniture with a CNC machine in 8 weeks is not easy task, and if we were going to get to making REAL chairs and tables, I had to guide them further. The style of furniture we were now pursuing for inspiration was flat-pack furniture. Students researched what this term meant and investigated how IKEA is one of the innovators of flat-pack furniture. I also wanted them to see that flat-pack furniture didn't necessarily mean we all had to make our pieces the same style.

We found inspiration is James McBennet's Fabsie project which I had backed on Kickstarter earlier in the year. Among others, James is working on a unique method of manufacturing that is more efficient, and is environmentally friendly because instead of having a large warehouse and shipping goods long distances around the world, you share digital design files with local manufacturing experts in close proximity to the end consumer. These local experts use the design specs for the CNC machines and manufacture a piece of furniture from it. The shipping costs are lower, less jet fuel, and gas used to deliver it and it supports local businesses! Plus there is no overhead to maintain in a big warehouse. The files are often only a few dozen kb in size. It's a great model!

So we narrowed our focus:

"How can we design and manufacture flat pack furniture for a community common space?" 

Build to Think

This is becoming a bit of a buzz word in my class but it is a really important step. Students used scrap cardboard to make an early prototype chair. It helps bring their 2D sketch into something tangible. Each student presented their cardboard model. Peers would comment on their models. "I really like" and "Have you thought about" are our two guiding phrases for feedback.

Research, research and more research.
This project had so many opportunities for students to investigate. We started with inspiration and ended up talking about design standards. Students guided the learning as we went along. We spend 3 whole days on design standards and measuring furniture in our school. It was important to let the students find out what they needed to know and guide them when they were getting stuck or hung up on things. By the end of the project we all knew the design standards for chairs and tables and students were using this in their everyday conversations.

Reality Checks
We've had a lot of them. Reality checks have taken many forms during this project. Some have been what I'd call 'formal'. These are teacher directed reflections that students were required to complete and blog about. One other form of reality was also teacher directed but student facilitated. I would pose questions (such as asking students to check seat heights against the design standards) and students would go to each other's workstations to have conversations about their designs.

After students made physical models they spend at least a week just on modelling in Sketchup. I gave an introductory lesson one class on sketchup, and introduced another research topic which was common joinery techniques in flat pack furniture. Cardboard models turned into laser cut models with thin birch plywood. My classroom began to look like a doll furniture factory. Discussions of strength, form and function where happening everywhere.

I'm learning about manufacturing and prototyping right along side of the students. I even started to sketch out my own chair design and made a couple lasercut models. Seeing my idea go from a sketch into a model is really neat.

After 8 weeks and several phases of prototyping including full size prototypes from lower grade plywood, the project was completed! We used our Shopbot CNC machine extensively and lived in the shop for the last 2 weeks of the project. There was a ton of finishing work to do!

 Overall there were 6 pieces of furniture that were produced in teams. We had a celebration and grand reveal of the furniture at the Cold Lake Energy Centre attached to our school with several board members, management from the recreation centre, and a reporter from the local newspaper who did a pretty good job of telling the story. 

The most gratifying aspect of the project for me and my students is that these pieces of furniture will be used for many years to come.