Monday, April 29, 2013

The Wikiseat Project: So Much More Than Just a Stool

The Wikiseat Catalyst
Students in my Design class have been working at home for the past 4 weeks on their Wikiseats. The Wikiseat Project in short is to take a piece of welded angle iron call the 'catalyst' and make a seat from this platform, but it's so much more. 

"WikiSeat explores the possibilities of new teaching methods in core subjects such as science, mathematics, English, and literature, or any other educational application. The Catalyst is geared towards bringing tangibility to intangible concepts, while simultaneously challenging students to think smarter about the problems their generation is faced with.

Every student is provided with a Catalyst (the structural support for a chair), with the goal of building a functional seat.  The student is tasked with finding materials and developing the skills for building on their own. Along the way, the intention is for the student to collaborate with their community, and to be introduced to new opportunities for learning." - 

Inspired by Many
Brayden's seat for his sister
I was inspired by Nic Weidinger's passion for something that on the outside seems so simple, but in actuality is very complex. There are so many interwoven human, interpersonal elements and physical design components. He was so supportive that he even send me a jig so we can make our own catalysts! This has prompted me to seek out students in our school who are going to weld them for classes in the future. I have never done any welding so I'm actually going to be learning from my work experience student in the coming weeks. My oh my how the teacher has become the student. I hope that we can get the iron donated and then we can make extra catalysts to give away to other schools who want to do the project. 

I could write a whole post about the work of Mr. Sean Wheeler and his literature class' work with the Wikiseat project, but I know I wouldn't be able to capture a fraction of impact that making Wikiseats has had on his students' lives.  I've talked with him and stalked his blog and taken so much from his sage advice. So, you MUST check his students' work out. Thank you so much Sean for your work and the inspiration your students have given mine! 

The Wikiseat project is the way my design students will be demonstrating their understanding of the design process. The one caveat of the project is that the seat they create must be for someone other than themselves, and it must solve a problem, or fulfill a need for the recipient. Empathy becomes the root of their designs. They have to truly process and understand the needs of the recipient to make a seat that is useable. 

I have started developing a student guide to take with them as they use the design process to make their Wikiseat. I'd happily share it with anyone! It is available to adapt, edit, change to meet your needs. Just email me (coolpoolteacher (at) and I'll send it to you right away. 
Ryley's seat for his mom

Wikiseat Materials 

Many teachers are asking what are the best materials to make the Wikiseats. Truth be told I really don't think it matters. In a way it's not even really about the Wikiseat! (More on that later).  I encouraged students to scrounge materials and not spend very much at all on the project. Most used scrap lumber they found in the scrap bins in our Industrial Arts Lab (yes we are very fortunate to have one in our school). Others spent $4-6 on bannister spindles which seem to work very well for strength. Paint was scrounged for most students as well. Some teachers might choose to tell students in the design brief that they MUST scrounge materials, it might at another 'recycling, re-using' angle to the project. 

It's NOT About the Seats
I have been telling students that I can't wait to brag about their amazing work. About 1/3 of my students are still working on the project to wrap up this week. I haven't been stressing out them not getting them in on the 'due date'. I'm sure all of them will be in shortly. What I'm wanting them to focus on if to communicate how they have used the design process but telling the story of their Wikiseat build, and how they made the seat to meet the needs of someone else:  

Julia's seat for her mom
"I decided to make my stool for my mom and she wanted a stool for her scrap booking table in our basement. She wants the stool because she cant find stool's that are tall enough for her so i'm making a stool that is a little taller than regular stools."-AJ

"[My twin sister] needs a wiki seat to express her inner fashoninsta that makes her feel awesome man!- BRANDEE

"For mine, I am making the seat more for a wider group, I had difficulty thinking of who to talk to then I thought of who visits the most, and my neighbour came to mind."- BRAD

"The probem that I tried to solve was that [my mom] was fifty, so when we go to the gym she gets really sore for a while and is really tired afterwards, so I wanted to make her a chair that is comfy to sit on so she can rest." RYLEY

Unofficial Curriculum
AJ's seat for his mom's scrapbooking table
One unintended but amazing result from students working on their seats is all of the stories I'm hearing from them. This is the 'unofficial curriculum' the learning from their parents, friends, grandparents etc. I'm really looking forward to students' summary blog posts to hear all about how and who they built their seats with. One student AJ beamed about all of the learning from his grandfather because his grandfather was very precise when they were working together. This is one project were I really loved the face that students got help from someone at home! 

To Be Continued
I'm waiting for 5 more stools and then we are going to prepare a Wikiseat exhibition at our school's annual coffee house talent show and fundraiser. I will share students' post project blog posts where they will be summarizing their learning. I can't wait to share students' stories with the rest of the school and community! More sharing to come....

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