I went to a conference a few weeks ago. Every time I decide to attend one these things, I feel as if I do so at my own peril. It may be inspiring… or it might just be an unfortunate misuse of a perfectly good weekend. I have a strategy if I think things might be turning for the worse – I’m an English teacher, so if it gets really bad I pick a workshop that has absolutely nothing to do with English. In the case of this conference, the workshop was titled: “Making Across the Curriculum: The Modern Maker Movement & Interdisciplinary Innovation”
It certainly delivered. I learned about a field of fabricators, makers, and 3D printers that I knew almost nothing about. More importantly, it sparked an idea for an “Interdisciplinary Innovation” project that I’d like to run by the rest of you to see if anyone’s interested.
Zack Dowell, the presenter, passed around a 3D printed manipulative model of an element off the periodic table. You can see it here. (Can’t remember which one this was. Kathy, can you tell what it is?) The electrons, embossed along the rotating rings, are designed to give blind students (and really ANY student) a tactile representation of what they’re studying in their Chemistry classes. What’s brilliant in this particular case is that the Chemistry teachers didn’t just buy these in bulk off the internet; these models were created by students in 3D printing classes on the other side of campus. So students in one class were producing projects that had a direct impact on students in another.
Zack went on to show how students in electronics classes designed and built a series of simple aerial devices (kites, balloons, small drones) with 3D printed cell-phone mounts so each student could float their own phone in the air and take high resolution images with greater detail than they could get from google maps. He then described how these images could then be shared with students in other classes who could use them for any number of reasons (e.g. a zoology class analyzing coyote trails).
And this is what got me thinking about the learning communities we could create here at Foothill. What if we had our 3D printing lab create similar devices to map the entire school on a Foothill College webpage. And then, what if we shared these images with Gillian Schultz‘s students who regularly collect data on season creep (plants blooming earlier and earlier or later and later in the year). All of these data points, along with close up photographs, could be mapped over the high resolution images. Then, we could have Patrick Morriss‘ math students render the data into compelling statistical arguments. Then, we could have students in an English class collaborate on a 50 page report (loaded with graphs, photographs, data, and analysis) and then share this with California State Assembly Member, Rich Gordon. Whatever ends up being the thesis of the report would be the choice of the students.
Something like this gets at what I believe is the core project of the university – the universe of knowledge. In theory, a student is supposed to come here, gather material from multiple discrete disciplines, and then, ideally, connect these knowledge sets in some innovative way.
As teachers in different departments, when we intentionally interlink projects between our classrooms, our students can then vividly recognize how their learning is a constellation of knowledge that is as interconnected as it is directly applicable to the world outside of the classroom.
So here’s where I’d like to poll all of you. What do you all think? Are there other interdisciplinary projects we can put together at our campus?