Fun and games and lots of learning as Brown design students visit JCDSRI

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The fifth-graders giggled as they attempted to follow the rules that the visiting students from Brown University had laid out for them. Each student was holding the end of a wooden box that was a game. The rules were to tip the box side to side to move a pingpong ball into the opponent’s goal area while avoiding a few holes in the middle of the game board.

The catch? They were only supposed to tilt the box when the ball was on their side of the court.

The fifth-graders kept raising the game board higher and higher until they couldn’t see over the top of it. Finally, they got frustrated and put the game box on the floor and began blowing the pingpong ball back and forth. The students from Brown looked at each other and then excitedly took notes.

This exercise took place this past month, when the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island welcomed Brown University’s ENGN0930C Design Studio into the fifth-grade Tikkun by Design class. The visit was part of the college course focusing on “Human Centered Design,” in which designers put their users at the center of the design process.

The idea was to enlist the JCDSRI students in the creation of engaging and developmentally appropriate games for children. 

But that first class wasn’t all fun and games. Prof. Ian Gonsher started the class by introducing some common design terms, such as iteration, prototyping and critiquing, and he encouraged the fifth-graders to use them in conversation. The students also had an opportunity to share their critiques of the games with the Brown students.

The following week, the college students returned with new and improved games, while some of the fifth-graders brought in games they had designed and built for the college students.

The Brown students’ designs were sleeker and more refined than they had been the week before. The group that brought the tipping wooden box had changed the game rules entirely: Their new board sat stably on the floor, and students were told to blow the pingpong ball back and forth, aiming for the opponent’s goal.

This partnership gave the JCDSRI students exposure to college-level thinking about design, as well as to an authentic design process. They experienced first-hand, the importance of user input and feedback – and returned to the Tikkun by Design classroom with more skills, knowledge and excitement about the design process.

Additionally, as a teacher, I am using ideas that came from our interactions with the Brown students, as well as other community partners, to enhance my own teaching. For example, in my second-grade classroom, we are designing games to play with our 3- and 4-year-old buddies at the David C. Isenberg Family Early Childhood Center at the Alliance’s Dwares Jewish Community Center, in Providence.

The second-graders first played their games with peers, then had an opportunity to incorporate that feedback into a new iteration of the games before they brought them to the preschoolers.

The partnership has also spurred some of the Brown students to seek out more opportunities to work with our pupils.

Several of them will return in April to lead a STEAM Splash workshop. STEAM Splash is a school-wide two-day event that showcases applications of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. The college students will design a workshop around a STEAM passion of theirs and then share it with JCDSRI students in an interactive and hands-on program.

In turn, I will work with the college students to think strategically about their workshop, in addition to providing educational counsel.

TIFERET ROSE is the Design Lab (TikkunXDesign) teacher at the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island.