Article by Jiyoo Jye
Molly is a designer, maker, and educator who has been working as the NuVuX Fellow at the Wheeler School in Providence, RI. She has a Masters of Science from the Design and Computation Group at MIT, where her research examined digital fabrication tools, material processes in the digital age, and the relationship between craft knowledge and computational thinking.
In her latest course, Responsive Environments, she led students through a series of hands-on activities and design exercises, where they examined applied physics through the lens of responsive design. Traditionally offered as "Applied Physics and Experimental Design" through Wheeler's science department, the engineering course was reframed as an interdisciplinary design and fabrication course. In this segment, Molly shares projects by her students and speaks to her experience working with them.
Physics is understood intuitively. Working with our hands and learning more about electronics is a great way to teach this. Throughout the course, students explore various topics including physics of motion, force, electricity, friction, gravity and mechanics. They are encountering these concepts not only through equations, but rather through experiments and play. So when we go through a lecture on the theory of light, it is complimented by an activity where they create a circuit and light up an LED. When we define what a laser beam is, it is followed by seeing the laser cutter in action in the fabrication space. These are the special moments when you see true excitement and engagement from the students. There is also another aspect of the course where students develop skills to identify problems in their world, which is not an easy task. The ability to form a thesis around a specific problem is a skill that they learn to incorporate into any field that they go into.
It is interesting to see students from different backgrounds finding commonality around them. This is a rare opportunity where typically polarized student groups are placed in an environment where they work together and explore an interdisciplinary subject. Individuals who are very technical are brought into a creative environment, where they explore their strengths in a different context, while individuals who are creative and artistic gain technical skills that leverage their work on another level. Kids already have a lot of imagination and fantastical ideas they want to see in the world— they are just waiting for someone to show them how to take the first steps. I value that sentiment and enjoy the process of helping them get there.