Learning in Flux: The Joy of Purpose-Based Education

At the beginning of the year, I discovered that a local design firm in my neighborhood was opening an incubator/maker/presentation/learning space in a turn of the 20th-century woollen mill.

Dubbed Flux, the space was exactly what I have been trying to create in my own school, only about 7 times bigger!   So I had to check it out.

That’s where I met Ryne Anthony, their Director of Innovation.  A whirlwind of ideas and effort, Ryne and the company‘s owner, Bill Corbett, are making connections and making things happen at Flux that have the potential to open new avenues of education for countless students in the districts in and around Montgomery County, Pennsylvania.

Today, with 50 NOVA Lab students and 4 Graphic Design students, art department chair Tom K. and I made a pilgrimage to Flux.  To say that the vast majority of the students came back converted is not hyperbole nor mere appropriation of religious symbolism.  The students were changed.

From the start, during a design thinking workshop led by Michelle Histand of Independence Blue Cross’s Innovation Center (with huge thanks to Patrick Dudley, IBX’s Director of Innovation) the students were engaged and focused.  Most all of them had no idea that they’d been working for 90 minutes by the time it was over.  And while all of them had had a working familiarity with design thinking via NOVA Lab, as one student remarked, “Even though I’ve heard those terms and seen the process a number of times, it really helped to see it again.”

After lunch, the students were treated to an inspirational speech by company owner, Bill Corbett.  His insights into design, innovation, work, and the necessities of building meaningful experiences moved all the students and energized them for the afternoon.

And it was during the afternoon sessions, where most all the students presented the projects they were working on, that they discovered the value of putting their ideas out into the world in real (not merely virtual) ways.  The panel of adults every team presented to provided valuable insight and constructive criticism to help move projects forward.  In some cases, the feedback lit even bigger fires in students, in others, it illuminated their progress, and in still others, it helped them discover new ways through problems.

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In the end, our time at Flux went so fast that the students couldn’t believe that we’d been there for almost 5 hours.  What’s more, they left with a feeling, not just an academic notion, but a deep feeling that something about the learning they just engaged in was different.  Maybe it felt more real, more validating, more genuine.  Or maybe it was the recognition that when you’ve invested deeply in work that moves you, and you share it with others and ask for their help, well…you might experience, for the first time in a long time, the utter joy associated with learning.

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Published by Garreth Heidt

Designerly Minded High School Humanities and Liberal Studies Teacher Faculty Mentor FIRST Robotics Team #7414--PV Retrobotics. Constantly learning, trying to be more a maker and less a consumer of culture. I believe in the infinite value of a liberal education and the power of design thinking to help make the world a better place.

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