In a recent conversation with a designer friend at NYU, she said, speaking of her and her peers, “It’s hard to explain, but now that we all realized we can imagine a design and actually make it a reality, we want to teach others to do it too.” This moment of discovering one’s own potential to use a process to imagine and create is at the crux of educational agency. At its heart, education is about enabling others to be creative and discover the wonder of building things and understanding.
Our conversation continued to the ways technology has changed the classroom and learning experience. She praised how technology has allowed students to do more, to be more self-directed, to more quickly access tools that put them in a feedback loop with different experts. Her concern was how students know what to work on. For her, as a graduate student, figuring out what to work on is one of the hardest things to do. It’s true that sometimes you need to work through pre-established projects for building skills and finding yourself. For other students, its not a matter of knowing what projects to do, but a matter of having the resources and skill set to build the projects. It would be amazing, we thought, if there was a place built around helping students to understand and work through design projects at an earlier age so they could be more prepared to see ideas through to fruition in college and beyond.
There is such a place, right in Central Square. The NuVu design lab for high schools has not only an incredible location but also a spacious and light-filled design space: a critical part of the formula because it provides a sense of openness, possibility and free reign. Director Saeed Arida, or Chief Excitement Officer, Saba Ghole, or Chief Creative Officer, and David Wang who oversees all of the technology aspects at NuVu. They have created a studio where innovative education practices for the future play out. The lab provides public and private school students in the Cambridge/ Boston area with state-of-the-art cutting edge tools and works from the assumption that high school students can used advanced computer programing software, can learn to build robots akin to the ones being built at MIT, can essentially take on and manipulate the same tools the most advanced specialists are using.
NuVu describes itself in the following words:
“NuVu is a full-time magnet innovation center for middle and high school students and a professional development program for teachers and educators. NuVu’s pedagogy is based on the architectural studio model and geared around multi-disciplinary, collaborative projects. Established in the Fall of 2010 in Cambridge, MA, NuVu provides students the opportunity to work collaboratively with experts, PhDs and alumni from MIT and Harvard as well as working professionals, to solve real-world problems in an intensive and fun studio environment. For teachers and educators, NuVu provides training on how to bring innovative practices to students’ learning using project-based methods. NuVu nurtures creative problem solving, team collaboration across networks, communication and presentation skills, systems thinking, adaptability, risk-taking and imagination, all critical for student success.”
In a recent visit to the studio, I discovered high school students hunched over desks, computers, and mechanical parts, hard at work with all of the tools and experts at their fingertips–Saeed and Saba work to contact the top professionals in the field to provide guidance. For example, students on the flight simulator project had opportunities to hear from leaders at NASA. NuVu’s in house tools include laser cutters, 3D printers, and a full tool shop for construction. The high schoolers were one week into a two-week workshop of building a flight simulator. What they had created by the end of week one was incredible: an electronically moving seat on a pulley system that a passenger mounted while wearing goggles that projected a programmed simulation experience. Another group of students in an adjoining room were designing futuristic outfits to go along with the future simulator theme which went on to be displayed at the Boston Fashion Week guiding by fashion design experts. Click here to read more about the designs. The energy and enthusiasm and deep sense of focus were palpable as I watched the team of high schoolers at work, trying ideas, sharing solutions, working either together or alone on portions of the project.
The idea for the design lab came from Saeed’s dissertation at MIT and David Wang who is finishing his PhD at MIT in Artificial Intelligence and Aero-space. Saeed and David received seed money from the Beaver School to start NuVu, and all Beaver students are required to do the workshop as part of their school experience. Originally working with private school students, the lab works with publics, privates, and charters and maintains that access to the studio for all students is central to its mission.
Saeed, David and Saba are inspirations who have thought through an extremely successful model for how to have a unique project based learning experience where students are designing incredibly complex inventions in short periods of time using state-of-the-art software and tools. The lab work focuses not just on the engineering and design of the projects, but also on the character skills and teamwork needed to work intensely as a team everyday for two weeks to create a design.
This winter they are unveiling a NuVu workshop space in India that they are hoping their partner school high school students will also travel to. They also hope to open a workspace in New York in the fall of 2013.