Inspiration: The Power of Process

Posted by Dr. Sam Patterson on 12/16/2022


While many schools have a makerspace, Echo Horizon School has an Inquiry and Innovation program that puts high-tech tools, like 3D printing and laser cutting, in a context of community and connection. Design Thinking, an ideation protocol developed at the Stanford D School, asks students to use their skills and gifts to craft solutions to someone else’s challenges. 


This is where the real difference comes in because it is hard to come up with great ideas out of nothing, but it is rewarding to help other people with the challenges they face. This unites us in a common creative goal and undercuts a natural competitive impulse to see whose idea is “best.” In this workshop, we are all working to help someone. When students begin a design thinking project, they start with the user, a person (or puppet) that needs help addressing a specific challenge in their lives. I have developed a sequence of lessons and videos for the Inquiry and Innovation program that inspire even our youngest learners to create cars, houses, and garden fences to help puppet users face their challenges. By asking the students to help someone out, they can all share their solutions and see how their classmates also responded to the users’ needs.


The Inquiry and Innovation program supports Makerspace and the STEAM studio. These spaces are designed to help the students learn how to work together. The STEAM studio has a laser cutter, two wind tubes, three aquariums, and a giant green screen studio. It also has a great deal of open space and a wide range of crafting materials and cardboard close at hand. John Dewey said that an educational space should be instructional, it should teach you how to use it. This principle helps everyone keep the space looking great and ready for the next member of the community.


While new technology like laser cutters and 3D printers get most of the attention, we spend much of our time with glue, cardboard, sewing, and needle felting. We started the year off with the older students creating giant cardboard hands, and the younger students designed their own monsters out of paper and cardboard. Even as we move into creating movies and computer programs, we will often build our characters and backdrops physically and use photos of them in our projects. 


As students learn more tools and creative skills, they have more and more control over how they spend their time in our workshops. Often, students will use our space to build their own passion projects, from custom games that use hundreds of dice, to cardboard dioramas. Their ownership of the space really comes through as they take control of their own projects. 


One of the most exciting things we can do as makers is to take our work out into the community. The LA Library Celebration of Makers has allowed us to share our builds and films for several years. The students were given the opportunity to debut their short films of cardboard characters for a packed auditorium of parents and members of our local maker community. 


The thread that runs through all that is Inquiry and Innovation is thoughtful engagement in the process. Our students talk about their process throughout the process, so they are comfortable speaking about what they are doing and why they are doing it. The focus on process reframes challenges from roadblocks into a problem-solving step of the process. By centering this process on Design Thinking, our students are comfortable offering help to others. Even if they aren’t 100% sure how to help, they are confident they can figure something out.