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Titan Talk

The Titan Talk blog gives the faculty and staff at St. Timothy's School a chance to post relevant information to our community. Feel free to leave comments or questions for our bloggers!

Learning Empathy Through Design

Make, a middle school elective, blends technology and art with a focus on the design process. The ultimate goal of the course is for students to build confidence in their ability to create for themselves and others. Empathy is one of the most important elements of good design, but it also is one of the most challenging. Creating something for a “customer” requires a designer to focus on the needs and wants of another, often setting aside their own preferences completely. The development of empathy was at the heart of a recent design collaboration between the seventh grade Make class and a class of third graders.

One of the benefits of being St. Timothy’s Media Specialist is that I get to teach across a wide range of grade levels, and sometimes I get the opportunity to provide a chance for them to work together. This fall, while the seventh grade Make class was in the middle of a unit on empathy, I realized that I had the perfect group of customers in Mrs. Boardman’s third grade class. So I asked them to imagine their perfect pencil pouch. Where would they keep it? How many pencils would it hold? What would it look like? After thinking through their options, they sketched out their ideas and made notes about the elements they would like it to include. I had no idea what kinds of designs they would come up with, but I was so impressed by their thoughtfulness and creativity!

The next day, I assigned each Make student a third grader, and they set out to try and bring to life the ideas on the paper. At first it was a struggle. Some of their “customers” had sketched big wonderful dreams, and figuring out how to realistically create something was a challenge. But everybody worked together, feeding each other ideas, taking on an aspect of someone else’s project that they could help with and, in the end, I was completely astonished by what they accomplished.

Side by side the design sketches and the realized products were wonderful examples of how empathy informs design. While some of the pencil holders looked exactly like the original idea, others had required alterations in order to “work” properly. In those products, you could see how the Make student had still tried to stay true to the overall vision of their young designer by using a different material but keeping the same shape or adding little aesthetic touches that were reminiscent of inclusions that hadn’t been possible. Every single pencil pouch was a thoughtful rendering of a design that was not their own, but that they had made come to life. It is an understatement to say that I was crazy proud of them.

In the end, the third graders loved their pencil holders. Watching them run straight towards their designs, knowing immediately which was theirs, was incredibly fun. It also was a poignant lesson. Designing with empathy may be a challenging experience, but as demonstrated by the results of the project, it became absolutely clear that it is a rewarding one.

Posted by Sarah Stanley in Curriculum, Technology on Monday October 29, 2018
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Learning History through Art

In early December, the third graders at St. Timothy’s School visited the North Carolina Museum of Art, a field trip to cap off their first semester of learning about the history of the United States through the arts. The excitement was palpable as we climbed off the school buses and waited by the big statue in the courtyard to wait for our docents - we were going to actually see the works of art we’d only seen on a projector through a computer screen. For the past two months, students had studied different pieces of art and how they connected to the people, events, and places they study in social studies class. Paintings such as “Forward” by Jacob Lawrence and “American Landscape with Revolutionary Heroes” by Roger Brown brought to life studied and soon-to-be studied historical chapters such as the Underground Railroad and the Revolutionary War. It is my favorite field trip of the year and I am always impressed by how much students remember about each painting or work of art they’ve learned about, and their careful observations and insights into the history itself and techniques of the artists.

Art history is not usually a subject associated with third graders, but our students participate in a unique social studies curriculum that combines the history of the United States from the Native Americans through the Civil War with learning about these eras through the arts. We study works of art that show the feelings, thinking, people, and events that shaped our country - paintings, sculptures, drawings, pottery, weaving, and many other art forms that reflect the history of our nation. Taught partly in our homeroom social studies classes by the third grade teachers and partly by our lower school art teacher, Laura Bierer, this curriculum is a special collaboration between teachers and integration across subjects. In addition to learning about the works of art and the historical events they reflect, students are also given a blank sketchbook to practice the artistic techniques they study, such as realism and portraiture, with their own drawings. Students complete ten drawings, each one connected to a work of art they study. They drew their own Native American houses with symbolism and created a portrait of their own family much like the portrait of “Sir William Pepperell and His Family” they saw first-hand at the NCMA.

It can be a challenge to bring history to life for students in a way that engages them in more than just memorization of facts and dates. Art from the past holds clues to what life was like in the past, and the integration of art in the study of history provides another perspective on people, places, and events. Our goal is to use art to help students start to understand the history of our country in a way that helps them see it and connect to the people who lived through it.
Posted by Erin Spalinski in Curriculum on Thursday March 2, 2017
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