Reasons I Love Teaching: Design Time

I have a student who struggles with English.  It's not that he's brand-new to the country, either.  It's just that he's immersed in a world with very little language (in English or Spanish) and given his past behavior (often labeled as a miscreant for talking out of turn), he began the school year far behind.

Something clicked, though.  Perhaps it involved his peer group.  Maybe it has to do with how he and I interact.  Or maybe it's the class climate.  Or simply an issue of maturity.  It's a mystery to me.  However, despite his growth, he rarely excels in school work.  I watch him focus intently on the math problems only to attain the concept later than those around him.  I see him struggle with reading comprehension.  

Look at his standardized test and he seems to have moved from Falls Far Below to Meets.  And yet . . . 

The kid is a genius in design.  Call it past experience or learning style or motivation, but this student has a way of designing things that often surprise me.  Case in point:  He worked with two other students to design an eco-friendly house.  His design included:
  • Solar panels
  • Solar ovens 
  • A green house garden that also functions as a "winter room" 
  • A split level design that allows the house to be partially submerged to increase insulation
  • A basketball court
  • No hallways, but instead a central area where each room connects (to save wasted space)
  • A place for "humanure" (he researched it himself, often asking hard questions about the vocabulary)
  • Ways to re-use gray water
I watched him look up ideas on various websites and then try and see how he could tweak it.  I've watched as "design time" has become his chance to apply what he's learning in other subjects (testing a hypothesis, researching, writing functional text, calculating volume and surface area) in a way that is creative and hands-on.  

One of the reasons I love teaching self-contained is that I get to see this student as a whole person.  I get to watch a student who is yet to score "exceeds" on a test exceed my expectation on holistic design projects.  

Here's a glimpse of his finished product, by the way: