Learning PBL from Thomas Edison
On March 9, 2012, from 4-6 PM, our students at Synapse School, a K-8 lab school in Menlo Park CA, will be sharing their project-based works to the SF Bay Area community. This is the culmination of an 8-week curriculum on Thomas Edison's works and it will showcase "inventive hands-on science learning strategies from the point of view of the students."
In the Edison Interactive Students' Lab, which is what we call the event, the students will be at forefront. To realize this event, Synapse teachers went through rigorous hands-on training. Not one of us educators were trained to build any of Thomas Edison's inventions. A few of us remember talking about the light bulb as his invention in science class, but we didn't build one. As such, this module was new as well to the educators that will prepare the students to speak with confidence, knowledge, and enthusiasm about Edison. In-service for the teachers meant learning from the engineer parents who volunteered to build simulations of Edison's inventions, including the phonograph, light bulb, movie camera, the controversial DC, and more.
Edison was a quintessential project-based learner. He mostly learned by doing. It took him 10,000 times to find the right combination of filament materials for the lightbulb to last. In fact his theories came from his practice and his extensive reading. In one of his interviews, he said "I read a library."
There are two parts to the Edison project-based module: BUILD- students build Edison invention simulations and DESIGN- where a partnership with IDEO, an industrial design firm in Palo Alto, offers our students the opportunity to take elements from Edison to design their iterations for the 21st century. In this way, learning doesn't end with Edison (industrial age). Rather, it moves on with an understanding that inventions are made to make this a better world (digital age).
In this experience, we have learned that project-based learning means the projects can fail and can succeed. The cylindrical phonograph made some sounds when tested but was too scratchy. The carbon button experiments took over 2 hours to work. And the light bulb shone for only 30 seconds. In the meantime, our middle school students are preparing their 21st century lighting system for a city and the third graders are working on the nth design of a communication system (with their version of a 21st century Morse code) that will connect the classrooms to the administrative offices.
I share this experience with you because it took hard work and the commitment to innovative learning from the entire community of learners, educators, and parents. We took a calculated risk and with our willingness to face failure, we taught our students not only about Edison and his inventions, but to learn concepts and theories about applied electrical and materials engineering, from persevering, taking notes, and iterating. I invite you to join our learning community in this event. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to RSVP.