“I WONDER IF WE COULD BUILD A SPECIAL TABLE FOR THEIR HERMIT CRAB?”
November 14, 2019

A Letter from Guest Writer, Seth Fangboner

Dear Harbor Families,

It has often been said that necessity is the mother of invention, but, increasingly, the role empathy plays as a driving force behind innovation has been making its way into the public consciousness. Take, for example, LuminAID, a company that pitched its inflatable solar lanterns on ABC’s Shark Tank in 2015. While this product certainly appeals to recreational hikers and campers, it was not initially devised for those markets. It was designed as a response to the dangerous nighttime conditions in tent cities following the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 

This year, The Harbor School has partnered with KID Museum to pilot an early childhood extension of KID’s Invention Studio program. Throughout the process, empathy has been our guiding light. For the past eight weeks, students in grades K-2 have been working toward creating items not to improve their own lives, but to improve the classroom environments of their preschool and JK buddies. Tomorrow, all three classes will be heading back to KID to produce working prototypes of the ideas they have conceived. 
Getting to this final step, however, has been quite a journey. It began on September 20th with a material sorting activity and an exploration of the parts-purposes-complexiities thinking routine. For the latter, the students in these three grades disassembled analog clocks to find out what makes them tick (literally).

From there, the primary grades took two separate field trips to KID to acquire the necessary skills to produce their creations. If you had told me three years ago that our Kindergarten students would be using power drills to develop their woodworking skills, I sincerely doubt I would have been able to wrap my head around that idea. Being thrust formally into a maker movement environment these past two years, however, has dramatically and fundamentally changed my outlook on both the physical capabilities of early childhood students and the ways in which the process of design and making can help produce students who believe they can solve problems and overcome challenges through creativity and collaboration. 

The most incredible part of the journey, however, has been witnessing firsthand the empathy displayed by our students and how that spirit of understanding has informed the decisions the classes have made. While visiting our preschool buddies as part of the see-think-wonder thinking routine, our class used careful observation to develop the ideas that would form the basis for our final project. The kindergarten students noticed both how small (and cute) their two- and three-year old counterparts were and how high the tank which held their class pet was from the ground. The class thought that it must be hard for the preschool students to see into that tank. They wondered whether our class could build a special low table to make it easier for the preschool students to see their hermit crab. 

Eight weeks ago I never would have predicted that this project would involve students sketching plans for a crab table, but within the world of maker-centered learning, the role of the teacher is not necessarily to lead or direct, but rather to facilitate and provide the opportunity to empower students to shape their own world through designing and building. 

The final class discussion last Tuesday was arguably one of the richest and most rewarding conversations of my eighteen-year teaching career. I saw students adding onto previous statements using phrases like “I’d like to connect to what she said” and brainstorming logical and effective methods for determining how high the crab table should measure. To witness kindergarten students debate whether we should base the height on the shortest student in the class or use the existing tables within the room as the basis for our blueprints was truly an exhilarating experience for me as an educator. We hope you can join us on Tuesday, November 26, 2019, to share in this excitement. As part of Grandparents and Special Friends Day, K-2 will be showcasing the Invention Studio process in the gym.

Sincerely,

Seth Fangboner

Kindergarten Teacher

The Harbor School

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