Transformed: How Everyday Things Work by Bill Slavin, 2007
The Way Things Work by David Macaulay, 1998
Regular followers to our blog will know that a key concept that has come out of the Agency by Design project is the notion of maker empowerment. Acquiring this sense of maker empowerment is strongly supported by learning to notice and engage with the designed dimension of one’s physical and conceptual environment—in other words, by having a sensitivity to design.
As we learned more about maker- and design-centered learning we thought more and more about the opportunities for young people to engage with the objects and systems that make up our designed world. Teachers who worked with us over the past two years from the Oakland Learning Community (OLC) tried out some thinking routines that we developed to provide their students with some steps to look closely, explore complexity, and find opportunities. In looking back through one set of student work produced by OLC member Carla Aiello—who had her kindergarten students look closely at the design of a pencil—the student renderings reminded me of two beautifully illustrated books that have been around for several years, but are worth keeping in mind for a maker or design classroom library shelf.
Transformed: How Everyday Things Are Made by Bill Slavin provides pictorial representations of one of the thinking routine that we adapted for AbD with the OLC: Parts, Purposes, Complexities. From basic materials like aluminum and glass to objects including running shoes, jellybeans, and cat litter, Slavin shares some historical information along with the parts and processes involved in producing each object. Carla’s kindergarten class could easily use Slavin’s illustrated narrative of pencil making as a resource for further inquiry.
As we conducted site visits at various maker spaces, fab labs, and within maker- and design-centered classrooms, libraries, and museums this past year we noticed a few books that regularly appeared on the shelves in these spaces—regardless of the age of the students. David Macaulay’s The Way Things Work is clearly a go-to resource for educators who teach pre-kindergarten through (or beyond) high school.
Some of Macaulay’s pages are more text-heavy than Slavin’s, but here again the detailed illustrations provide a fantastic starting place to understand the parts, purposes, and complexities of objects, systems, and system components. Complex objects like cameras can be examined with a zoomed-in illustration that has labeled parts and explains mechanisms. If students are trying to learn more about the design of the electric guitar they can check it out in this book. As they begin to uncover interconnected systems, they can then turn to the pages on amplifiers and sound recording.
Since the start of our project, we have encouraged educators to collect drawings along with text to make their students thinking visible. Both Slavin and Macaulay are masters at revealing design details and information through the combination of written and visual media. These texts are captivating resources to help foster a sensitivity to design and remind us of the power of illustration to support close looking at the parts, purposes, and complexities of objects and systems.
–Jessica, January 30, 2015