Teacher at Mt. Blue Uses Engineering and Design Principles in English Class

From Maine Public Radio

If you looked inside Dan Ryder’s classroom at Mt. Blue High School in Farmington, you might think that he taught engineering. A 3-D printer sits in the corner, there’s a giant box of Legos, and a full cart of electronics right beside. Ryder, though, teaches English. And he uses a method called design thinking, in which he combines books, inventions and brainstorming to create a new kind of classroom experience…

Ryder wants these students to take a character — this one from Romeo & Juliet — and figure out what problem they’re facing. Then, he wants them to design a real solution that could fix it. And these aren’t just ideas — these are real, working, prototypes.

Quickly, the freshmen dive after Legos and little electronic components called “Little Bits.” Soon, their prototypes are whirring with lights and sounds. As you watch all this unfold, you’ve often got to remind yourself that you’re still in an English classroom.

“English is what it says on the door,” says Ryder. “I’m teaching them how to write and how to read. I’ve just found if I take the approach of what’s the best practice for English teaching, I’m blocking out a whole bunch of transferable skills.”

Ryder says he can tap into those transferable skills through an approach known as “design thinking.” It’s been used in business for years, but rarely in education. Ryder’s thread of design thinking looks like this: It starts out normally. Students read a book and talk about the ideas inside it. But then things get unusual. Students pick a character and try to empathize with that character to think about the major problems that character must be facing. Then, like an inventor might, students write down all the ways that they might fix that problem. Then they pick one of their solutions, and with the help of 3D printers, Legos and Little Bits, students actually create their solutions…