The Design Cart

Game Design Workshop
A cart of creative capacity

A couple of weeks ago, I organized a program on Game Design for some colleagues to run in the Design Lab at my school.  I had to organize it for them to run, because I was going to be away taking care of my dad after his surgery.

How do you go about initiating colleagues to Design Thinking process if you’re not even going to be there?

For me, it was about equipping a cart.  And I think that this is a great way to bring Design Thinking into a middle school or a high school easily and rapidly, in order to help students and teachers overcome the initial hurdles.

Here’s how it worked for me:

  1. I designed the program for my colleagues.
  2. I met with them several times to talk through the design of the workshop
  3. I let the pick what tools and materials would be put out for the students to use
  4. I loaded up the cart — and I put away the tools and materials they didn’t want to use.

And that was it.  The teachers felt comfortable with the tools on the cart, with giving kids access to the tools, and helping kids learn to use them. The cart served as a mediating influence between the full power of the design lab, and the relatively limited experience they were willing to run on short notice.

OK, it’s a little more complicated than that.

Both teachers, of course, are tremendously competent individuals, with the full capacity as learners and teaching experts that you would expect of multi-year veteran teachers. Both are open to new experiences and new ways of teaching. And both are committed to the idea that learning is conducted as much through exploration and play as through direct instruction. Both are as committed to guide-on-the-side teaching as they are to sage-on-stage (because let’s admit it, you need both in your toolkit as a teacher. Some days you’re the sage, and sometimes you’re the guide… or as Obi-Wan Kenobi says to his master, Qai-Gonn Jinn, “If you spent less time arguing with the council, you’d be on the council, master.” Sometimes we’re the decider, and sometimes we’re the advisor or the coach).

But there’s a difference between putting some teachers in charge of some pots of glue and some exacto knives, and giving them access to band saws and drill presses with no training.  It’s even worse when students know how to use some of the tools, and are prepared to bluff or talk their way into the use of the tools that even the director of the program is reluctant to let students use with his presence, much less use unsupervised.

Pimp My Maintenance Cart
A landscape designer’s cart — check out the back view!

And when I thought about it, it turns out that carts have enormous power to be transformative. Take a toolset, mount it on wheels, and suddenly you have a tremendous amount of power assembled in one place.  While visiting My Mother the Artist (to distinguish her from Gordon’s MMTP) in Florida, I encountered the maintenance staff’s golf cart — as powerful in its own field of operations as my little, improvised Design Lab-on-Wheels was.  Here on one cart were all the key tools the general maintenance staff needed:

  • to clear stuck drainpipes
  • to fix broken doors
  • to open locks
  • to reach rooftops or remove broken trees
  • to reach problems underground
  • to plant new plants
  • to clear up afternoon thunderstorm debris
  • to mow lawns
  • to repair broken grout

and more.   It was pointless for them to maintain six or eight different maintenance areas.  They had one maintenance structure, and four or five of these mobile units for doing on-site repairs on a 500-apartment campus.

So consider the power of the humble library cart, or perhaps this small cart from, in changing how your colleagues view Design Thinking, and bring it into their classroom. It could be that the right tools and materials on wheels could make a huge difference in how we teach and learn in design programs in schools.

What goes in the Cart?

Game Design Workshop
What tools? It matters…

The tools you put into a mobile cart matter. In lower school environments, paper, pots of glue, colored pencils and crayons are normal. They’re a standard part of the tool set. So are scissors, and so are ink markers and tape.  That’s pretty standard.

Those aren’t the things that they need.  Based on observation, lower school kids need access to unusual materials that can be shaped and changed by those tools that they already know how to use, like thin plastic or translucent paper, origami washi and scraps of felt, pipe cleaners and more.  Somewhere in there you give them access to glue guns.

Middle schoolers need access to a broader range of both tools and materials — utility knives and cardstock and more.  But I find that I haven’t got a clear plan for how to stock the carts yet, because I don’t know what my colleagues feel comfortable using yet.

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One comment

  1. […] The construction of each table required several 2x4s and two sheets of plywood and a panel of pegboard; we used clamps from Harbor Freight Tools (love that place), and a circular saw and a saber saw and two cordless drills (and four batteries in rotation between the two drills.  The toolset was essentially the same as that we used to build the workbenches, the sawhorses and the rolling cart. […]

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