There’s lots of questions at workshops about the lab and how class runs… so let me give you a peek:
One of the most important aspects of the lab, in my opinion, is that students have ownership. Ownership of their grades, ownership of their projects, and ownership of the atmosphere. I allow a lot of creative freedom, and positively abhor the “monkey-see, monkey-do” approach that most textbooks suggest. I introduce ideas and tools, demonstrate through video instruction how to use them, and then REQUIRE that the student project looks different than mine. If they copy me perfectly, it’s a “D” on the project since one of the requirements is to use the tools and concepts in a new way after learning them. This year (10-11), we even began a new process for evaluating student work where we grade each other collaboratively. It’s not me in charge sending the workers to do the dirty work… It’s all of us growing as artists together, sharing criticism and praise in a positive way to we all keep striving to be our personal best.
Sometimes people ask me about teaching high school, if it’s difficult and I get attitude from students… It really isn’t for me at all. If you treat them like a bunch of immature kids that need to be micromanaged, they will act immature and need micro-managing. If you give them respect and the freedom to make their own choices, they will act respectfully and make their own choices to succeed or fail. If they are the kind of student that chooses to fail,then micromanaging, treating them like children, and not giving them the respect to make that choice only creates discipline and relational issues, not responsibility or excellence. For the total scoop on this idea, I strongly recommend Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. Great book for all of life, but I found a lot of applications in the classroom.
There are no textbooks in our lab. There are 44 computers in the lab, one for each student. The curriculum, textbooks, instruction and lab news are all delivered through this interactive website. Students get their assignments, training, and even classwide feedback and grades online. The students love it because they can move at their own pace and time, rewind anything they need to review without interrupting the rest of the student’s learning. I love it because I can guarantee that everyone gets the exact same instruction, I can edit the lessons after I deliver them to make sure they’re accurate and complete, and I can also share with other teachers from around the globe! I really enjoy the feedback I get from around the globe on how other teachers and students are using the site.
The lab has a quiet, creative atmosphere. Music can be heard over the speakers and the lighting is low and ambient. The atmosphere is one of creative expression- we all work together to draw the best out of each other and create the best art we can. I encourage students to find their motivations, the qualities they value, and charities they believe in so that they can direct their art at their passions, rather than random, made-up assignments that have no real-world significance or importance for them. Yes, designers have to design for client’s needs and passions, not their own- but the kids in my classes aren’t designers yet. And I feel they won’t get there if all they experience is the drudgery of the career (creating art for other’s sake) without the joys (expressing your innermost values and beliefs through your art.) We learn in our passions so we can work later for pay if we choose to go there- But nobody would go there if the whole trip was a drag!!! We love art first, and even if we don’t become designers, we have the joy and beauty of self-expression as a gift to ourselves to use whenever we need it!
Here’s a video that features the lab (they made us turn on the lights and ruin my vibe, but I’ll let it slide).