One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of traveling down to SXSWedu was not only experiencing all of the cool and groundbreaking ideas and edtech on hand, but also sharing some of our learning methodology with educators and students alike. Here's what we learned running the Captain Fraido booth.
The booth — which consisted of three Explo-made wind tunnels and parachute crafting stations (pictured below) — was designed to give educators a chance to play, as well as an opportunity to experience learning and discovery from the student's perspective.
We wanted educators and students to experience the joy that goes along with successfully building something with your hands (that can also fly), and to explore the core principle of rapid prototyping — build, test, observe, rebuild, retest. We think they all enjoyed the process as much as we do at Explo.
Many teachers and educators (upon hearing the challenge) had an initial reaction of, "I'm not sure I can do this." When they did it, there was genuine surprise, followed by pride (bordering on boastfulness). In fact, English teachers who made a successful chute right away would stay and rib their science and math teaching coworkers who were struggling.
Everyone genuinely wanted their finished design to be elevated to the "Hall of Fame" shelf. People were also very motivated to receive a "mechanical pencil of achievement," and were very determined, working through many variations and redesigns to find success. Often, they'd return the next day to try a new idea.
Overall, educators and students completed 1,200 test jumps. Local schools sent groups of students, who often were working on their own solutions shoulder-to-shoulder with their teachers. Two high school girls (pictured above) stayed at the booth for more than an hour refining their solutions.
What We Overheard
After his third failed test, one man admitted, "This is embarrassing. I have a PhD in Fluid Dynamics." Another person initially declined the chance to participate saying, "I don't know how to do this with paper, but I could design a solution in Autocad." (We prompted him to put down the mouse and take a stab at it. He had Fraido flying on his second attempt.
"Why doesn't it act like a parachute?" Many people sculpted the sheet into a parachute like cone over Fraido's head. When these cone shapes entered the tube, they routinely flipped over so that Fraido was upside down. Fraido essentially felt like he was riding inside the cone. We had to figure out why the cone is more stable when the tip is pointing down versus up.
What We Learned
It's easy for teachers to get bogged down by all the demands made on them and forget what it's like to discover and create something new. At the booth, many teachers had to be encouraged to tear and wrinkle and crumple their sheets: "It's only paper — you can always re-tape it or start over."
Teachers like to have fun and genuinely enjoy learning new things. Once they overcame their initial trepidations at the booth, they reveled in the process of experimenting with and collaborating on different parachute designs. And they loved placing their successful parachutes on the "Hall of Fame" shelf.