@ Gretchen Edelmon, encouraging the students to do mind mapping and doing things in their own unique ways early is the right thing to do. For this reason your post and efforts are laudable. Of course there is no point in leaving the students without any guidance whatsoever. The trick however is to encourage them to do with as little helping hand as possible.
Innovation is driven by wandering in the unknown arenas and trying to find the unknown. In this quest of finding the unknown, we often find incredible things that are sometimes less time consuming as well. On the other hand, following a certain prescribed path may definitely take you to the destination and in fairly good time if you are lucky enough to find few hurdles in the way, but that will be like connecting the dots and not drawing a new path.
bobjengr, I am also a fan of mind mapping. Thinking and planning with the awareness of how different ideas and options interconnect is definitely something that engineers do in their "real" jobs. We set out to solve a problem or define a product and rarely follow the exact initial path we envision. Usually, the result is more than we envisioned because we could adapt and "reroute" along the way. Encouraging students to do this early and often strengthens their innovative thought processing skills. I appreciate your thoughtful comment.
Daniyal_Ali, It's very interesting to read that you had a personal experience relevant to this concept. What you mention is exactly what is rewarding about assigning a project this way, seeing the range of different end products that originated from the same initial prompt. Students feel the freedom to be more creative when they can chose the path. From my observations and conversations, most educators see value in this concept. But the real and unimagined constraints around what concepts have to be conveyed in very specific timeframes can make it daunting to imagine letting go of the control. I see this method as a way to balance those pressures while allowing student selected flexibility. Thank you for your reply.
Excellent post Gretchen. There is absolutely no doubt that students learn, and most importantly remember, in differing fashions. Some are visual and some do well with text and no graphics. Some years ago, during my self-improvement week :), I discovered "mind-mapping". I was absolutely enthralled with the possibilities that maybe, just maybe, that process would allow greater retention and better comprehension of any one given subject. For whatever reason, it really worked and I have been using that technique for years now. Unfortunately, I discovered the process long after I graduated from the University. I definitely applaud your efforts here and certainly recommend you continue your course of discovery and application. Again--excellent post.
This is indeed a very useful approach Gretchen. Define two points and not the path, and let the students choose their own way. Not only would this result in increased learning of the students, but you will be surprised by the result of innovative solutions brought up by the students. We can't teach creativity but we can encourage it by these methods. This reminds me of one of my own projects during my engineering tenure. The professor gave us all a similar project without defining the pathway. And students came up with mind-blowing unique ideas leading to the same destination.
Thank you for the comment. This approach to thinking about engineering problems for students is appropriate at all levels, maybe it could be useful for the Future Cities challenges. Do any of the teams instrument or otherwise "mechatronic-ize" their cities? i could see some interesting relevant projects around energy generation, distribution, and conservation.
We will have a range of projects ready to unveil later this year that are designed in this format. I will update here when links and details are ready.
Gretchen, I really like your approach. The use of design projects to teach concepts is a great innovation that is moving down to high school and below. I was part of team of IEEE judges at the local Future Cities competition. These were middle schoolers and they had some great concepts and designs. The judging was very useful to them as well. All the various groups judging asked many questions and how they answered them had a lot to do with how they fared.
Your technique is something that should have wider adoption.
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