Sunday, September 28, 2014

More than just about the tools.

I've often been asked a few times, when I show my photos to others, what camera am I using. Similarly, when I do a piece of digital work, some do want to know what is the app or softtware that I am working with. I would usually obliged, as more often than not, I do not really mind sharing with those that have asked me, some of the tools of my trade. Which is one of the good things about being an educator. You don't really have that feeling that you should be monetizing all the things that you have presented. Plus, you don't really feel the need to be keeping the tools of your trade a secret. But I do want to set the record straight that most people often fail to see...that it IS more than just about the tools or apps that one is using, that matters!

I remember the joke that was going around some popular photography websites, about how a photographer admonishes an audience who wrongly attributed the beautiful pictures that the former has taken, to the camera that he uses. But frankly, on a more realistic level, I do feel that the tools do play a small, albeit significant part to make something look good. Although what others often fail to see is this need for the ideas to be triggered and visualised mentally first....before being actualised. And this is the thing that matters more! 

While others are often so hooked-up on learning every single function of an app or software, or getting their hands on the latest iteration of a piece of hardware, what matters more in my opinion is the ability to be creative, and to then realise that creative spark into something more explicit and meaningful. And in fact, the limitations of not learning all the functions, nor having the latest hardware, can in fact be another trigger to ignite that creativity further. One is thus forced to think through how can things be realised based on the things or conditions that are already pre-existing. Now wouldn't that be itself a powerful creative force?

Whch brings us to this idea of affirmation. More often than not, societies in general, especially those from an Asian context, subscribe heavily to this notion of being certified to do something? So we have a case of experts of say, marriage (marriage counsellors), who themselves have never been married, or entrepreneurship experts or lecturers who have never had any experience setting up a start-up, let alone a booth! It is this pervasive yet warped notion that these certification are obtained in a theoretical context, and not earned through understanding and uncovering of the real nuances and ramifications of say, relationships and interplay of human elements beyond our control, in a marriage, or the difficulties of convergence of an idea and the monetary elements for any entrepreneur. I guess it is easier for one to be certified as an expert in say....a CAD software, but the truth be told, he is absolutely sucky at creating a (master?)piece on the tools that he is an expert in.

I would thus like to propose an evolutionary idea of sorts, on this thing about creativity and being an expert in a piece of hardware or software. Why not  let the eventual pieces of work on the hardware or software be the certifying piece, of the person's expertise? So for example, if a person wants so be a digital modelling expert, let him learn the basics, and let the final piece of work that he produces, based on his own exploration of the various functions, be the certifying piece. It might take a little longer, but it would allow for a greater degree of alignment between his creativity to 'wield the weapon', and more importanly, to be able to produce a creative deliverable with whatever 'weapon that he knows or has'.

So to those that continues to ask me what tools or hardware I am using, I will still answer you. 

But you might also want to add, what inspired me to do that?

Some tools of my trade, in my favourite #Ledr (from onehundred) piece

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Uncovering the mystery of the reluctant sketcher

I have always been somewhat of a traditionalist when it comes to getting my students to work on their initial ideas, regardless of the nature of the project. Nothing can beat the sense of having your ideas sketched out on a piece of paper, with a pencil/pen, and seeing them getting all rough and raw, like chicken scrawls on a flat piece of sanded space.

Over the years that I've been teaching a design-centric lesson, I can't help to notice the various stages of sketching competencies that my students are at. I have always feel that you have to start somewhere when it comes to being a good sketcher or doodler, but I guess, the problem for most of my colleagues is in getting the students to even start. Perhaps there's that sense of expectation, and worry, that our students are often being ascribed too...this sense of fearing to fail. A significant number have this unfounded fear that their first sketch, or first few sketches, must be of a quality that can wow their friends, and even their own teachers. Maybe because of the thinking of students that sketching is something akin to other subjects...that showing them an example, or a few examples, with worked solutions thrown in, will enable them to level up to that level of expertise.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that not all of them can draw or sketch to save their lives, and worst still, some even have a deep sense of aversion to anything that is related to producing a sketch on a piece of paper.

I'd just like to highlight, based on my own observation, the few levels of sketching abilities that I always think my students are 'banded' into:

Level 0: 
At this level, students are merely tracing the shapes and outlines of the intended image. This is usually done either via tracing papers, or enlarging contraptions. 

Level 1: 
At this level, students are making copies of images either via a side-to-side comparison, or through viewing via a third party element, such as via a computer screen, photo from a book, etc.

Level 2: 
At this level, students start to portray some degree of creativity, and artistic flair, albeit at a very initial level. Final sketches are based on and inspired from some forms and shapes from Level 0 or 1, but are modified to include some additional details and elements from the artist.

Level 3: 
At this level, students are still inspired by works and forms from the previous levels, but the final sketches would probably have undergone a significant level of modification to warrant it as something that would probably be creative or/and innovative

Level 4: 
At this level, students are not only producing original pieces of sketches, but are sketching ideas and details based on their own interpretation of how and what their sketches are supposed to communicate. One would probably classify this as demonstrating the highest form of creativity, but I think I should reserve that judgement for a moment, as I also believe that attaining this level of ability, is not necessarily an affirmation that someone is creative.

So there you go, my interpretation of the different levels of sketching competencies, based on my own classroom observations.

Sketches done by students for a make-believe chair
Using swirls of blue in the Paper app by 53.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Designing for synergy....

So my students from Secondary 2/Grade 8 have finally submitted their architecture models and presentation boards, after a long semester of lessons, chasing them for their milestone deliverables, facilitating their discussions and ideation, and all the other things that a teacher has to do to make sure that they have learned something during my lessons. It has never been an easy thing when you have such multiplicty in your scheme of things, but this is also precisely why such things should be something that should be a more common sight in the classrooms. This idea that students are inherently different, and should thus partake in exploring  things that are well, more attuned to their cognitive levels of understanding, plus a level higher.

But a more important thing that I want to highlight is this very thought of having a unifying project that would compel and encourage and require them to adopt a multi-disciplinary mindset in their approaches. I am a firm believer in getting students to work on projects that would perhaps be their 'graduating' piece, their swan song school-centric project that would enable them to apply what they have learned, and make them question the applicability of concepts learned from hours sitting in the classroom, and listening to lecturers, and reading their texts. Much like how post-secondary institutions here in Singapore have their final-year projects (also affectionately called FYP's, for short), I think there should be this grand project, that would enable students to make sense of all their lessons, and  uncover their own knowledge.

For me, the architecture  module in the ADM subject area is such a project. is still very much limited to the specific subject matter, but what I would like to continue to do is to see how some of these ideas can be transplanted and expanded into a larger superset, a larger context and domain, whilst still retaining the 'safety net' of it being a school-centric endeavour, because we also want to encourage discoveries of new knowledge, and sometimes failure will precede these discoveries. 

There are still tonnes of possibilities that I would like to explore within the module, some of course more applicable than others. Most of the 'low-hanging fruits are already taken, and I guess it's time for us now to go for the higher ones. Let us see how we can move on from here then.

Wish me luck. :D

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The power of potential

My pioneer batch of students taking Design Studies (DS) as their Applied Subject (AS) for their O levels have just finished with their final component, which is their oral presentations, a few weeks ago. Though i can't reveal much in terms of their projects, nor how they fare generally at this juncture, what I want to reflect on is this thing called potential.

I remembered that certain sense of apprehension when i first had a talk on how the curriculum was supposed to look like when discussions were started way back in 2009. The idea was to offer a new subject area that will be almost mutually exclusive in terms of its content compared with current offerings like Art and Design and Technology (D&T). It must be significantly different enough to justify it as a new subject, and rigorous enough for it to be managed by 15 to 16-year olds.

The challenge was real as such content has never been 'brought down' to the upper secondary school level, nor watered-down to deem it to be of a lesser rigour than other subject offerings at the same level. The challenge for me was also real, in the context of how can a subject area that has an artsy- and design-slant 'survive' in an environment that is seemingly more STEM-centric, within the institution that I was teaching.

The journey was not without its challenges. How can the department prepare the students for this new subject, and how can the students be able to level up to the rigours of this new subject? On another note, how can resources be deployed effectively and optimally, without any adverse impact on others?

I'm happy to say that this past 2 years have started to bear fruit! Seeing how the students have managed to work on their projects, and the quality of their deliverables, gives me that rare sense of satisfaction towards something that have slowly developed to something that is more...concrete! That finally some things, if not all, starts to make more sense....that the subject matter finally have begun to produce students that can showcase their true potential towards something that is more STEAM-, than STEM-centric (the 'A' here refers to Art, or artistic elements).

What is ahead for the subject area? There's still lots more work to be done, and ironed out. Getting good students to want to take up this subject is one of them; ensuring that the mindset who undertakes this journey with me is correct, is another. the journey is still long and arduous, but it is one that would be good for all in the end.

A welfie during my final session with the pioneer/graduating batch of DS/AS

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Telling your stories...

It has been a while since I last updated this blog, but I thought it is a good time for me to work on some of my posts right now.

It has been a good year so far, and one aspect that I am enjoying this year is the opportunities that have been given to me to present at various platforms. Let me start by sharing my experience at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) a few weeks ago.

It was one of those emails from a working associate, with warm emails (versus cold ones?), and loo and behold, one thing leads to another, and there I was presenting to an audience of about 20 to 30 students and faculty members from NAFA.

It was a good yet overwhelming experience for me, given my background and my current teaching experience to only the younger folks in my school. But I did give it my best, and added in contexts that I hope will enable my audience to see possibilities that the more mature students can achieve, given the possibilities that have been realised by my younger students.

More than that, I hope that this could also be a start, perhaps of something more. It made me realise the possibilities of mobile devices, and what they can create and do. I do hope to continue my work on realising some of the things and possibilities that I presented.

If you are interested in the iBook that I presented, you can download it HERE. (note that it is a rather large file...about 315 Mb)

A 'welfie' after my presentation