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Fixes for Common Household Problems

High school teachers explore engineering design during Northwestern workshop

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January 31, 2014 | by Caitlin Tucker
Teacher
Art teacher Pam Baumgartner of Evanston Township High School explains to colleagues her team's design project. Photo by Stephen Anzaldi

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Teams of teachers from Evanston Township High School (ETHS) worked with Northwestern faculty last summer to design a self-snuffing candle, a recycling system for empty shampoo bottles and other bathroom products, and a dehumidifier to combat mildew buildup in front-load washing machines.

David Gatchell of Northwestern’s Segal Design Institute at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, led the teachers in a hands-on challenge to find creative fixes for common household inconveniences.

The goal of the engineering design challenge was for the ETHS teachers to explore the interdisciplinary nature of design work and learn new teaching methods.

“We want high school students to arrive at college better prepared to do design work,” Gatchell said. “If students learn the process in high school, then we can really dive into some of the more meaningful, less obvious problems faced by professional engineers.”

The teachers got a close view of Northwestern’s emphasis on design thinking and teaching with the purpose of replicating what they learned in ETHS classrooms.

“Design thinking approaches a problem from different angles, encompassing all aspects of education into one meaningful, practical solution,” Gatchell said. “It’s more than just an equation.”

The ETHS design teams were made up of teachers from science, math, art and other fields.

“Before this workshop our teachers were very compartmentalized,” said Pete Bavis, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at ETHS.

“The design process honors the various disciplines, and that was interesting because our teachers rarely get the chance to collaborate across departments,” he said. “And the fact that we had this sustained experience for our faculty, leading to hands-on learning for our students, is amazing.”