MAKING IDEAS VISIBLE: DESIGN APPROACH IN TEACHING ABSTRACT CONCEPTS THROUGH HANDS-ON ACTIVITIES
Politecnico di Milano (ITALY)
About this paper:
Conference name: 14th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 4-6 July, 2022
Location: Palma, Spain
Abstract:Learning through practical exploration shapes specific ways of acquiring knowledge and distinct cognitive styles. In this context, the workshop activity has deep roots, and its peculiarity lies in the concept of learning by doing; it is no coincidence that it has often established itself in the disciplinary areas mainly linked to art where the transferring, building and gaining of knowledge is more connected to practical application.
The link between learning and experience as a process (Bertagna, 2010) takes shape in that laboratory activity of which the workshop is a peculiar case. During the workshop activity, participants can reach a balance between the individual mind and empirical practice identified within an educational and personal experience framework (Dewey, 1976). In this context, "the student does not only do things but even realizes what he is doing, gaining some intellectual concepts from the very beginning that become part of his practical activity enriching it" (J. Dewey 1976, p. 65). The workshop's participants find themselves in an experimental environment made of doubt, curiosity, and wait; they know they must start research, a survey, an empirical study. Thus, they get ready for a mental process open to listening and reflection with maximum attention. The solution to a given problem is never univocal. Still, it is the best alternative; this implies triggering a reflective process catching details from past experiences and connecting them to the issues faced to check them in practice. In this specific context, design works as a phenomenological space in which the participant gains general rules, principles, and experience from the same observation of the project's reality. This concept corresponds with Shon's view when he highlights how design is a meeting point between theory and practice. The scientific discourse starts from the observation of the design practice and its effects on the project's context.
This paper addresses the design approach in workshop activities with creative and representation features in the field of learning, more specifically how this kind of activities foster the understanding of complex and/or abstract concepts through visualization, material representation and physical gestures. Starting from the assumption that visualization, physical representation and manipulation can overcome difficulties in understanding and assimilating complex ideas and mechanisms, two examples of workshops for children will be presented.
In the first example, the aim of the activity is understanding CMYK printing process and consequently colour theory and perception theory, which allow us to print every colour juxtaposing very small dots of primary colours (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black). In the above-mentioned example, the activity described is structured both on visualization and physical movements.
In the second example presented, the object of the activity is the understanding of the idea of number, as an abstract concept, and the process of going from physical objects groups to a simple and synthetic sign (the number sign), passing through material representation and physical gestures.
In conclusion, some observations on the design approach in conceiving the workshops are presented as well as some methodological principles to build a general framework for designing learning activities intended to teach complex concepts through visualization and representation.
Keywords: Learning by doing, Experential learning, workshop activities, design approach, visualization and representation.