Yes my friends, you read that correctly. Tom Riddle is a huge Star Wars fan; so much so that his office is plastered with paraphernalia from the galaxy far, far away. But, you ask, how does Star Wars have anything to do with a great educational experience on the part of his and his colleagues of The Rogues' students? Good question. He says that "After seeing the film (several times), I developed an interest in reading legends and myths, science fiction and fantasy, and any type of action-adventure stories that I could find. As an only child, I developed a very active imagination from playing hours-on-end with my Kenner action figures, playsets and spaceships. I also developed a love of orchestral music born out of listening to John Williams' brilliant score for the film and my interest in art began with constantly drawing my heroes in action. It was a great time to be a kid!" He translates the use of the world renowned trilogy in the classroom well. "Over the years, I've used [Star Wars and Indiana Jones] to teach numerous topics, but my favorite is to use the Star Wars saga in teaching mythology to students in world and/or ancient history courses. The lessons we explore are based on the concepts of Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" as found in The Power of Myth and The Hero with a Thousand Faces. Mary Henderson's Star Wars: The Magic of Myth was very influential as well."
This man of utmost imagination and connected thinking does not just stop at making learning fun with classic space and adventure sagas. Tom employs Design Thinking in his approach to education and learning environments. He acted as project director for the planning, development and execution of the newest STEM school in Greenville County, Fisher Middle School. His son, Ben, brought Tom to the light – design thinking (DT). DT is a process and set of habits made popular by the Hasso Plattner School of Design, d School, at Stanford University. It informed Tom's decisions about Fisher that make not only the in class experiences students will have, but environmental experiences they will have as learners, highly unique.
Tom says that the incorporation of flex space, space being used in a multitude of learning formats, makes Fisher unique in the region, especially as middle schools go. I have to agree. Too many schools are set up with walls which not only define the entire space of a school as being separate from the community, but as separate classes where interdisciplinary learning is made nearly non-existent. To further this separation of learning from doing, students tend to sit in rows of desks facing the direction the teacher is most likely to be speaking from. Tom plans spaces which defy this tradition. Sliding walls, great open spaces, natural lighting, varied furniture, nesting tables, and white board space offer learners and educators more flexibility in how learning can happen. Tom and the other members of the planning team intentionally built flexibility into each learning environment at the school. He says he hopes the school employs the space with curriculum that is symbiotic to its multi-purpose functionality.
Tom gives credit to his son, Ben, for his introduction to design thinking and his new approach to education. Ben, who turned down Stanford University's courtship in favor of the local liberal arts college, Furman University, is a major player in promoting design thinking in the Upstate region. As assistant to the President of Furman, he co-founded the Engag.d Institute as part of Furman on FIRE (Fueling Innovation, Research & Entrepreneurship). Ben's trips around the globe to multiple universities working in a wide variety of innovative teams has been fueled by what IDEO and d School at Stanford U's co-founder, David M. Kelley, calls "design thinking". Ben has been of increasing importance to local organizations in spreading the good word – and practices. Read more about what DT is in the previous post, "#CWRAchat and #Designthinking Chat".
Tom and his group of educators at SFCS are implementing design thinking in curriculum, too. They vetted and employed a team of middle school student designers to develop the flexible learning spaces using rapid prototyping techniques. A two week design challenge was held last year to empathize with elementary school students' needs and wants for learning environments. The teams of students who's designs were best suited to the vision of SFCS were given 2" square invitation cards with a room number and time printed on the back. There was no announcement on the card stating what they were invited to, just the time and location. When the students arrived in the space for elite designers, Riddle and a small team of educators explained the purpose: these students would be tasked with actually helping with other design challenges around SFCS this coming school year. Talk about authentic learning and engagement!
Here's a video of Tom at TEDx Greenville 2013: