ArcStart

This past August, I taught for ArcStart, a summer program for high school students that introduces basic architectural concepts in studio and workshop formats. It mostly focuses on hand-crafted work, but includes occasional digital elements such as photography and the Adobe Suite. It was structured as an outreach program, which meant some students paid full tuition, while others attended on scholarship.

As such, the range of entering skills was incredible, even overwhelming. One student was currently running his own graphic design business; one student I had to teach how to use a ruler.

How is it possible to give every student a positive and enriching experience when their needs are so vastly different?

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I was very fortunate to have students that were passionate about their designs, which meant most of my efforts were spent understanding what specific guidance each student needed individually.

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I introduced projects to everyone in a group setting, answering questions and making the discussion as engaging and participatory as possible. Then during work time, my one-on-one teaching time (deskcrits, as we call them) was shorter with excelling students, who use the project guidelines as a sort of springboard; I launch them and then provide occasional guidance, giving them freedom to explore their designs without overly constraining them. This in turn allows me to spend a great deal of time working one-on-one with the students who need the extra attention.

I did my best to ensure the environment was supportive and cooperative, not competitive and cut-throat. As stated, these students come from wildly different backgrounds. It should suffice to say that those who begin in different places can’t possibly end in the same place – nor should this be how we measure their individual success.

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Whenever possible, I encouraged the students to learn from each other as well.

Effective teaching is also knowing when to be rigid, and when to give freedom. Generally speaking, this meant freedom in their designs, but tightly structured workshops for learning techniques, and strict rules for representation (scale of drawings, acceptable drawing tools, limiting acceptable model-building materials, etc.) Some of the students hated this; why did they have to use only museum board and basswood? Why couldn’t they use plastic and aluminum and paint and colored paper and mesh and wires and and and?…

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Lessons in effective representation aside – we taught as much of that as we could in our short program – restricting their materials had the very important effect of causing students to focus completely on the design itself. Even if the students felt frustration at the time, I’m hoping they’ll come to appreciate it in the future.

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