On their last day of summer, Kathryn and Sofia came to school to work on a project from a class they finished over two months ago. In February, they started researching methods of removing the salt from saltwater. When they didn’t have the nanoporous graphene to build a prototype (MIT doesn’t have theirs yet, either), they decided to create a documentary about how the process works. Now, they are ready to present their summary on Sunday at 2 PM at Bruce Museum’s Seaside Center. Kathryn and Sofia are still passionate about their work, even though their grade for it was set in June. “It doesn’t matter that I already got a grade for the class,” Sofia told me in between edits. “I put so much time into this research and I want to show people why it’s important.”
The next day, the new Innovation Lab sophomores competed in teams to design and build the tallest paper tower. It’s a task a first-grader can do, and that’s the point: when the academic difficulty of the task is removed, you can more effectively assess the ability to work as a group. We stressed process over product; learning about iteration and team communication is more valuable than victory from a taped-together tower. Arguably, the teams with nothing to show learned the most about prototyping. After time expired and the class record was no longer up for grabs, another group kept going. They ended up with the tallest two-sheet tower I’ve ever seen (106 cm).
The juxtaposition of these two experiences is fascinating. Rewards of grades or a prize dwarfed by personal satisfaction. Isn’t that a more sustainable way to learn?