EARTH DAY, 2016 – One hundred and five 5th Graders from Westside Elementary participated in a WeDesign charrette on Earth Day in the Veterans Memorial Arena in West Fargo. The overall goals of the WeDesign experience was to generate a common vision and develop natural play features based on the student’s input. Through the opportunity for children to consider and influence their surroundings, they may develop greater environmental competence and experience a sense of control which may lead to an enhanced well-being and quality of life.
Artist and sculptor, Dwight Mickelson led activities to get the student’s creativity flowing. With a piece of clay, the students modeled an animal form representative of their predetermined groups. Next, the students modeled an action verb which their animal may demonstrate. Converting a verb into a three-dimensional object proved more difficult, yet they wrapped their heads around the concept and plunged into work.
Later in teams, the students modeled a site for natural play. Each team found themselves compromising on some features, but more importantly, discussing the clear intent behind their decisions. ‘We put a garden here so they can get food.’ ‘We have a cave for shelter.’ ‘We put this bridge here to get people over the river.’
As the models were coming together it was clear that while their understanding of scale was not perfect, it played a part in their design decisions. After a certain point, many of the students were able to build their models with minimal guidance, and some even pushed supervisors aside so they could design without adult influence. Each of the models was creatively constructed and many had innovative ideas; it was interesting to see reoccurring themes.
As Dwight closed the WeDesign, some of the students shared an aspect of their cultural identity. In the closing reflections on their experiences, students echoed sentiments of the importance of teamwork, listening, giving others the opportunity to try an idea, and the students expressed with respect, the bravery, which the students who shared a piece of their culture needed to speak in front of so many people. It was powerful to see the diversity of the 11-year-old children and how much they can learn from each other.