Xunzi 硾磾, a Confucian philosopher who lived in the third century BCE, believed that deep learning evolves in three stages, from perception to thinking and finally, application. In his eponymous collection of essays, he wrote “having heard (something) is not as good as having seen it; having seen it is not as good as knowing it; knowing it is not as good as putting it into practice.” While the concept of learning by doing, especially when embedded with elements of 21st century science, technology and design, seems like a novel idea, ancient philosophers such as Confucious, Xunzi, Aristotle and Socrates have all advocated applied learning, inquiry and critical thinking!
Fast forward to Fairgreen International School, where eighth, ninth and tenth graders are participating in the award-winning, accredited STEM program, Design, Engineer, Construct!® which uses a project-based approach to connect pure academic subjects with the latest construction industry practices, and teach students about sustainability in the built environment. Emerging as a vital global sector, the “built environment” refers to man-made or modified structures and spaces for living, working and recreation, an industry that consumes more than half of the non-renewable resources in the world today. As the consumption of materials continues to increase worldwide, there is a substantial environmental impact associated with the extraction, transportation, use and disposal of these materials, including emissions, energy and petroleum consumption, as well as the use of non-renewable mineral resources, fresh water, land and habitat.
As the first school outside the United Kingdom to launch the DEC program, Fairgreen offers students an opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge of the built environment sector, gaining real-world practical experience in a field they may not otherwise get to know and explore.
Level 1 of the DEC program challenges Grade 8 students with designing an Eco-Classroom using real-world architecture software from Bentley. Students explore issues related to sustainability in the building industry, understand the different roles in construction and the importance of teams, create a 3D model of their design to communicate their intentions and consider legislation, controls and procurement. In Grades 9 and 10, students complete DEC Level 2, which guides them in the design of a building to benefit a community. The students will have to understand their client's needs, the constraints of the project, formulate a project brief, draft a plan, develop a proposal, produce technical support collateral, respond to technical issues, deliver the project and test their design.
In addition, workshops led by industry professionals provide hands-on learning opportunities alongside first-hand knowledge about the roles and responsibilities of the different actors: architects, facilities managers, building service engineers, landscape designers and site engineers. For example, a visit by a professional land surveyor from Topcon, a multinational company that manufactures and sells land surveying equipment, taught students how Pythagoras’ Theorem relates to building construction. Students also used professional land surveying equipment to see how a building outline is plotted out. They learned how precise and intricate this process is, and just how crucial this step is in the design and engineering process.
When designed well, project-based learning (PBL) increases long-term retention of content, helps students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests, improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and improves students’ attitudes toward learning.
When designed well, project-based learning (PBL) increases long-term retention of content, helps students perform as well as or better than traditional learners in high-stakes tests, improves problem-solving and collaboration skills, and improves students’ attitudes toward learning. Like in Fairgreen’s DEC program, PBL involves students learning concepts to find real-world solutions to realistic problems. It offers learners a self-directed approach with increased control over their learning and opportunities to work collaboratively with fellow students.
“DEC allows me to investigate both sides of architecture at Fairgreen while accounting for factors in Sustainability and how the buildings we design affect us.” said Sreya Gauravarjala Srikanth, Fairgreen ninth grade DEC participant. “It has shown me that the only way to make a sound argument is through hard evidence. I have to look at past examples and precedents of my products and see what their outcome was and whether the projects were considered successful. This allows me to look at the future with the knowledge of the past.”
In a PBL scenario, teachers serve as coaches and facilitators of inquiry and reflection, allowing students the freedom to experiment and learn through an iterative process. Mr. Samuel Landete, IB MYP Design Teacher & IT Integration and DEC program lead at Fairgreen shares more: “DEC is a unique program that introduces students to the building industry, and has them practice with real software used by architects like Bentley's OpenBuilding Designer. Students go through all the design phases of an actual construction project as mandated by the Royal Institute of British Architects i.e., RIBA Plan of Work 2020, such as strategic definition, design brief, concept design, technical design and costing. Each student designs his or her own building from scratch.” While there is a definite learning curve, especially with using the 3D software productively, students all enjoy seeing their designs come alive in 3D and being able to navigate around them. The same is true about the sheer number of decisions students need to make to create a feasible building design, and to communicate their design intentions. “It is a hard process,” said Mr. Landete, however the program delivers a high level of engagement and ownership, adding “Students own 100% of their design and can exercise agency at the top level.”
Does the DEC program inspire a future career in the built environment? It’s a resounding yes from Sreya: “As someone who has always relied on analysis for her judgement, and loves pushing the boundaries of creativity, careers related to design and engineering align with my interests, while forcing me to push my limits.”