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Learning project wins praise from R.I. schools

Two groups of MIT students were honored last month by the Rhode Island School of the Future Project for their work with fifth grade classes in Rhode Island.

The students were all enrolled in MIT's course 2.870, Total Quality Development, taught by Professor Don Clausing, Bernard M. Gordon Adjunct Professor of Engineering Innovation and Practice.

The course included a project which required students to create a product. The students chose to develop educational materials. Tom Kowalczyk, an MIT alumnus who had previously taken 2.870 himself, arranged the interaction with the Rhode Island schools.

The students visited three schools in Rhode Island: the Henry Barnard Elementary School at Rhode Island College, the Grove Avenue School in East Providence and the Peacedale School. They introduced concepts behind product development ranging from determining the voice of the customer through actual production to fifth graders.

One MIT group built a model ski slope with a skier powered by different energy sources; the other designed the car of the future. Teams of fifth graders and MIT students experimented on different solutions to the design challenges and, best of all, "when the [MIT] students left, we were able to keep the cars," wrote one child. Many educational reforms advocate moving away from an "instructionist" stance, in which a teacher lectures to a class, to a "constructionist" mode, in which students build their own knowledge base with the guidance of the teacher. "What's been missing are the implementation plans," explained Mr. Kowalczyk. "The MIT teams have provided those plans."

The educational materials developed by the MIT students are being used to model Rhode Island's upcoming Robotics Design Contest, which will be held next spring.

Denis Coffey, director of the Rhode Island School of the Future Project, presented each MIT student with an award. The recipients in the group "Designing Cars of the Future" were graduate students Mike Duffy, Portia Lewis, Andrew Heitner, Melinda Keyser, Godard Abel and Christopher Shutts and Dionne Chapman, a senior in mechanical engineering.

Those in the ski group "Energia Connection" were graduate students Paul Nelson, Steve Goldt, Juan Mario Gomez, Mark Parrish, Bryan Gilpin, Miguel Barrientos and Jim Colgan.

Professor Ron Latanision, chairman of MIT's Council on Primary and Secondary Education, commended the students, saying "You are our best ambassadors, like brothers and sisters to these kids. I'm enormously pleased that this project has occurred."

A version of this article appeared in the February 2, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 21).

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