The Design and Architecture class at Menlo School

Fred Delse
February 10, 2021

Marc Allard is a high school teacher at Menlo School in California. In his Design and Architecture class, juniors and seniors work on several projects over the course of the semester. Examples of his projects include designing and crafting a stylish and functional lamp and architecting a community building.

Documenting process in design projects

The importance of focusing on process in learning is well-understood in project-based learning circles. Marc is a strong believer. He asks students to think carefully and intentionally about the stages of design, and document their process as they iterate over the stages.

"As a former engineer it has always been important for me to document the process," Marc says. "It’s been hard, though. I’ve tried countless ways to get my students to document their work… engineering notebooks, journals, Google Docs with photos inserted, and Google folders. None of them really stuck."

Making it easier to capture process

In order to improve the experience for both himself and students, Marc introduced Unrulr to his class last fall. Marc says, “The advantage of Unrulr is that the kids are already familiar with it because it’s so much like their social media apps. I’m finally getting traction with Unrulr, and kids are posting regularly.”

Marc asks students to create posts in Unrulr at least three times a week to show progress on their projects. In each post, students capture a piece of their process, whether it’s evidence of learning a new concept or an artifact such as a sketch. He asks them to reflect in each post about which stage of design they are working on. To reinforce this, he created a set of “cogs” (concepts, objectives, goals, and skills) in Unrulr that represents the stages of design.

Students tag each post with the cogs representing the stages that are exhibited. In doing so, they build evidence of their understanding and skill for each step.

Here's a post showing a student’s drawing of a house in one point perspective. One point perspective is an important technique for architectural design and will be used throughout the project. The student tags the post with the “Discovery” cog to show she is discovering a concept that is important to her design process.

After learning drawing techniques, students ideate their designs on paper and in CAD. Then, the students create prototypes out of cardboard constructs in order to better visualize their designs.

Staying up to date and offering coaching

In Marc’s class, capturing process serves a dual purpose. Students not only build evidence of their developing skill, but they also get an opportunity to share their progress and get feedback.

When students create posts in Unrulr, the posts are immediately available for Marc to review in a simple feed format. Marc explains, “Because these are lightweight check-ins and not formally graded assignments, I can review these while lounging at home-- social media style-- when it fits my schedule. I don’t have to face a whole pile of journals all at once. It makes it easier to stay up to date with each student’s project and offer feedback and coaching in a timely manner.”

Presenting the Learning Journey

Posts are not only useful for immediate visibility and feedback, but are also essential in producing a detailed retrospective. At the end of each project, Marc has students present both their final product and a visual learning journey that represents their process. Students create the Journey in Unrulr, curating posts from the set they have built up over the course of the project.

Because Unrulr records the date each post was created, it can automatically display a timeline on the Journey showing the pattern of posts over time. Each post is indicated by a yellow arrow under the timeline.

"The timeline helps hold students accountable for making progress over time and not saving all the work for the last minute. It’s hard to execute a significant iterative process when you do a three week project all in one night, "Marc explains. "Without Unrulr, it would be very hard to produce this view."

"The act of creating the Journey itself is valuable for learning. Students ask themself, 'How did my skills improve?', 'What could have I done better?', and even, 'Why did I fail?' The point is, they will do better on the next project and will have grown from the experience," Marc says.

Process, through and through

Just as the students in Marc's class iterate their designs, Marc is constantly iterating his curriculum and teaching. We at Unrulr are lucky to witness him in action and to help how we can, but Marc does the heavy lifting. He is intentional about focusing on process at the beginning, middle, and end of projects. Marc says, “I don’t know about other teachers, but I care about process; it’s super important. And Unrulr is one of the only ways, if I think about it, to get evidence of process.”