New Moves: Design Principles and Generosity

During the summer, I attended the academy for the new class of Apple Distinguished Educators in Melbourne, Australia. Among the workshops I attended was one from Stephen Hider on design principles.

Given the obsession I’ve grown over the past few years with design, much of this was nothing new. Alignment, proximity, repetition, and contrast were all old friends. The one that seemed new, perhaps because of a new name, was generosity. This principle means that an element of a design has been enough space around it such that it is, in Stephen’s words, “able to breathe.” Removing distracting elements around the focus allows a person to think about it in isolation, and with more clarity than would otherwise be permitted without the added space.

The idea is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while, inspired principally by Dan Meyer’s exploration of ways that digital media provides ample opportunities to do things much differently than when confined by the economic costs of paper. (For more on this, see his talk titled ‘Delete Your Textbook’, linked here.)  I wrote in my previous post about changing the organization of my course away from a daily handout and toward individual tasks, each a separate linked PDF file. Individual problems or questions are presented on their own with space around them, when appropriate.

Here’s an example of the contrast between a handout from last year’s Algebra 2 course, and a page from a task this year.

The old:

…and the new:

The amount of paper I use in my classroom is reduced, and is much more deliberate. I still will print out individual pages when I really want to do so. The fact that I have freed myself from the demand that there be a handout for every class means I can be much more thoughtful about this. I can focus more on how I visually present ideas that are connected to each other rather than trying to make sure that everything fits in a manageable area of a page. The intention was not to be paperless, but I am finding that this small change has led to students being more likely to take time to pause between tasks and reflect on the work they have done before moving on. Nothing I have done previously has had such an effect.

4 thoughts on “New Moves: Design Principles and Generosity

  1. I teach a mix of students, 9th grade Alg 1. I have found myself putting less and less on each page, one thing, where there might have been 12 before. This ‘white space’ seems to give my students more focus, more time, to think about the problem. The student ‘packet’ is the current vogue at my school. I look at it and my insides yell ‘noooooo.’ What a terrible, stifling thing. We need to give rich tasks- one at a time. Our children will learn more from this than all the carefully structured levels of practice and guided notes. We must give them room to process what they are learning, thinking, doing. It takes a brave teacher to trust in this messy work. To be sensitive enough to their audience, to have the Toolkit… to take the time for exploration. Yes, we still have paper, but we need less of it than we think.

    1. I don’t think it does, at least not in my experience. I think the bigger thing is that it forces you to focus your attention on the single task in front of you rather than on where you are in a list. In a video game (like Super Mario world), you only see the big map of all of the places you need to visit when you aren’t involved in a single level. I think it’s sometimes nice to force that sort of limited view in other contexts as well.

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