Drawing (on) Gravity

Sometimes gravity is an architect’s friend.

In fact, architects can use gravity to human advantage in all sorts of ways.  In Ecology class today, I showed some diagrams of systems that use “thermosiphoning.”  That’s a fancy word referring to gravitation pull that moves fluids (like air or water).

The idea is that warm air (or water) rises and cold air (or water) sinks… because a  liquid is heavier and more dense when it is cold.

So, we can let gravity do the work if we think a system through.  Sometimes we need to move liquids in directions they don’t naturally want to go, and then we need to add electric pumps or fans to our systems.

Today, I showed my second year architecture students a tromp wall system as well as a diagram of an open loop solar hot water system.  In that type of system, you let the sun heat the same water that you will use to shower, wash dishes, or drink.

I also showed a few diagrams of basic heat exchangers… like the one in a car.  That one takes the heat from the combustion process and uses it to warm the air in the car without bringing in the “smog.”

The students were seeming to “get” the ideas, but they didn’t seem particularly jazzed up about them.  (I knew that because they were fidgeting and clearly wanted to text.)

To get them involved, I turned posed a problem for them to solve.

I asked them to pull out a sketchbook and combine the solar collector and the heat exchange into a single diagram.  They needed to figure out how you could use water with water with glycol (i.e., antifreeze) in it to collect the sun’s heat and then use that same liquid to warm the water for someone’s shower.

The challenge was to transfer the warmth into potable water without tainting it.  A couple of students caught on fast. After everyone had given it a try, I let them help each other.  More and more people got it.

At about the same time, I asked a four of the students who caught on quickly to draw their diagrams on the board and then explain how they worked to the class.  We all put our heads together to analyze the designs.

Ecology Rocks! (Especially in a Flipped Classroom)

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their "Roman Travertine" tile sample.

This group realized there was a fill material in the crevices of their “Roman Travertine” tile sample.

Today we discussed “natural factors” that affect architectural design, such as rock and soil composition. This tied directly to yesterday’s studio class on the HU Point. Today, I was using a technique known as the “flipped classroom” to teach Architectural Ecology. I learned about this technique during my Fulbright fellowship at DIT.

I had assigned my students to read a chapter before class. When they arrived, we started class with ten minutes of journaling.  I asked them to write about the aspect of the chapter they thought was most important to them regarding our site at the Hampton University Point, and to explain why.  I also asked them to identify a topic in the chapter that they didn’t fully understand and explain why/what they didn’t understand about it.

Journaling is my own way of assessing students’ level of understanding of the content.  After ten minutes, I collected journal papers then “flipped the classroom”.  Each student joined the other members of his/her learning group, discussed the issues of confusion they’d each identified, explained to each other what they understood (this is known as “peer teaching”), and researched information on line using their laptops and smart phones.

I circulated around the room, listening, observing,  pointing them in the right direction where necessary,  and making sure they were achieving accurate interpretations.

It became clear that soil and rock composition was the major topic of confusion, so I went ahead and distributed the rock samples I have on hand.  Each group got their own unique rock type to analyze, research, and introduce to the rest of the class. The students did a great job of staying on topic in their discussions, learning, and teaching leach other.

They made sense of sedimentary, igneous, and metamorphic rock. They began to understand issues of texture, particle size, expandability, drainage, and bearing capacity while they were talking among themselves with my guidance.

A member of each group presented findings to the class and we discussed overarching issues.

Then I projected the Prezi file on the screen, which I’d formatted using a table of contents so we could zoom directly into whichever specific issues were causing confusion. In this case, we needed to go over the soil classification pyramid a bit, but they had already developed pretty strong understanding through the group discussions and rock presentations.

Amazingly, everyone stayed engaged for 1.25 hours!

I didn’t have to nag students to pay attention.

By the end, they seemed to have very good understanding of all the content of the chapter.  I found I had ten minutes to spare at the end to bush on topics of my choice (ones I thought a student or two might still have misconceptions about).

I am loving this new, more interactive, way of teaching.

It’s called “flipping the classroom” because the content is delivered before class (in this case, through a reading), and class time is used to gauge accuracy and depth of understanding and to build upon that base.  It seems to be a much better us of time than presenting everything with equal emphasis, before assessing if the students already understand it!

Not everyone came into the class having read, unfortunately. This problem should correct itself in the future because each student gets a grade for each journal entry. They have to show basic understanding of the reading in order to earn points. They generally start seeing the importance of this after a day or two.