New View EDU Episode 34: Supercharging Project-Based Learning Design

Available April 4, 2023

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What if offering to work on a few projects with a homeschooled student sparked the idea to partner with a school? And what if then, groups of students started asking to make that project-based learning model their entire high school experience? That’s what happened when Saeed Arida, a doctoral student in the architecture department at MIT, tried running a design studio with a handful of kids. The result was NuVu, a unique studio education model that’s catching on worldwide.
Saeed AridaIn this episode, Saeed joins host Tim Fish to share the journey and philosophy behind NuVu, and how removing most of the expected conventions of a high school education—like classes, traditional grading systems, and tests—has resulted in a thriving project-based learning model that’s unlike any other. In the studio, Saeed says, nothing begins with content. Everything begins with a problem, and from that problem flows the seeds of ideas.
There are challenges to radically upending what students expect from the educational system. Saeed shares that students who come to the studio have to change their mindsets to be successful. Learning to collaborate, to handle feedback, and to push themselves beyond the borders of an initial idea are skills that don’t always come naturally to teens who are used to a more traditional setting. But Saeed says the development of those skills is worth it in the empowerment it creates for kids. Learning they can confront real world problems, have a point of view, develop ideas to solve them, and work with others to iterate on their vision creates a passion for learning and a sense of ownership and engagement that’s often missing in traditional high schools.
Recounting his own education journey, Saeed points out that even for someone like himself who was “good at the game” of school, learning didn’t feel purposeful. He quickly forgot most of what he “learned” to pass high school, then found himself reintroducing subjects later in life when he recognized a need for the material. Only once he understood the immediate relevance of certain subjects to his life did he master and retain the material once and for all; he’s now applying that realization to NuVu. Students at NuVu discover what they need to know as they build their projects, then learn and retain that information because of its significance to their work. Saeed asks us to consider why we insist on setting a rigid course of four-year study if most students will forget what they’ve learned, when we could allow them to learn meaningfully and retain that learning instead through a more self-directed path.
Similarly, Saeed asks simple and transformational questions about other parts of the traditional educational system—assessment, technology, pedagogy, transcripts. What purpose, he wonders, do assessments serve if not to help students grow? What service do we do for students by limiting their access to technology and tools in a world where they’ll have unfettered access to these innovations later on? How do we limit creativity and personal agency by prescribing what education should look like, instead of letting learning unfold? At NuVu studio, he’s attempting to answer those questions, one iteration at a time.

Key Questions

Some of the key questions Tim and Saeed explore in this episode include:
  • How do you get from a Ph.D. at MIT to founding a school just a year later? What was the spark?
  • What are the pedagogical differences between a studio and any other classroom environment? How do you design the learning experience in a studio?
  • What are the challenges of running an educational environment without traditional classwork? How do you adapt that unique model into something that makes sense for the students’ next journeys into higher education or the workforce?
  • How do new innovations in technology impact the work students do in the studio environment?
  • What are the skills and dispositions students gain through the studio education model? How do you tailor assessment to capture that growth?

Episode Highlights

  • “I have not figured out exactly why this happens, but their expectation is that when they are working on this idea, is that you give them only the technical feedback. They don't want you to talk about the conceptual framing of the idea. My explanation for this is that, in our traditional schooling system, the only thing that we give the students is content. We never really talk about ideas and their ideas, and it feels very personal and vulnerable.” (8:47)
  • “To assume that by the end of the four years that they're going to learn everything that's being taught in these textbooks, it's not going to happen. … There are a lot of studies about these subjects and after six months, basically a lot of the kids fail on them anyway. A lot of that info is not sticking anyway. So it's like, why are we committing to this idea that we need to learn all of that stuff in four years? If at the end of the day none, or a big part of it, is not sticking.” (31:27)
  • “For me, it still does not really address the central question whether this tool is ultimately helping the students or not, which is for me why we are doing—there is no reason to do any tracking or an assessment unless it becomes a really empowering tool that would help the students grow.” (41:28)
  • “I think the power of the studio is really to transform how the kids think about themselves and the world around them.This is ultimately what it does. It gives them that agency back. It makes them believe that their ideas matter. They have a position in the world and they are able to tackle all these issues in front of them. And I think that is very empowering compared to sitting in a classroom and just taking all these courses without understanding exactly why you are doing it.” (45:34)

Resource List

Full Transcript

  • Read the full transcript here.

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About Our Guest

Saeed Arida is the co-founder and CEO of NuVu, an organization committed to bringing creative education to students around the world. NuVu is paving the way for a new studio-based educational model that nurtures students’ creative and innovative skills through project-based, collaborative design. Since its inception in 2010, NuVu has launched the NuVu Innovation School, based in Cambridge, MA; NuVuX, which works with 30 schools around the world to introduce integrated studio programs inside schools; and a visual learning platform called Nufolio, created for students, teachers, and administrators who want to supercharge their project-based approach with a rigorous design process.

The work of NuVu students regularly garnishes national and international media attention through mainstream and educational outlets, such as Wired, NPR, Venture Beat, TechCrunch, as well as the White House Science Fair. Arida received a doctorate in design and computation from MIT’s department of architecture in 2009.