Students Pursue the ‘Form or Function’ Structural Binary in Cross-Divisional Project

A cross-divisional interdisciplinary project inspired by the Rhode Island School of Design brought together Middle School and Upper School students for a creative 3D STEAM project.
Grade 7 science students, Middle School design and fabrication students and Upper School 3D art and design students came together to design and construct structures based on the “form and function” binary. Students had the option of producing a form that leaned toward either “visually compelling” or “structurally strong” using only cardboard and simple tools.
It’s a project inspired by RISD professor Ken Horii, who brought the idea to St. Margaret’s last year during his week as artist-in-residence. Upper School art teacher Jesse Standlea, Middle School art teacher Ashley Ricart and Middle School science teacher Eric Harrington—who all traveled to RISD for professional development last fall—then collaborated to bring the project back to St. Margaret’s and further customize the concepts to be more relevant to their classroom objectives.
In Mr. Harrington’s class, for example, the form and function project serves as a foundation-level unit that will transition into grade 7’s Tartan Tank entrepreneurial projects.
“It emphasizes all the core skillsets that students will be using,” Mr. Harrington said. “It provides opportunities of learning in design thinking, rapid prototyping and collaborating within a team environment.”
The Upper School and Middle School students met together to learn more about the form and function binary in design, going through examples of structures and 3D artwork and determining if they are considered more form or more function.
Students then chose which binary they wanted to pursue, using one 4x8-foot sheet of cardboard and minimal tools to create a structure that had either visual emphasis or a structurally sound emphasis. The Johnson Wallis Visual Arts Center was crowded with cardboard structures that illustrated the wide variety of ideas that students pursued.
After the projects were finished, the Upper School and Middle School students together evaluated and tested the projects to determine if the teams successfully met the form or function criteria they pursued.
An independent preschool through grade 12 college-preparatory day school in Orange County, California
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St. Margaret’s Episcopal School
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San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
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