February 7, 2019

Learning Through Collaborative Design & Material Exploration: Celebrating 9 Years of Partnership with Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School

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Emily Carr University of Art + Design is celebrating nine years of collaboration with Kenneth Gordon Maplewood School (KGMS), an alternative K-7 elementary school located on the North Shore.

KGMS has an innovative educational approach that values the unique learning styles of students with learning differences — differences that affect skills such as listening, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, and math. Through a specially built curriculum, based off of the Orton Gillingham Method and multi-sensory approaches, KGMS is dedicated to a whole-child development approach of including students of different abilities in learning.

In 2010, the ECUAD-KGMS collaboration began through a partnership with Hélène Day Fraser (a professor at Emily Carr) and Marie Watler (a teacher at KGMS), out of a desire to explore new methods of teaching. Together, they developed a project that brought together second year Industrial Design students from ECUAD and a class of grade 7 students at KGMS to create learning tools, powered by co-creative research in design. Before starting the course, ECUAD design students have a background and understanding of design theory, but the off-campus collaborating with KGMS puts our design students in a new setting where they can actively put that theory into practice; design students are not only working through real design problems with KGMS students, they are actively learning in a space that encourages reflection on their own assumptions, allows students to practice their interpersonal skills and be motivated to be flexible and adaptable in their designs, with the learning styles and needs of individual KGMS students in mind. Prior to meeting the kids at KGMS, design students send co-creation kits designed to delve into these needs. In the past, the kits have included a diverse range of activities, such as a large fabric roll activity which students were invited to lie down on and trace themselves — providing insight into their perception of self and others. Each year, the insights from the co-creation kits, along with the 2-3 workshop sessions at KGMS, enabled the ECU students to design a range of rough prototypes with their group of KGMS.

Emily Carr University’s Perspective:


Hélène Day Fraser, Associate Dean  “This collaboration is reciprocal more than anything — The obvious value for the kids at KGMS is having the mentorship of the design students. However, instead of only having someone teach them, many of the kids realize they have something to contribute; they feel validated that their knowledge and insights are important. Likewise, the Emily Carr design students learn to deal with design in a more nuanced way.”


Zach Camozzi, Faculty “Most of the students at KGMS need to learn from an embodied perspective. They need to move, jump, play, talk, and think out loud. They need to feel what they’re doing, and that supports curriculum at Emily Carr University because that’s often how we talk about materials in industrial design. You need time to work and take risks with the materials to understand them. The way that KGMS students are, shows Emily Carr design students how to respond to objects and materials. It’s simply that the KGMS students are teaching our design students.”

Mariko_Profile Pic

Mariko Kuroda, 2nd year Master of Design student “Part of the role of designers is to help people realize the power and value of design. Designers look at problems in new ways and as opportunities to help — which is especially apparent in school contexts like KGMS.”

Partner’s Perspective


Jim Christopher, Head of School — KGMS “It’s a wonderful partnership! Whether a project makes a profound impact on the whole school or on a just few students, we have found value in all of it. It’s symbiotic in terms of the value that KGMS & Emily Carr University get out of this collaboration. It’s great for students and especially great for teachers, even if they’re only involved in one project during one year. It gives them ideas and insight into what they can do on their own. There’s always interest [from KGMS faculty] in what we can do, and what we need support or ideas on in terms of taking a more creative approach to some of the problems we have.

In the past two years, Zach Camozzi has carried the project forward, leading his industrial design students and classes of KGMS grade 5 students to find ways of activating outdoor areas as spaces for learning and play. Last year, students built a range of apparatuses such as a shoe-shovel for students to engage in gardening without getting their hands dirty. Another team came up with weatherproof capes with attachable elements to stimulate outdoor drama games. The objective of the projects were to alleviate feelings of discomfort or uneasiness related to going outdoors in unpleasant or uncomfortable weather, while promoting the development of impulse control, including self-regulation, through play.


One of the main takeaways from ongoing collaboration is that the benefits are mutual — projects have not only diversified learning methods at KGMS, but have changed the way design students at Emily Carr University approach and understand design and the creative process. ECU design students often approached the project with a mindset that they will be helping students who have learning differences, but soon after realize after collaborating with KGMS students and recognizing their gifts and abilities that the learning outcomes are bi-directional — KGMS students have a lot to share and teach design students as well.

Beyond undergraduate courses, Emily Carr University has collaborated with KGMS through multiple other avenues as well — whether is be Master of Design students working on their individual master’s thesis, or the Health Design Lab setting up a discrete research projects, where student research assistants from both the undergraduate and graduate levels of design at ECU are hired outside of their regular curriculum hours.

In recent years, two graduate students’ thesis topics have been focused on collaborations with KGMS. Caylee Raber (Master of Design graduate, 2015) and current director of the Health Design Lab, developed design-based learning resources which integrated design-thinking into the teaching of curricular subjects and skills. Currently, Mariko Kuroda (Master of Design candidate, 2019) is designing a tool for students in grades K-3 to practice mindfulness. The final outcome of the project, which is a felt board puzzle, aims to use art-making and mindfulness as a vehicle for self-regulation.

Gaining insights from KGMS students on the divergent ways that they learn has also led to projects that changed how subject materials were taught at KGMS. As part of an RAship with the Health Design Lab, Mariko Kuroda designed communication materials that support the teaching of self-regulation, or the ability to control thoughts, behaviours, or emotions. The materials included Zone Pics — a set of pictograms suggesting various physical activities — to adjust levels of alertness; this was a redesign of the original stick-figure pictograms KGMS was using. The Zone Pics reflected the diversity of the KGMS student body through four lively characters.

This school year, as part of Mariko’s second KGMS RAship with the lab, she has been working with Zach Camozzi to re-imagine the library space at KGMS, and this role is plays within the school.

To learn more about Mariko’s journey, listen to our podcast here

Next year will mark 10 years of partnership with KGMS. Emily Carr University of Art + Design, The Health Design Lab, and our students looks forward to continuing this collaboration and exploring new and creative approaches to learning and education!

Article by: Mariko Kuroda

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