Architecture and Design

New After-School Program Teaches Students to Think Like Frank Lloyd Wright

A new after-school program will teach students to think like America's greatest architect.
A new after-school program will teach students to think like America's greatest architect. Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
The style of Frank Lloyd Wright, arguably the nation’s greatest architect, was influenced by wooden blocks given to him by his mother at a young age.

“I sat at the little kindergarten table top and played with the cube, the sphere, and the triangle,” he wrote in A Testament, his 1957 book. “I soon became susceptible to constructive pattern evolving in everything I saw. I learned to see this way, and when I did, I did not care to draw casual incidentals of nature. I wanted to design.”

This curiosity sparked at such a young age continued throughout his life. To a certain extent, the impact of Wright's childhood blocks inspired the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation and the Paradise Valley United School District (PVUSD) to pilot an after-school program in 25 local schools this fall, with 40 percent of those participating receiving Title I assistance.

The program is grant-funded and is free to the students participating, with an ultimate goal of teaching pupils Wright’s unique way of thinking about design and creativity. Participating teachers will learn about the curriculum and report for training on September 12.

According to DeDee Ludwig-Palit, the vice president of public engagement at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, this idea took shape a year and a half ago when the PVUSD, who had success with kit-based programs, was looking for ways to partner with the architecture organization. The end result is something that can be utilized by educators at any time to encourage critical thinking. It furthers the Foundation’s mission to build an understanding of the world through Wright’s ideas.

“For the most part, we are looking at a lot of after-school clubs being able to use this program, but it gives educators the flexibility to use it in a way that works for them,” says Ludwig-Palit.

click to enlarge The program is geared toward second- through fifth-graders. - COURTESY OF THE FRANK LLOYD WRIGHT FOUNDATION
The program is geared toward second- through fifth-graders.
Courtesy of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation
The program utilizes a variety of tools to motivate second- through fifth-graders. In each lesson, students are encouraged to use shapes in the design process, much like those educational toys that Wright employed throughout his professional life. Through a hands-on approach, they will learn to integrate nature with interior design and blend color and stained glass into the scenery, much like Wright did when he designed and built his home Taliesin West.

Additionally, a series of videos hosted by a member of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation accompanies the six sessions. Students will also have the opportunity to tour the architect's winter residence and get a sense of what it would be like to pursue architecture as a career.

The sprawling landmark in north Scottsdale immerses visitors in the idea that art plays a role in the science of architecture. What excites Ludwig-Palit the most about the program is that it encapsulates the idea of S.T.E.A.M. (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) learning. With her science education background, she believes the inclusion of art allows students more freedom to find what excites them creatively.

“Students are not just studying science or technology,” she says. “They are bringing this all together in a holistic way. We can make it fun and engaging, but pull together all the subjects at the same time.”

Ludwig-Palit says they will be gauging the success of the program with student knowledge evaluations throughout the six weeks of the pilot program as well as teacher satisfaction surveys. They will use the data they gather to make refinements to the curriculum in the spring of 2019. The Foundation hopes to be able to roll the program out to more students outside of the PVUSD next year. 
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Jason Keil was the Phoenix New Times culture editor from August 2019 to May 2020.
Contact: Jason Keil