Creative Collaboration by Design

As a full-time education consultant, Allison Zmuda works with educators to grow ideas on how to make learning for students challenging, possible and worthy of the attempt. Over the past 19 years, Zmuda has shared curricular, assessment, and instructional ideas, shown illustrative examples, and offered practical strategies of how to get started.

Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ YouTube 

Setting the Stage: I had an opportunity to meet Evan Wilke at this year’s annual Tri-Association Conference in San Jose, Costa Rica. Heidi Hayes Jacobs and I were leading a two-day workshop around the Contemporary Quest Model based on the book Bold Moves (ASCD, 2017).


Toward the end of Day 1, Evan had a visible breakthrough … I saw his face light up as he described the idea he sketched out. One of the quiet questions in my mind was what was it that led to the breakthrough. And then over dinner I heard the word Encajar which means “to click” or to “box up” and can be used to explain a moment where things just come together or are boxed up together. There is a level of synergy that comes from research and generating ideas and incubation. So I asked Evan to help reveal or document how that breakthrough occurred.

Here are his thoughts:

Guest Post by Evan Wilke

Evan Wilke
Evan Wilke

Evan attributes most of his success to investing in people. Most recently he has developed a passion for teaching through observing its potential to have meaningful impact on young people. His degree in civil engineering from New York University Tandon School of Engineering, his real world experience, combined with his focus on creating a safe open learning space for kids, are the capstones to his unique classroom environment. Evan is most passionate about mentoring and guiding young adults as they navigate a rapidly changing professional arena.

The Narrative …


With an extensive background in construction and engineering, I embarked on my first year teaching Physics this year. I believe that the potential to make science tangible, and applicable, for my students is realistically limitless within my lifetime. In this unit, students are exploring forces in motion and I had heard ideas and options of how to unpack these concepts and themes.

A typical example of what others have done are things like the egg drop. You essentially design a parachute system to protect an egg, then drop it from a high point and let gravity do the rest. Yes, students can do calculations, they can explore through inquiry, it’s hands on and engaging, but dropping an egg is an artificial exercise and it’s a little dated. There are reliable parachute systems for many applications already in use and production.

My hope for my students moving forward is to have something bigger for them, and an opportunity to create something more current and meaningful to their future. Something to do with rockets!

“The ocean is vast, blue, unrelenting, passionate, and formidable,” writes National Geographic Explorer Asher Jay.

I began to think, can this not also be applied to space?

Thought process …

  • How does our human concept impact dictate, or drive our interaction with the environment?
  • In what ways might the socio-cultural themes associated with “space junk” and “trash Island” be related?
  • How much space does our atmosphere have (How much space is in space)?
  • Can the “junk” orbiting our planet be re-purposed to build new things or orbitals?
  • If no one owns space, who is responsible for cleaning it up?
  • What are some solutions being applied to trash island, and can these concepts be used in space as well?

The dialogue in my head began to develop several weeks ago but did not come into clarity until yesterday. Following a conversation with a student and a colleague, I was inspired to create a hand-made water-air pressure bottle rocket delivery system (Stage One: Launching apparatus). Prior to attending this year’s Tri-association Conference, I had left an open dialog with a student interested in co-creating a learning exercise using the new contraption. At this point I had no idea where this would take me until I attended Heidi and Allison’s workshop on Contemporary Quest based Model for project based learning.

At one point on day one of the conference, we were encouraged to sink our teeth into a really juicy, prickly, “thorny, rich problem”. As I wandered around generating questions, I danced through examples akin to Elon Musk’s privatized space program, an I-Max movie “Space Junk” from 2012, and drawing connections between what is happening at the oceanic level (trash island). As I can imagine in early years of colonial exploration, the vastness of the ocean, could be relatable today to the endless galaxies of space we ponder today. An unexplored territory of seemingly endless possibility and discovery. Today, these have become a junkyard for things gone unwanted, or unrecoverable.

What I ultimately arrived at was the beginning of a QUEST to explore Physics from a different approach for students, and educator.


Evan Wilke
Sitting down (literally) to talk.

While reflecting on my journey to create the framework for our QUEST, Allison prompted me to explore the inner workings of how I arrived at my own moment of truth the day before. I wasn’t quite sure what she meant so we dove a little deeper. “What caused you to get from point A to point B?” was what she asked. By point A, she was referring to the initial issue that I identified; space junk. Point B was referring to the culmination of a rough draft QUEST to continue to develop and eventually implement in my classroom.

So, Allison and I sat down (literally) and began to dialog about my thoughts and process of the last 24 hours. I explained that I remembered several metaphorical lenses coming together to form a clear picture of how to proceed. It’s sometimes referred to as an “AHA!” moment; when it all just clicks. As we discussed this, I became aware of the overwhelming excitement, and a sense of awe that engulfed me in this creative space.

Reminiscing on my thoughts from the previous day, and thinking about my thinking, I revisited this moment and we processed my experience together. I described a child-like, unfettered imagination where lots of things became possible. A space where my engineering mind surrendered its rigidity and became moldable, malleable, and open. It was at this point in our conversation that Allison pointed out that my habits of personalized learning transformed right around my breakthrough moment!

Habits employed in the generating of the idea … Questioning and problem posing, Taking Responsible Risks, Responding with Wonderment and Awe, Gather data through all senses

After about ten minutes of dialog, I expressed that this curiosity and wonder, that I was feeling, was the exact response I hoped to cultivate in my students. However, up until yesterday the questions had still remained: How to make this tangible and relevant to them? How could I make this more attractive to them? How to make this reach them through the distractions on facebook, snapchat and other, more shiny things?

This Sample Draft of application of QUEST Planner is where my journey led me.

Moving forward, I aim to solicit feedback from my students about this QUEST, with the hope that we embark on this journey together.


0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments