Design X in-person education

In-person interaction and tactile work adds depth at DesignX.

As we pass the two-year mark since the pandemic upended lives all across the globe, closed our schools and transformed the way we interact and engage in almost every aspect of our lives, we have had to rethink the way we greet, the way we work, teach and learn.

Young students and parents alike were left to scramble and had to adapt to a new way of learning and a new skill set, or get left behind. Students who were otherwise thriving in classes found themselves struggling to cope with the “new way.” Teachers who had pre-planned lessons and projects for the rest of the school year scrambled to cover the lessons via new video conferencing tools they were forced to learn in what felt like minutes.

As a parent of college-age kids and an educator in K-12 enrichment, I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what this means for learning and teaching in our future. Is this type of learning the future of all education? Certainly, technologists and video conferencing companies would like us to think so. It is, after all, more scalable and has the potential to reach millions across geographic boundaries. Companies creating these technologies are creating a lot of wealth. However, at the same time, they are nurturing social disconnection.

We have learned through years of research that tactile learning and touch are essential for a child’s growth in physical abilities, language and cognitive skills, and even social and emotional development. When students leave a hands-on class with quality in-person instruction, the idea that they touched and felt the materials and manipulated them to give them meaning – making numerous decisions along the way – is immensely empowering.

Connecting and engaging

A good learning environment is as much about the teacher as it is about the student. Much like a musician using the feedback from his or her audience to perform, a teacher’s ability to connect with each student and receive verbal and nonverbal feedback is a valuable part of what makes a learning environment rich. Connecting through instruction and engaging with a teacher helps build trust with another human being. Learning in a social environment can reduce anxiety. When we broaden our minds and connect with others, it’s not just productivity that improves – our lives do as well.

How we learn is just as important as what we learn. How we learn feeds our soul and defines our experiences. As neuroscientists investigate human learning, they often find that newer skills and aptitudes are mapped onto areas of the brain that also control basic body functions. Increasingly, this work is helping to illuminate neurological connections between the human body, its environment and the process of learning. There is evidence that our ability to use our hands affects the structure and functioning of the human brain. Experiments have strengthened the scientific link between hands-on experimentation and powerful learning.

Why would the act of teaching produce learning for the teacher, too? Simply put, teaching is a deeply social act, one that initiates a set of powerful cognitive, attentional and motivational processes that have the effect of changing the way the teacher thinks. Additionally, laboratory research and real-world programs consistently show that engaging students in tutoring peers has benefits for all involved, especially the ones teaching.

In a world that is increasingly digital, I and my educational company, DesignX, are committed to providing the tangible experiences that are core to the human experience. As we re-emerge, and re-engage with activities of our pre-pandemic life, it is essential for us to take advantage of human interaction, touch and instruction. When students reflect on their

experiential growth at the end of the program, they reflect on why designing and physically developing ideas with instructor interaction is so valuable. The programs that we share with our students emphasize tactile interaction and the hands-on use of tools of the trade like scissors, sewing machines band-saws and X-ACTO knives – safely, of course.

Los Altos resident Durga Kalavagunta is founder and director of DesignX, creating design programs for local K-12 students since 2009. For more information, visit

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