Take Learning Outside Initiative

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Background

Some of the faculty of Mount Vernon Presbyterian School came to the Innovation Diploma Pixar Cohort (members in their 2nd or 3rd year of the program) with the challenge of: How might we gain more traffic and awareness for the two outdoor classrooms on campus? We then had two weeks to go through the process of human centered problem solving to then pitch to our clients various high res prototypes that have potential for immediate implementation.

Key skills developed

  • bias towards action
  • craftsmanship of prototypes and presentation
  • time management
  • impromptu short interviewing
  • communication

Project Details

Phase One: Discovery and Empathy

With only two weeks to interview, research, ideate, prototype, and pitch ideas to our client, the Pixar team had to work quickly and efficiently. After some initial discussion, we divided our team into four sub committees right off the back:

  1. Research Team: Why should we care about going outside?
  2. Interview Team: What are the needs/concerns of MVPS community members?
  3. Branding Team: How might we spread awareness about the spaces with well crafted branding strategies?
  4. Cleaning Team: How might we make the spaces inviting enough for people to want to come into it once we spread the word about it’s existence?

After a week working on these sub committees the team re-grouped to share powerful insights:

Research

  • A study performed by the University of Illinois found that students’ capacity to pay attention increased 13 percent if they had a green view outside their classroom window
  • The Hollywood elementary study found as much, as the number of on-task students increased when the education moved outside.
  • Studies have shown a 27% increase in science testing scores with plenty of time outside
(link to studies)

Interview

  • 57% of the 51 students interviewed have only been in the outdoor classroom once
    since starting high school at MVPS
  • Teachers are concerned with:
    • bugs/whether
    • logistics: taking attendance, time spent getting there and back to classroom, carrying stuff
    • a way to capture work: internet, white board, flip board, etc.
    • needing a table top
    • distractions: worried students will be distracted by the “newness” of outside
  • Several teacher concerns were assumption based:
    • internet does in fact work outside
    • it takes about 2 minutes to get outside from the third floor if the class chooses to meet in their room rather than right outside
  • More new teachers to the school were more curious, interested, and excited about using the outdoor space while a large amount of teachers at the school for even just a year were incline to say something to the extent of “I don’t think it will work for the type of class I teach”

Branding

  • the word “classroom” has a certain connotation to a type of learning environment
  • outside learning is a different kind of learning and therefore the space needs a new name

Cleaning

  • cleaned up lot’s of trash and power washed the amphitheater seating
  • discovered mold under the top layer of mulch and the wooden tables

Phase Two: Experiment and Produce

Based on these insights from week one, we spent week two creating new teams to develop a total of 7 prototypes, and a team of two worked to better craft our story and presentation for our pitch. The final prototypes were as followed:

  1. camping chairs in the area for more comfortable seating
  2. colorful signs to promote the space and creativity
  3. words of wisdom promoting the use of the outdoors written on communal white boards and chalk boards around the high school
  4. developed 2 different versions of digital signage to be showcased in the lobby of the building
  5. 3 different versions of a water bottle with a sticker and note encouraging and reminding teachers to take advantage of the outdoor space
  6. 2 large posters with quotes about the value of outdoor learning
  7. 3 different versions of a portable lap desk with a white board surface to meet the need of not having enough surfaces for writing on

https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1RSzUNl4q0xmeITpOYiT-WM_Knd9wmjiAmnNae1u8T_E/pub?start=true&loop=true&delayms=5000


Reflection and Client Feedback

Team

Being the first design brief of the year, and many member’s first ever design brief, and having such a short time frame, I believe the Pixar team did remarkably well. Our clients found the level of quantity and quality of our prototypes remarkable, and everyone was ready to further implement the ideas which shows a great level of empathy and understanding of the problem.

At the beginning of the process, most of us, myself included, were not found of the idea of going outside for class. We found it cumbersome and not exceptionally beneficial, and thus we were not thrilled about working on this challenge that went against our own beliefs. However, I was proud that our team was able to go through a mind-shift and focus on the fact that despite our feelings towards the challenge, our clients asked something of us and we needed to put our feelings aside in order to deliver.

Once aside our feelings, we still had a lack of communication in terms of what our goal was for the end of the two weeks. Some members were ready to start digging up mulch and give the area a complete upgrade because they thought that was what needed to happen in order to get more people in the space by the end of two weeks. This bias towards action was incredible, but it actually had to be dialed back some because our goal, as we clarified about two days before our deadline, was just to have small prototypes and concepts with a strong pitch for our client who could then implement the ideas if proven necessary. Once this clarifier meeting took place, the team made great strides in the last 48 hours before the deadline; working like a well oiled machine to be ready before our final pitch.

In the future, it would have been great if this clarifying meeting happened earlier on so that we could have been as productive as we were in the last two days for the entire timeline of the project; however, sometimes you don’t know you need a large group meet up until you get far enough a long for clear confusion. Based on the insight from this design brief, in our next team we plan to establish early on a clear understanding of the goal, the timeline, and tasks that need to be completed, and who is responsible for each task.

Even though for this challenge success didn’t include changing mulch, the amount of bias towards action was phenomenal during this challenge. This is a huge improvement from when we started in the Innovation Diploma and would spend weeks discussing ideas and never really take action and get working in the real dirt. We would not have been able to develop 7 well crafted prototypes if it hadn’t been for the level of agency and craftsmanship the team had as a whole.

Personal

I typically have a hard time with having a bias towards action because I’m a person that really likes to try and think through all of the details, but for this project I think I improved some. During part one of the challenge I was on the interview team, and while normally we would spend a lot of time carefully choosing interviewees and crafting emails to schedule a chance to talk, for this project we only had two weeks so we didn’t have time to go through the longer more detailed process. None of our interviews were scheduled and instead I literally walked around looking for students and teachers that weren’t in class and asking them to have impromptu 5-10 minute interviews with me. I even successfully convinced one teacher to have one of their classes outside during my free time so that I could observe the process of the class going to the space and then capturing how they interacted with it.

Another mindset I’ve been trying to embrace is the idea of making my work visible. For this project I worked on that by getting everyone to create visual representations of the key insights taken away from each teacher interview. Then I helped lead the team in synthesizing our insights to create one composite user (also with a visual representation) which we used to share out with the full group at the start of week two. To accompany our composite teacher user, we also had graphs of the student data collected which shows how we’ve grown with our ability to think visibly and also our ability to use technology to make our work at a higher quality level.

Going along with the theme of higher quality of work, I was incredibly impressed mine and my co-presenter’s ability to put together a high caliber presentation in mainly just two hours. The presentation had limited words on slides, edited pictures for ascetic purposes, the entire slide deck had an evident theme to help with the flow between slides, and the work was well synthesized to pair down all of the research, insights, and prototyping work we had done into one pitch around 15 minutes. Typically I wish that we would have rehearsed the pitch better and had the prototype speakers more confident and clear in their role, but I am impressed with the work we presented in a limited timeframe and our clients had no expressed negative comments on the presentation its self.


Next Steps

The pitch was successful and prototypes are ready to be implemented, though technically our team has met our goal and deadline. Some prototypes remain in action such as the camping chairs and words of wisdom around the school, but some still need a little iterating and communicating with various people in order to have them implemented. Our team of 16 has completed this project, but a few may select to continue working with the client to finish the implementation process. I do not currently plan to continue with this team, though if that is where I am most needed in our start-up, then that is where I will continue to work.

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2 thoughts on “Take Learning Outside Initiative

  1. Thank you for sharing such a detailed recap of this design brief work that Pixar has done. I especially like the inclusion of a team reflection and the personal reflection. Even though you don’t personally plan on continuing with this client/project, I hope to hear that some do – if only to know that a group of students is working to bring about a mindset shift in teachers that is similar to the one they themselves experienced.

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