(I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been wanting to write this post, however I wanted to make sure I wrote it when I wasn’t paranoid about being up too late and still getting other things done. So finally, here it goes. )
For the past several months I have been one of four members of the ID cohort on the ReSpIn team- a team striving to Reduce waste, Spark conversations, and Inspire change so that sustainability becomes a part of the Mount Vernon community’s DNA.
Back in the fall, we observed that the middle school does not have recycling bins in their classrooms due to “not having the space.” Yet if we wish to have our students making conscious decisions about how they are affecting the environment, it’s important for us to provide the means like a recycling bin in order to make positive choices. This simple observation impelled a year long design challenge around how we could provide the middle school with a recycling bin that not only was a piece of furniture that people utilized properly, but also really made people think more about environmental sustainability.
Using the DEEP process as a kicking off point, we were able to create early prototypes that lead us to the overall concept of the RISE Sustainability System. (While not intentional, we recently realized that “RISE” could actually stand for, “Recycling in School Environments,” though I must admit that was not intentional for that reason.)
The system would have two elements:
- Part one is the RISE bin container which would serve as a shell for the current bins we have, but the shell would create more vertical and shelf space by providing a way to raise the recycling bin on top of the trash bin.
- Part two is the accompanying classroom component meant to help teach students more about recycling. We realized, after interviewing an external expert who is a venture capitalist, that trying to make sustainability a part of the MVPS DNA needs both a product and a social innovation; therefore, the classroom curriculum is meant to address the social component of this problem.
These two parts together are the entire “RISE Sustainability System.” However, we have focused primarily at this point on the physical product because it is what was most in front of us at the moment. (What good does it due for students to learn about why and how we properly recycle if they don’t actually have a way to recycle in their classroom?)
Through early empathy interviews, prototypes, experiments, and observations, we discerned that students take an interest in things they have ownership over. So the big question became,
“How might we have students take ownership of the RISE bin with the bin itself still being structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing?”
Our solution: have the middle school students build and customize their own RISE bin as a class. Our first to scale prototype, which sat in two different middle school classrooms for a week, generated a lot of buzz about recycling, and we learned that the 5th graders in particular were really curious about the RISE. They were asking lots of questions and wanted people to use it correctly even though it was falling a part due to it’s design (being made out of foam and duct tape primarily). So our hypothesis was that if students got to build the RISE themselves they would take even more ownership over the bin and wanting people to use it correctly, which therefore means they’d have to recycle correctly.
This new hypothesis brought a plethora of design constraints for us on the ReSpIn team. In particular we were struggling with figuring out the best materials to use, how to attach pieces together, and how to create a simple yet ascetically pleasing way to get the waste into the proper bins. This period of struggle included long discussions with the team, mentors, and experts, several prototypes of different magnitudes, and many hours outside of school declared “ID time” spent working to finish our product. (I now know all sorts of random fun facts about materials and machines, like how you can’t use Coroplast in a CNC machine because the rotation of the machine will just get caught in the threads and make a not so aesthetically pleasing hole. More than just fun facts, I’ve learned how to use a plethora of tools like Silhouette, Fusion360, and the laser cutter while also improving my innovators skills of associating, experimenting, questioning, networking, and observing.)
We were narrowing prototypes based on 8 design specifications and scoring with either a negative, a positive, or a neutral:
- function- how well are people able to get trash into the trash bin and recycling into the recycling bin?
- customers-how well can our users put the RISE together? how well can custodians take out the content of the bins?
- materials- how hard is it for us to get the materials ready for our users to put it together? (“What machines can we use with this material?” was a large factor.)
- environment- How environmentally friendly is the prototype? (this had to be positive)
- size- does it take up minimal space?
- safety- how safely can students put the prototype together with this version?
- aesthetics- looking for a certain degree of professionalism since we are at school
- cost- the goal is to make the RISE wide scale someday, so how costly would it be?
After a fair amount of time, we were finally able to decide upon a 2.0 full scale version of the RISE. This version is made out of PVC, MDF boards (wood), and zip ties and has met all of our requirements.
By iFest (the day at MVPS where all high schoolers showcase project based learning work from the year) which was just three weeks ago, we were able to create one fully finished 2.0 prototype and most of one 2.1 prototype which we had high schoolers and teachers testing with our instructions book while trying to create the PVC skeleton of the 2.1 prototype. (There are only minor differences which we wanted to test such as how 2.1 is taller and has a front piece made out of a different wood which we stained.) Then after iFest, after we finished up the rest of 2.1 and made edits to our instructions book, we were ready to get our latest prototypes tested by some actual middle schoolers.
I’m happy to now announce that earlier this week we had a huge success for the ReSpIn team with our RISE Sustainability System! We were able to get our prototype into the classroom and officially test out the design with middle schoolers and it went really well!!!
As soon as I walked down the hall with a pile of supplies, 5th graders started looking at me and asking questions about what I was doing. I quickly assembled a group of 15 student volunteers to help with our test, and from the moment I gave them the instructions booklet they were deep in concentration over their work. I noticed a lot of teamwork skills being practiced with leaders emerging for different things such as the student holding and reading instructions, and the student taking lead with putting PVS pieces together, and the student telling others what they could do to help, and the student asking everyone questions to make sure they were doing things correctly.
From early on I was able to observe that there were still several students not actively participating in the process the entire time, so I changed the test a little by instruction them to split up into a teams. One group focused on the PVC part and another focused on prepping the wood pieces with zip ties for when they’d be attached. Based on this feedback our team is now editing our instructions book to say from the start for the class to break up into 3 teams with two of the teams working on a different section of the PVC and the third team working on wood. This will hopefully help more students stay actively engaged in the process and cut down on how long it takes to put the RISE together.
We also were able to get good feedback about how much people liked the pictures, but we need to adjust the way we talk about the wood pieces because that was hard for them to understand which piece was which. One girl also said, “These zip ties are hard to get in the holes,” and multiple others agreed, so I think we have some design work to make that easier as well. There were a few other wording confusions, but overall they were able to assemble the bin with only asking me a few questions about the wood pieces particularly and also when one PVC piece was not quite fitting in right.
However, the most inspiring piece of feedback of the test that we were given was from a little girl who told me, “This is the best idesign challenge we’ve done, because we never get to see a project like this get this far.”
I’ve fallen in love with our users and I’m excited for the new edits and whatever comes next so that we can provide them with the best solution to this problem. Though, I don’t know exactly what our next steps are, because like the 5th grade girl said, “We’ve never gotten this far.” But all of the smiling faces, “thank you”s, and teacher comments about students asking more questions about recycling is how I know we are doing something right.