Learner-Centered Commonalities

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I don’t even know where to begin to describe how awesome today was!!! Learners from around the country gathered together talking about our unique learner-centered educations, and the conversations were mind blowing.

After sharing short presentations about our schools, we specifically focused today on what things are similar and different across the 15 different schools in order to get a clearer idea of how to describe learner-centered education by distinguishing traditional vs non-traditional (learner-centered) school aspects.

When trying to figure out what makes a learner-centered school my team came up with these commonalities:

  • hands on learning in the real world
  • self-paced learning
  • strong relationships between students and teachers
  • different forms of assessment then just a 0-100% scale
  • an emphasis on skills not just content learning
  • interacting and engaging with the community
  • students take ownership and are passionate about their work
  • flexible and interactive learning environments

However, I also noticed some big differences though between my school (MVPS) and some of the other schools here. The biggest one is that a lot of these other schools have a huge emphasis on the importance on internships and award graduation credits for internships as well as other specialty programs. For example, I heard of multiple schools were students can take a class offered at school where they actually get certified as a nursing assistant, or a chef, or coding languages and they not only get certifications and skills needed to go into these fields in the workforce, but they also get high school credit for it! It seems like a crazy idea, but in my opinion it’s just crazy awesome!

After we created lists similar to the one above in small groups, we came together as a full group and read through part of the document that Education Reimagined has been developing as somewhat of a north star to help share with others about this transformative movement. The quick summary of the main points is:

  1. each learner is unique
  2. learning is natural
  3. learning can happen anywhere, anytime, with anyone

While I can’t find a link or picture to the rest of these three points, here is a link to more about how the Education Reimagined team has been envisioning this movement which we read before coming this week. Part of why we were gathered here this week has also been to help refine some of this thought process; thusly, there was a big discussion today the need for adding potentially two new points to more clearly address the relationships between who we often call students and teachers, and also to describe the culture of a learner-centered school. I was more participating then note-taking during this discussion, but there are some great quotes on twitter I’d encourage anyone interested to read.

I think a big takeaway from this discussion was the general notion that we all have insider language we use at our schools, but really they are all just different ways of naming similar types of ways to learn. The language is less important than the meanings of the words. To convince people that a new idea is a good idea, you need to expose them to stories and immerse them in situations where they experiance this new way of learning for themselves and observe the benefits.

I was really inspired today by all of the students who are clearly all motivated and driven learners doing awesome work. Everyone here just “get’s it” as we said in an actual conversation I had earlier. It’s as if all of us here have experienced being around other students that just go through school like it’s a chore and have had those classes stuck in a traditional mindset, and yet everyone here see’s the possibilities for the future and is working to make it a reality. We don’t have to convince each other that a change is needed, we just agree and talk about how we’ve worked to provide our voice.

I’m still just so grateful that Education Reimagined decided to have this conference for the first time with students, because it’s been wonderful getting to hear from more students out there that I can really relate to and talk to about transforming education.

Advertisements

Kick it into Gear

IMG_6161.JPGThis Tuesday we have another client meeting with our partners from the City of Sandy Springs so it’s been a crazy week for our project team. The main things we’ve accomplished since our last meeting are as follows:

  1. added information with all of the Marta train routes onto our map
  2. added detail to our small area comprehensive plan
  3. developed an info-graphic describing the project which will be launched to the MVPS community November 2nd to gain awareness, support, and partners from parents especially (hopefully unless something changes between now and then)
  4. gained insights from several intercept interviews and observations of morning carpool
  5. have gotten into contact with people from the regional Travel Demand Management (TDM) department and have a meeting set up for November 10th to learn more about their work with traffic in Atlanta 

With our second client meeting coming up, I think it’s a good time for me to reflect on how I’ve been doing on a few of our standards of professional excellence that we have in the Innovation Diploma (ID). In ID we believe strongly in our motto “We are not a class. We’re a start up.” With this said, we do not have grades for ID; there is no number you can assign to our progress and performance in the program. However, like any business we have assessments (like our upcoming client meeting for example) and we gain feedback (from ourself, our team, and our facilitators), and we have standards of excellence so that everyone in ID knows what’s expected of them and how to be successful in the program.

Our collection of standards is based on five key skills we call the 5C’s: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Craftsmanship.

I believe I’ve been preforming strongly in the area of Collaboration-Leadership and Initiative. I’ve consistently demonstrated a clear understanding of the teams work and vision, and have served as project manager to help clarify roles and responsibilities to my team members. Furthermore, I’ve been a spokesperson for all of ID during tour days for our school and have learned to clearly articulate the work we have done so far to people who know nothing about ID let alone the work my team specifically is doing.

That said, there is no perfect leader. There are always ways to improve, and I think it’s time that I start pushing myself even more about what it means to be a leader. A leader not only has a clear understanding of the teams work, but a great leader is able to also coach others to start becoming more of a leader. I’ve been starting to do this by slowly having other team members take over as the point of contact for certain external experts, but I’m sure there are more ways I can get better at stepping down sometimes; after all I graduate next year…

I also need to work on growing in the area of Creativity- Openness and Courage to Explore. As a team we’re starting to get into a rut where we’re too caught up on the data and research. We are having a hard time moving into the empathy phase of the design challenge which we need to get to in order to identify the true heart of the problem. I need to work on exploring ideas outside of just the general problem of “traffic” so we can figure out where this project is going. Right now we have lots of numbers and graphs of our population and times when traffic is bad, and I even got to school before 7:15 on Friday to take observational notes on carpool all morning from a haystack outside by drop off; however, we have yet to truly identify the problem as a team. We know traffic is bad, but why? I don’t think we know why yet which is a problem at this point in the game.

I’m excited about the work our team did in the last few weeks, but in the last few days I’ve realized that I don’t think we’re at the point in our project where we should be. We should have more user insights, which we talked about needing after the last client meeting, and the work we did was in hopes of developing focus groups, but we never actually created those meetings. We’ve been working hard on this info-graphic that will be sent out to parents so they learn about the project and hopefully agree to meet with us, but we misjudged the amount of time it would take us to make a high-quality product so those meetings are yet to happen. I am though, still proud of the info-graphic work and think it did need to be iterated since it’s our one big shot to send something out in the newsletter to the community. Looking back, what I would have done differently would be to find a different way to get the information we needed.

This didn’t hit me until a few days ago but now it makes me realize we need to kick it in gear and I don’t know how to communicate that to the rest of my team because I don’t think everyone feels this way.

I wonder if our clients will call us out on this because sometimes I find that adults get too caught up in the novelty of students doing this kind of work and don’t call us out the way they would with adults they may work with.

Theater Changing Lives

IMG_5836.JPG.jpeg
The set of “Painted.”

The biggest change for me between the school year to summer is that I go from being in the theater 15 hours a week to practically none at all. It’s a hard transition, and now that there are only a few weeks until school starts, I can’t wait to start my last season as an MVPAllStar.

I love going to NYC, because I always get to see at least one show, often more, and lucky for me, I’m in NYC now!!! I already have plans to see several shows this week. Tomorrow I think I’m seeing “Something Rotten” and “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime.” Plus this trip to NYC is extra special because I’m getting to be the assistant stage manager for a show called “Painted” that my aunt co-wrote, directed, and is performing in off Broadway.

It’s a one act short play that speaks about gender roles and how people should be able to express themselves however they want to. Her play is a part of a big event she helped create where lots of young adults will be exhibiting art work they did on the topic. The project started when my aunt and her friend spoke at her old performing arts school after a the Westboro Baptist Church came and protested outside the school.  After speaking at the school, she and her friend ended up creating an after school program and it’s now evolved into this big show Friday night!

I was at rehearsal all day today and am super excited for Friday because the show is really saying something important. I was running lights and sound after working on finishing the set today, which will never feel the same as actually being on stage myself, but I’m happy to be a part of the show and back in the theater in any way I can. I love the theater; it changes lives each and every day.

Glad to be Exhausted

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Wow I’m exhausted after today. I always forget how tiring design thinking can be until I spend a day going through a challenge and then stop, only to find myself drifting off to sleep.

The reason I find it so exhausting is because design thinking requires so much constant energy and brain power. You are constantly trying to keep moving forward and observing, analyzing, empathizing, synthesizing, prototyping, iterating, interviewing, pitching, storytelling, etc. (Not in any particular order.) Not to mention the entire time you are working with several other people that you’re trying to learn more about in order to best work together and keep the whole team on track and moving in a positive direction; which sometimes means pivoting your idea and going back 5 steps in order to move forward 10.

At the end of day 2 of fuse16 today, I looked around and you could see how tired everyone was. Everyone was excited about their prototypes and empowered by the users, and that just makes it all the more tiring, because when you’re invested in a project you give it your all and that is what makes design thinking tiring. At least we’re tired for a good cause though, so it’s like a good tired. Like when you just played an intense game of soccer with no subs, so you feel as if you’re about to pass out; however, your team won because you stayed in the entire time so at the same time you’re on cloud 9 by the end of the game because you accomplished what seemed impossible!

I always say, even half a day of design thinking makes me more tired at the end of the day then just a normal day of classes. However, I wouldn’t trade that half of a day to not be tired, because the feeling I get from seeing my work impact my user is worth every minute of stretching our brain muscles to the max.

So I’m glad that I can barely hold my eyes open right now, because that means we had a great day of meaningful working.

The First Step to 21st Century Education

taking-steps.jpg

I’ve had a a fantastic week at the beach with my friends on the lovely island of Sanibel. Even despite the tropical storm that came in, we had a lot of fun on the beach, in the pool, biking around, playing games, reading, and just hanging out and talking together.

I was reading Future Wise over this vacation and thus thinking more about the future of education– yes, even while on vacation these are the things I think about, I know I’m weird that way. I have realized that even though it is summer I find myself constantly thinking about school. I find myself not always being “productive” over the summer which is odd to me because I typically am very consumed with school work, self selected work, meetings, clubs, theater, acro, band, etc. What I’ve noticed is that I am very fond of school.

This isn’t really surprising to me because I’ve always rather enjoyed school. When I was younger I would say I love school without a second of hesitation. However, as I’ve gotten older I’ve found myself more annoyed with school and always waiting for the next holiday break or even just the weekend during the school year. So really I guess what I miss isn’t quite school, but really I miss the company of fellow learners working, discussing, and creating new ideas together; I don’t miss all of school as I use to back in elementary school.

This made me wonder: “Why is it that as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less fond of school is so many ways?” My hypothesis is that I don’t like school as much as I use to because school is no longer just about the fun and wonder of learning, but now it has become a stressful climb for “success”- however we might define that.

Thinking like the designer I believe myself to be, I decided to test my hypothesis about how stressful school is to older students.

I send a text to 13 students currently in high school and 2 in college from a total of 7 different schools across 3 different states asking this question: “What are specific examples of things that make you stressed, and why do you think they make you stressed?” Then I waited to see if their answer would have something to do with school, even though I specifically did not ask, “What makes you stressed at school?”

I did not provide any explanation as to why I was asking the question until after they had answered, if they asked, because I did not want to influence their answers in any way. Though in honesty, I did not get responses from everyone (it is summer after all and people are concerned with other things as expected though I only missed a few), the results to my small test were overwhelmingly inline with my hypothesis.

Most students responded with something having to do with school being the cause of their stress. The results varied between stress when teachers all assign big things due on the same day causing students to loose sleep, and when core classes and extra curricular events battle for time priority, and having pressure intentionally or unintentionally placed on them to get certain grades, and a myriad of answers about the struggles of figuring out where to go to college (these responses in particular often had many layers to them with everything from researching, to financial problems, to parental influence, to feeling confused, to fears about the general future of their existence riding on this one major decision- you get the idea).

Now I will say that there were other things that came up in my conversations about stress. Not everyone mentioned school at first at least, but as soon as I explained my hypothesis about school stress, 100% of those students acknowledged that school stress is a major problem and gave ample examples to support the claim.

I know this was a small little test with not the most scientific report, but I’m confident that if I was to expand my pool of users, I would find that a majority of upper level students get overwhelmingly stressed about school.

This is a problem.

Why do we let stress overwhelm school students? How can we expect students to become life long learners when they associate learning, which is most closely associated with school, to their primary source of stress? How might we make learning fun again?

One of my good friends from Nerd Camp whom I asked this question to, discussed for a while with me about how much we both love learning and yet how school has taken away from that love a little more every year. When I asked her why she thinks that is she gave a response that I believe to be sadly accurate:

“Learning isn’t really encouraged in school, success is.”

However, as another one of my Nerd Camp friends pointed out,

“And a lot of the time you can succeed in school without learning anything.”

As we have grown older school has become about getting good grades, so we can get into a good college, so we can get a good job, so we can have a good life; the idea of going to school because we love to learn and explore and wonder and just have fun being curious has been lost.

I know that these feelings and goals are not in any school’s motto, learning plan, or mission statement, but if this is what students’ are feeling then does it really matter what’s written on paper or proclaimed to audiences?

In my opinion, any school’s true goal is to create life long learners by preparing them with “lifeworthy” and “lifeready” knowledge, skills, and wisdom. But what distinguishes a lifelong learner from just another student at a school, is that a lifelong learner continues to seek out new knowledge and skills and wisdom even after primary education is complete, because lifelong learners find unwavering joy in learning. 

Stress can easily shatter joy; if we wish to guide students to find joy in learning, then we must find ways to eliminate some of the stress found in school- no matter the school you attend. That is the first step that needs to be taken on the path to 21st century education.

 

Taking Ownership

Today was the official last day of school for everyone at MVPS, which also means that we have officially finished a full year of the first ever student designed AP course!!! The Collab Course adventure has come to an end in some ways, but in other ways our adventure has only just begun. So for my final assignment I have created the MoVe Talk (Moment of Visible Empathy) below to capture a snapshot of what I have taken away from this experiance. I didn’t get feedback on this talk (which is a rare and nerve racking thing for me to do), because I just wanted to share my personal raw thoughts about the opportunity to own my learning in a way unlike any other. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy my reflection of this glimpse at the future of education:

 

Prototyping Routines

images-2.jpgFor the past few years now, I’m constantly having moments where I catch myself thinking like a designer. Today I observed this happening while choreographing new gymnastics routines.

Creating a new routine is dependent on good prototyping. If I hear a song a couple of times, I can just get on the floor and improv a routine fairly well; however, more often than not, my first creation is not my best work. I can spend hours on one routine fine tuning every movement and still end up deciding on a different idea just moments later. In order to fully figure out what works best, I have to constantly test out the routine to see how even little adjustments affect the routine as a whole.

I have also found, like any idea, time is often the secret sauce that makes an idea great. I have to constantly have a song running through my head and mull over a routine for a few days if I wish to really get my best work. Furthermore, sometimes it’s a matter of waiting for inspiration; sometimes I just find myself so absorbed in a song that I have to choreograph a routine because it’s just bursting out of me. If you don’t act upon the inspiration, then the idea will be lost which would be a terrible set back.

A gymnastics routine prototype also has to be heavily user focused because every gymnast is different. When I create  a routine I can no longer be myself, I must imagine myself as the user and create the routine according to that child’s strengths and style. Then in the end, after a routine is finalized, it still may not be perfect and I can’t know until I start teaching a gymnast and seeing how the routine “fits” them. Sometime this means that I have to make on the spot changes because parts of the prototype just don’t work the best with that gymnast; everything is always in the best interest of the user, otherwise the product is no good.

I am a gymnastics designer; routines are my prototypes and gymnasts are my users, and with time, empathy, and iterations I help create something beautiful.

Senior Theater Project

imgres.jpg

“Hey guys, so I’ve now talked to all of you about this idea to do a senior theater project next year where the 6 of us put on a show, and everyone seems to be on board! Between the various conversations I’ve had with you guys, it seems that everyone, to some level at least, is interested in the idea of us writing our own script.

Considering this is obviously going to take some time to put on, I figured it might be a good idea for us to all meet to at least start talking about how we want to go about all of this. Any chance we’re all available Monday during enrichment and lunch to start throwing out some ideas and figuring out how we’re going to make this happen?

-πnya Smith “
It was almost exactly 3 months ago that I first sent this email to my fellow soon to be senior thespians. It was in this moment that the Senior Theater Project of 2016-17 was born.
I had been talking here and there with the other thespians for at least a week about this crazy idea I had for just the 6 seniors to put on our own production, but this email signified the true begining of a what promises to be a great ride.
We have met and discussed a few times since this first meeting, but today was the first time we felt ready to start bringing in more people such as our theater director and head of fine arts to start figuring out next steps to make this idea a reality.
So far we’ve established roles and started coming up with some knows and need to knows. We know so far that we want to create our own one act show which we will work on in 3 segments: 1. Summer-gathering inspiration through interviews 2. Script- script table read by the end of first semester 3. Show- end of 2nd semester have the stage performance ready.
And most importantly we know that we want our show to be something that makes a statement. Theater is meant to be entertaining, but it is also meant to be so much more. Good theater entertains, but great theater entertains while challenging everything you know, and taking what you might try to ignore and sticking it in center stage for all to see in it’s full light. We know that we want to craft a piece that impacts an audience of all ages, and we know that we have a perspective different from most writers because we are students. Now we need to know how we get this show on the road to the stage.
Step 1- find the story.
So far the general theme we want to explore is the sense of identity because it’s something that anyone can relate to, but it is especially relevant to high schoolers. With social media we now have the ability to develop so many different identities for ourselves, and the dissonance between self-identity and perception is something we want to examine; we have a hunch that there’s a story there just waiting to be told.
We got much of this inspiration from a video one of our teachers sent us after overhearing one of our early brainstorms were we discussed identity. But I got further convinced that there is something to this hunch when I saw this quote from writer and star of Broadway’s hit musical Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda:
imgres.png
Theater is a place where all stories are shared, and after years of performing on stage, I feel ready to do more than just share stories others believe need to be told- I want to have a hand in finding the stories. I do not want us to just create a script that plays to the strengths of those of us in the cast and has our “usual characters” in it- I want to create a script that shows the characters that an audience needs to hear from. This is why, like any true design project, we have chosen to start with empathy- to start our story by listening to the stories of others. We don’t have an outline, or a sketch, or even a narrowed down concept yet for this show, but we know our next step is to come up with a set of questions that relate to “identity” which we will use to interview as many people as we can to help us find the story that needs to be told. Then we will move from there.
Theater is sharing stories, and the Senior Theater Project is going to be a story to look out for.

RISE To New Levels

IMG_2858.jpeg
ReSpIn’s journey through the prototypes at iFest 2016.

(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:

  1. 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.
  2.  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.

IMG_5107.jpgThis 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?
IMG_5078.JPG
ReSpIn team at GT’s lab learning about CNC machines and what materials work with what machines.

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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!!!IMG_1763

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.”

IMG_1762I’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.

Leaping into Empathy

images-3

Being as passionate about education redesign as I am, I’ve been trying to make more of a point to think about ways that design thinking can be incorporated into the classroom, and what struggles I notice occurring around trying to use elements of design thinking.

One of the big things I’ve noticed is that we often spend a really long time on the discovery phase. (Referring to the DEEP process we use at MVPS which stands for Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce.) I think this is because teachers, and maybe even some students, feel “safest” in the discovery mode.

Discovery is all about research, and it is really easy to “justify” how the discovery phase is meeting the goals of traditional schooling because we have always done research at school. Teachers and students have always done research and therefore, the discovery phase feels more comfortable because it’s not requiring you to really stretch yourself as a learner in terms of how you act and what you learn. Everyone interprets what they read based on what they want to know and already believe. It is much easier to get a piece of text to support your argument then it is to hear a person speak and try to pick a part their talk to validate your own believes.

While the discovery phase is very necessary to a design process, because you need some background information to know what you are even dealing with, I believe the quicker you can make the leap from discovery to empathy mode, the more things will start to “make sense”. The empathy phase is when you are challenged and get pieces of insight that spark your curiosity and interest. This is where both student and teachers start to light up and find themselves wanting to research more to further understand and question what their user said.

I’ve observed first hand the moment when students find themselves hooked on a design challenge because they realize how much it means to someone else that they spoke to. I’ve also observed how excited teachers get to see their students excited about learning. Once you get to the empathy phase, the rest of the challenge starts to get much clearer, and the question of “what in the world are we doing” starts to become less foggy.

The problem is that while the discovery mode feels very safe and comfortable in the classroom, the empathy mode is far from “safe and comfortable”. To get to the point of interviewing people can be really hard in a classroom environment. One of the biggest struggles being that if students don’t yet care or understand why you are doing what you are doing, it is often hard to get them to find people to interview because they don’t know what to do next.

Design thinking is still pretty new to the education world, and while teachers are learning more and more about how to involve design thinking in their classrooms, students are not necessarily having a parallel introduction to design thinking. If a teacher walks into a classroom full of students that barely (if at all) understand why we do design thinking, they can’t just magically flip on the light switch and expect the students to be able to self guide themselves through a design thinking challenge.

The light switch has to be built before it can be used.

You have to have the tool before you can use it.

Creative confidence is something nurtured and grown, not magically summoned upon when you need it for a class assignment.

I know I haven’t even started to talk about the Experiment or Produce stages, but that’s because I honestly don’t think I’ve had a class where we really and truly reached these stages even.

More often than not, we spend so much time on discovery, that we try to cram empathy in really quickly and then have spent so much time on the project already, that we decide to end after our empathy findings so that we can move on to the next unit. I get why. I mean there is only so much time in the school year, and at this point there are still things that teachers have to teach to meet certain standards by the end of the year. And to be honest, if you spend to much time on a design challenge that isn’t moving anywhere, it can eventually seem tiresome and overdone; there is only so much researching you can do before you want to just drop everything.

However, I think if we could move faster into the empathy phase of design thinking, then we would be more likely to see a challenge all the way through. I believe this because after meeting with users is when things really start to get exciting to the point where you don’t want to stop.

So here are some of my thoughts…

What if teachers took more responsibility over design challenges in the classroom? At least until students start to show a great understanding for the process itself (I imagine a future where by the time students reach high school, they are already at this comfort level; however, with design thinking in the classroom still being relatively new, students are not all ready for this responsibility yet. There is a lack of experience that must be accounted for first.)

What if, rather than going through and entire design challenge, teachers set up more design sprints or just mini design challenges that had a very purposeful flow with time constraints? Maybe these could last a week or two max for these challenges. In this challenge teachers would help facilitate students researching about users that the teacher has already found and set a specific time when they would come in to be interviewed by students. This would eliminate the struggle of students trying to find and communicate with people to set up interview times. While this is a great skill to learn, in the classroom this can get complicated because everyone has different schedules and some students may need more help than others with setting up this interview. So I think this skill is something that could wait to be practiced until students have a better understanding of the design thinking process first.

Then after all of the students have gotten the chance to talk to one or two users, the teacher helps guide the class through a series of tools to help unpack interviews and discover what the how might we statement is.

It’s at this point where I would imagine some of my blog readers may start thinking that this sounds like a very familiar process. That’s because I literally think that teachers could facilitate in their classroom sessions similar to how we run some of our big design thinking events at Mount Vernon like the Council on Innovation or FUSE. Sure there may be a bit more of a challenge with time because the sessions would have to be broken up over multiple days for shorter time periods, but I think it’s conceivable. (I mean we even had students create and facilitate an entire design thinking session with a similar flow to this in Davos this past summer for the Global Leadership Summit.)

Students need time to be creative and explore their passions, but when it comes to design thinking, I think they first need more guidance and closer facilitation in order to learn the ropes before trying to sail alone. The best way to learn how to sail is to actually get in the boat, so why not give students more opportunities to experience design thinking by facilitating lots of mini more guided and focused design thinking sessions in the classroom?  This may also help with classroom design challenges leaping over the ditch between the discovery and empathy phases of the DEEP process, and then maybe having the time to then go even further into the process with experimenting and producing. The student boats will capsize a few times, but eventually they’ll get more use to that water, and before you (the teacher) knows it, they’ll be off exploring new lands on their own.