Fifth and sixth grade students at Del Mar Hills academy were challenged to consider how they could use their own personal strengths, passions and scientific understanding of the human impacts on the earth’s systems to add value to the world, to be a “positive changemaker.” Students came in with prior knowledge of the earth’s spheres: biosphere, atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere. The 6th graders also had knowledge of the ocean plastics issue from the prior year. Teachers, along with Design Engineer Paula Intravaia, launched the unit and over the weeks leading up to the exhibition they:
-Developed empathy and curiosity through a physically immersive “Global Climate” simulation game
-Defined specific human impacts on earth through research, current events, industry experts and thinking routines
-Identified & shared their own personal strengths, interests, values
-Gained inspiration from the efforts of others (Hip Hop activists, a Forest Experience composer, PSA animation w/poetry, art, film) who use personal passions/interests to add value to the world
Thank you to Karen Billings of the Del Mar Times for an in-depth article about the challenge, and for highlighting student prototypes shared at their Exhibition of Learning. Please read the article for more details!
Paula Intravaia, Design Engineer, @CDMdreamers
“What’s beautiful is that you were all moving in sync while expressing your own feelings.”
“This idea could be a disaster if people interpreted your dance with a different meaning.”
Our K-6 learners have become increasingly adept in participating in feedback, or more accurately, feedforward sessions, during units of study in several content areas through the intentional practice of a design thinking mindset. The comments above happened on an afternoon approaching the date for an exhibition of learning based on our human impacts on earth and outer space. Encouraged to use their unique strengths and interests to design solutions for these impacts, a group of four dance enthusiasts shared their choreographed prototype for informing others about increasingly severe wild weather events triggered by global warming.
Rather than assuming our elementary students are limited in their ability to give and receive authentic feedback or understand the power of metaphor, our school district looks outside of education for ways to extend thinking and develop the capacity to reflect and revise before presenting a polished product. Truly, we value the process without discounting high standards for quality products so long as those products serve a meaningful purpose.
The power of the revision process cannot be dismissed. Mastering a feedback mindset requires practice through numerous and increasingly complex experiences. We seek to stretch learners beyond accepting minor suggestions to independently seeking and respecting other perspectives. One must be willing to imagine terrible futures and be open to making changes, such as adding clues to provide clarity during a dance performance, so more hopeful futures are realized.
The product we’re really after is a learner with a strong sense of agency who has developed cognitive skills as well as empathy and a creative mindset in order to avoid potentially awful mistakes and realize that through their personal strengths they can add value to the community and beyond.
There’s a little saying that goes, “a stitch in time saves nine.” Is Empathy Mapping worth the time?
By: Meg Money, Sycamore Ridge 4th Grade Teacher
“As teachers, how do you want to invest your time?” Ron Ritchhart asked a cohort of DMUSD teachers recently. This question has replayed in my mind time after time since. Last week I was at a crossroads; time or making a difference? You see, our 4th grade class was in the thick of a Design Thinking challenge. All groups were collaborating ferociously and productively...all but one. But hey, it was my fault. I designed that group knowing that it had a 50-50 chance of working. This group of three included kids who were bright and capable in their own right but different as day and night. Unfortunately I didn’t play my cards right, and now I had a group on my hands that had potential but was so far behind because productivity and collaboration were nonexistent.
Now comes in the saying, “Timing is everything.” Fast forward two weeks to another training led by our very own DMUSD Design Team. Paula and Sarah led us through a Empathy Mapping exercise, and a light bulb went on. This is what my lagging group lacked... Empathy! However, this would take time; time a group was running out of.
“How should I invest my time?” replayed one more time in my head. Yes, this is exactly what this trio of budding engineers deserved. They deserved to feel safe in a group and showcase their talents. Their assigned grouping shouldn’t be the barrier holding them back.
I wasted no time and asked the group how they were feeling halfway through the research/prototyping phase. As you can imagine, they were frustrated and asked if they could just work alone. It was then I suggested that we come together and build empathy through the mapping exercise. (See photos) What happened from there surpassed every expectation I’d anticipated. The kids were open, honest, polite and so insightful. They really didn’t need much prompting; they got it! They created NEED statements (See photos) that immediately inspired them to hurry back to their learning. I watched in AWE as this group of young scholars immediately started approaching a difficult task with empathy and producing with the maturity of adults. I’m not going to lie, I had tears, goosebumps, and a swollen heart.
So, was this worth the TIME? Oh, you have no idea. Just ask the group members.
“Ms. Money, thank you for taking the time to do the mapping with us,” said one student.
“This was the best day of the year,” another added with a hug.
“Ms. Money, hurry, come see our idea!” shouted one from across the room.
I will forever be reminded of this experience that truly confirmed that helping students find their potential and giving them a chance at success is absolutely worth the time. Empathy Mapping is now the frontrunner of my long list of “Must Explore and Practice” list. It is worth every second of TIME!
(Look for the confirmation email
within 24-48 hours of subscribing!)