By: Meg Money, 4th Grade Teacher, & Dr. Laura Spencer, Exec Director of Innovation & Design
A modified version of this blog post, which includes input from the Industry Expert mentioned here, was published by the U.S. Green Building Council on their website.
In Del Mar, our mission to “ignite genius and empower students to advance the world” isn’t just a slogan on the wall. It’s how our students learn and how they tied together science, social studies and the problem of homelessness together in one amazing unit
We use the Design Thinking methodology to help students solve problems that have the potential for real societal impact while they prototype solutions integrating CA Common Core State Standards: skills that matter most, and a deep sense of empathy for others. Our students research, interview, connect with industry experts, ideate, and prototype solutions to a range of issues from how to make newcomers feel welcome at school to coastal erosion and lagoon conservancy.
One example is from Meg Money’s fourth graders at Sycamore Ridge who got interested in a Social Studies unit on California’s natural resources. Students were concerned about the human impact of California running out of fossil fuels. How would Californians continue to thrive? They were determined to find solution and along the way, our students discovered that helping a homeless person wasn’t as easy as just giving them a phone.
Design Thinking: Students use empathy to define the problem
It was apparent to Meg that the students’ concern for the depletion of nonrenewable energy needed to be addressed. Students interviewed each other about how much power they used, and if there were any alternatives to power their devices with renewable energy sources. We knew they understood the problem when we saw needs statements like: “Willam needs a renewably powered computer in order to research on Google while conserving energy and using California’s natural resources wisely.”
Research- Ideate- Prototype
Because neither Meg nor the students had any background in renewable energy, Google became the “go to” research source. Students developed flow charts and questions to help with the research, and to narrow down their ideas. With that research, students ideated and began prototyping solutions centering on renewable energy sources like water, wind, sun, and kinetic (human) energy.
The students presented their prototypes in class presentations. We taught them to give feedback using the TAG strategy: Tell something you liked, Ask a question and Give a suggestion. This feedback was useful, but Meg noticed that feedback would be much more meaningful coming from an expert in the energy arena. This is where Laura came in with a web tool called Nepris, which could connect the students with experts to bridge all their learning pieces together.
Nepris provides an Industry Expert to provide feedback and motivation
Nepris found us a mechanical engineer from Lebanon, Patrick Kattan, who explained all the scientific answers the students needed for their questions, the problems, and the prototypes they had created. His feedback, according to a student, “expanded our thinking because he answered the WHY instead of just giving us facts.”
After the experience, students redesigned their prototypes to incorporate Patrick’s feedback. What we learned was that every group overlooked one critical element in making renewable energy work - the BATTERY! They didn’t get discouraged, though, because as one student said, Patrick motivated him because “he said things that made me want to go forward more.” Another student added, “He told us we had good ideas and that one day we might be successful in bringing our ideas to life.” More ideating, and new prototypes were developed.
The impact of this unit was felt well beyond the classroom. A mom sent this email message after the project: “You know innovative and meaningful projects are happening at school when your child tells you to put down what you are doing so you can ‘truly focus’ and learn more about how the battery of his cardboard cell phone he co-created with a classmate could be powered by solar energy.”
By: Paula Intravaia, Design Engineer
School bus, sunscreen, smiles. Altogether, these things signal a day of anticipation and excitement. Leaving campus to take a field trip has been a timeless highlight for students, and my school district is working to develop expeditionary partnerships, mutually benefitting both learners and their mentor organizations. Beyond a one-time field trip tour, expeditionary partnerships provide an authentic purpose for learning and build bridges between schools and their communities.
The National Park Service Conservation Study Institute has identified four principles for civic engagement in special outdoor places:
-Build genuine relationships
-Create effective engagement processes
-Deliver relevant interpretive and educational programs and materials
-Sustain civic engagement over time
Making these genuine relationships happen requires vision and planning. Dinah Brown, our Curriculum & Instruction Coordinator first worked with the Education Director of a local lagoon conservancy to organize lagoon tours for all of the district’s 3rd Grade students. During the summer, a cohort of science specialists and teachers met to develop an optional interdisciplinary Design Thinking challenge to extend the place-based learning experience.
So far this year, two school sites took on the challenge in their own way, each with incredible results. Teachers not only expressed delight in the deeper understanding of scientific concepts demonstrated by their students, they also expressed delight in their own understanding of the value in trusting the process of a human-centered, collaborative approach to real world problem solving.
Before stepping onto to the bus, students are prepared to make scientific observations and formulate questions regarding the health of the lagoon based on related California Next Generation Science Standards and information provided by docents on site. Rather than simply soaking up the sights and sounds, learners begin an effective engagement process through the place-based experiences of noticing and hearing from experts about the issues the lagoon organisms are facing.
“Outside the classroom, children tend to observe things more keenly and ask more questions.” ~Deborah Meier, Central Park East Schools
Our students returned to the classroom filled with empathy and curiosity, ready to conduct further research to understand the specific needs of lagoon organisms, and were empowered to design solutions to maintain a healthy lagoon.
Individuals and small groups developed solution prototypes based on student strengths and interests, and entered a feedback and revision cycle involving grade-level and upper grade peers.
Exhibitions were held to showcase the learning and creative solutions. Attendees were dazzled by the presentations of skits, songs, works of art, digital media and physical models. Opportunities for feedback were integral, including input from lagoon directors and docents who frequently commented that the student solution proposals far exceeded their expectations.
For an authentic expeditionary partnership to occur, the mentor organization must also benefit. After receiving input from teachers on ways to improve lagoon visits, the lagoon’s School Program Coordinator developed a Design Thinking Project Toolkit filled with relevant interpretive and educational programs and materials, which is now available to help guide all teachers following a visit to the lagoon. In addition, student projects were highlighted in the lagoon’s e-newsletter with plans for others to be displayed in their nature center to stimulate science learning for the good of the lagoon, and for the good of the local school community.
Besides cultivating empathy and sharpening student scientific prowess, the ultimate measure of success will be sustaining civic engagement over time. Based on our groundwork in building expeditionary partnerships, I predict success.
This post was cross-posted on Paula's blog.
Sycamore Ridge third grade students throughout Del Mar Union School District have been studying the San Elijo Lagoon as part of a Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) unit.
Using the Design Thinking process, students tackled the challenge of bringing awareness to the marine pollution that affects the local wildlife and environment of the lagoon. Their efforts were recognized in Lagoon Views, an electronic newsletter published by the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy.
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