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!
By: Kate Daniel, 6th Grade Teacher, Ocean Air
What do personalized hotel key cards, air pollution filtration systems, and cyber-bullying blocker apps have in common? These are just some of the amazing solutions that the 6th grade Ocean Air Impact Makers developed this school year. These prototypes, and many others, were showcased during the Ocean Air Making an Impact 2018 Exhibition of Learning.
Why? Because this year 6th graders at Ocean Air discovered that like many civilizations before us, humans continue to beat risk.
Beginning in August, students embarked on a year-long journey of ancient civilizations. Rather than teaching this content in the traditional “timeline” sequence, our team completely restructured the content using the UNESCO Sustainable Development Goals. Students learned about all of the ancient civilizations through the lenses of ‘Sustainable Cities & Communities”, “Industry, Innovation, & Infrastructure”, “Peace, Justice, & Strong Institutions”, and “Good Health & Well-Being”. By asking questions like, “What do all civilizations need in order to have sustainable communities?” and “In what ways did civilizations need to innovate in order to respond to their specific challenges?”, students were able to make connections across all of the civilizations in a deep and meaningful way - something that we hadn’t seen in the past!
We were thrilled to be operating far beyond simply recalling facts, dates, and key people! And soon, students began realizing that many of the risks that humans faced in the past continue to be a challenge for humans today. Issues like clean and accessible water, justice, and physical health are all extremely relevant, even in 2018. And while the people of the past had their own ways of addressing these challenges, there is much to learn about what worked, what didn’t, and what more can be done given our modern resources and knowledge.
So what do we do about it?
Using the Design Thinking protocol, our students identified a specific group of people that are affected by a risk. Students chose any risk of interest - in any topic area they wanted to learn more about. Through extensive research and industry expert presentations, students built empathy for this group and gained a true understanding of the challenges that these people face. And the students soon began to realize that their actual research was deeply connected to the UNESCO goals we had studied all year long.
Keeping students human-centered was incredibly challenging. We continually emphasized (for the students, as well as ourselves) that this was not just a “project”. We needed to be sure that the students understood that they were solving something for someone - and that in order to do that, you have to be crystal clear about who that someone is and what it is they need. Luckily, we found some incredible resources of student designers who recently gave TED Talks about their solutions. You can check those out here and here. These videos were invaluable for our students understanding the difference between human-centered design and ‘making a project’. We created various handouts to help with this process, including a User Profile with facilitating questions and Design Thinking Handouts to help students navigate the process.
Once the user was clearly identified and the challenge was identified, students began brainstorming possible solutions that might address the user’s need. The 6th graders prototyped various solutions and gave each other feedback to improve and revise their ideas. Based on that feedback, they adjusted their prototypes and made changes in order to improve the experience of their user.
Finally, families were invited to our exhibition of learning. It was incredible to hear the students talk about their topic, need, and solution. The passion and excitement was contagious! Students and parents interacted on a whole new level and many students were eager to make even more adjustments to their prototype!
So what else do personalized hotel key cards, air pollution filtration systems, and cyber-bullying blocker apps have in common? Perhaps a lot more than just solving some of our world’s current problems. These ideas represent an incredible amount of learning - the kind of real learning that we want all of our students to experience at school. We are so proud of our Ocean Air 6th Graders - and we couldn’t be more hopeful the future.
By: Holly Morey, Torrey Hills Teacher
This blog post is a follow up to the Design Thinking challenge that Torrey Hills students completed in December. Original Blog Post: Torrey Hills Students Get Real-Life Insight as They Design Tiny Houses
Of course, we wanted to share our Tiny Homes Design Thinking project with our community! We had no idea the opportunity to empower our students to be advocates for change in the world would be a result. We were able to bring students from exhibiting their work to making conclusions about how our community could benefit from their findings.
Back in April, we received an email from the Planning Department at the City of Del Mar. The Mayor, Dwight Worden, read the article from the Union Tribune about Torrey Hills Hawks 5th and 6th Graders participating in a Tiny Home Design Thinking Project. We were officially invited to present at the Del Mar City Council Meeting in May.
The students were filled with excitement to get to meet the Mayor! After submitting an application to their teachers stating why they were interested in presenting, four students were selected. 6th Grader Dylan wrote in his application, “I want to influence the decision makers of Del Mar to consider people’s housing needs to make this city better for everyone”.
Shaun McMahon informed us that the City of Del Mar is planning to build 22 houses by the year 2022. Tiny homes are among those being considered for the community. Our student experts could give insight from their research and share how tiny homes are a good fit for people with a variety of needs. Having the experience of hearing from a wide range of speakers on housing issues, such as elderly, disabled, homeless, and Veterans, gave these students perspective on who might benefit from having an affordable, manageable, sustainable Tiny Home.
Speeches were written, slideshow was ready, and the presentation began. 6th Grader Chinmayi recaps, “the central message of the students was to convince the Council that Tiny Homes are a flexible, sustainable housing option”. The City Council Members and the community were a gracious audience and the students presented their “why” behind the project beautifully. Giving students the opportunity to expand their lens on critical issues that surround urban planning and development, allowed them to experience “real world” problems that cities face and be a part of designing a solution.
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