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.
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