By: Dr. Laura K Spencer, Executive Director of Innovation and Design
Last year was our first year introducing Design Thinking to students throughout the district. It was amazing to see students tackling problems that ranged from a need for fun at lunch to prototyping ways to stop the local bluffs from eroding. Students at all grade levels rose to the challenge in front of them with fierce determination, compassionate hearts, and open minds.
But as we reflected on the year, we also realized that, although we had done a good job supporting teachers in bringing design thinking experiences to students, we needed to place more emphasis as to WHY design thinking is important for future changemakers. We spent a lot of time on the HOW and the WHAT, and we needed to give people time to connect with the WHY. Our goal this year, therefore, is to collective deepen our understanding of the WHY, and support it through intentional moves that build the mindset of a design thinker.
OpenIDEO outlines seven mindsets inherent in design thinking, which are a great frame for the WHY of our work. These mindsets present opportunities for students to develop agency and cultural/emotional intelligence, as well as hone the skills that matter most to be successful in an unknown future.
Those mindsets are:
Empathy - Empathizing with the people you’re designing for is the best route to truly grasping the context and complexities of their lives. But most importantly, it keeps the people you’re designing for squarely grounded in the center of your work.
Optimism - Optimism is the embrace of possibility, the idea that even if we don’t know the answer, that it’s out there and that we can find it. Believing something is possible may somehow make it so.
Embrace Ambiguity - We always start from a place of not knowing the answer to the problem we’re looking to solve. And though that’s not particularly comfortable, it allows us to open up creatively, to pursue lots of different ideas, and to arrive at unexpected solutions.
Make It - When the goal is to get impactful solutions out into the world you can’t stay in the realm of theory. You have to make your ideas real. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you use, or how beautiful the result is, the goal is always to convey an idea, share it, and learn how to make it better.
Learn from Failure - Failure is an incredibly powerful tool for learning. Designing experiments is at the heart of human-centered design. So is an understanding that not all of them are going to work. When we get it right, it’s because we got it wrong first. If we adopt the right mindset, we’ll inevitably learn something from our failures.
Creative Confidence - Creative confidence is the belief that everyone is creative, and that creativity isn’t the capacity to draw or compose or sculpt, but a way of approaching the world. It’s believing that you can and will come up with creative solutions to big problems and the confidence that all it takes is rolling up your sleeves and diving in.
Iterate, Iterate, Iterate - We iterate because we know that we won’t get it right the first time. Or even the second. Iteration allows us the opportunity to explore, to get it wrong, to follow our hunches, but ultimately arrive at a solution that will be adopted and embraced. We iterate because it allows us to keep learning.
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: Laura, Sarah, and Paula, the Innovation and Design Team
In August, Dr. McClurg challenged all of us to begin a journey from the tame to the wild, and as evidenced by some of the data Sarah, Paula, and I put together about our year, the DMUSD staff did just that. This year for us has been a monumental year of learning, creativity, and celebration, which would not have been possible if not for the amazing staff we were fortunate to work with throughout this school year.
When people think and act like a designer, they must be able to see not just what is, but what might be. The design thinking opportunities teachers facilitated for students this year truly exposed students to what might be by helping students discover their inner genius, and then empowering students to use that genius to advance the world. We watched in awe as students demonstrated sincere empathy and felt a call to action within, and outside of, design thinking experiences. We felt joy when watching the faces of teachers as they saw their students demonstrate their passion for learning. And we enjoyed seeing those proud parents listen to their children present their prototype solutions at packed exhibitions!
And we learned a lot, too! We learned...
- how important it is to always start with why and to know the priorities. When people understand the why and have an opportunity to be a voice in building the how and what, there is a greater success in change efforts.
- that every site and teacher, just like every student, has unique qualities requiring a customized approach to integrate design thinking experiences.
- connecting with industry experts to not only dive deeper into the content standards and relevant application to careers today, but to provide high-quality feedback on student thinking, exponentially increases student learning. And that expeditionary partnerships with local organizations is truly a game changer that leads to extraordinary experiences for students!
- a constant feedback loop is important from all stakeholders. Feedback, or better yet, feedforward, is an art form, and we are all working towards being master artists.
- our beliefs and experiences inform our actions. It is critical to give people an opportunity to experience something new for themselves so that they are empowered to contribute to leading change initiatives.
We have some hopes and plans moving forward to the 2018-19 school year. Besides continuing to support the momentum for implementing design thinking experiences in the classroom, we are looking to increase opportunities for expeditionary partnerships and industry expert connections. We're building design thinking-ish mini-experiences that teachers can use within a lesson, as well as redesigning some of our planning tools to be more user-friendly.
We are thankful to each and every staff member and student of DMUSD for the opportunity to serve you, and look forward to continuing in our unrelenting pursuit to create the extraordinary school experience for all students.
See ya next school year!
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