Two years ago, a colleague approached me about starting a course at our high school (residential 9-12 school) that dealt with ideation and creativity. As we talked, read, and brainstormed, the course which developed, Design for Social Impact, grew into an experience which teaches kids how to use design-thinking, a process for inquiry, development of a product/service, and innovation to make an impact on their immediate community.
The course is completely project based. Students spend the first part of ten weeks occupied entirely by a single project where we walk them through the design process as they engage in it. At the beginning of the project, they receive a design brief, like the one they got at the beginning of spring term: http://bit.ly/KHNBby . They’re organized into teams which, over the course of the project, are given the tools to think divergently about the issue and brainstorm possibilities, converge on a particular question or problem about the issue, research the constraints by closely observing those who the issue affects, then brainstorm and prototype solutions that can be synthesized and iterated upon before they arrive at a solution which they present at the end of the project.
This year the class worked on two big projects. The first, in which they learned about the process of design-thinking, students attempted developing solutions that would creatively and efficiently improve waste management on our campus. We have a huge push toward sustainability and recently inaugurated a 70 acre solar farm on campus, so this type issue resonates with our student population. You can see some of the artifacts from their presentations here: http://www.lvillepress.com/va511/design-projects/.
The second project was focused around the Harkness teaching an learning plan. Our classrooms consist of large wooden oval tables around which 12-14 students and a teacher sit and engage in discussion based learning. Here’s the design brief: http://bit.ly/KHRq0G. For this project we posed the challenge:
Develop an innovative way to deploy information technology for the improvement of Harkness teaching and learning at Lawrenceville.
For the second project the students were also divided into teams. Some of the solutions proposed were better than others, but the process of thinking about the opportunities for improvement in a system which everyone takes for granted was an enlightening experience for many.
Here are some of the artifacts from their inquiry and process:
Interesting to note: We expected the students would have an easy time making the videos for the class, but when we asked for their feedback, that was one aspect of the course they were most frustrated with. They did say that they wished they could take the course earlier in their Lawrenceville career; they thought the method they learned for designing projects would have been useful in many of their other classes.
All of the students in this class were seniors, so our hope was to encourage them into social entrepeneurship tracks in college. We brought in a couple guest speakers who were both inspirational and practical to that end.
Design for Social Impact, an offering for high school students is really a work in progress. Like any designed solution, the product will be re-designed and improved for every iteration. We put huge value on the feedback from students and are looking forward to an enriching experience for our students this coming fall.