What an exciting month it has been with our designers and creators at China Grove Middle School. I have collaborated with our two 7th grade ELA teachers to connect Design Thinking to the novel "Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie" by Jordan Sonnenblick. About a month ago, one of our newest teachers, Miss Makenna Pate (@MakennaPate) approached me with an idea of how to connect the novel to Design Thinking. Honestly, I had not never thought about doing this. As I thought about her idea, my excitement grew. Here was an amazing way to connect the novel with her curriculum standards to Design Thinking. Miss Pate's idea illustrated what I love most about creative thinking and innovation. She saw a way to connect two seemingly unrelated things together in a new creation that will benefit her students.
I was excited but a little uncertain about how to combine these together. How would we work with the empathy piece since the character does not exist in actuality? Should students work in groups or as individuals? These and more questions ran through my mind as I contemplated how to approach this amazing opportunity. I immediately went to some of the Challenge Based Learning (CBL) activities that we used last year North Rowan High School and began to adapt them to meet our needs. I worked closely with Miss Pate and Mr. Jeremy Boice (@boice7ss) to connect their Common Core Standards to our templates. We realized that empathy is a key theme for the 7th grade ELA curriculum. We also explored the resources that we had available and connected an Achieve 3000 about Koko the gorilla and showed an amazing Inside Edition video to "hook" our students prior to the article. I also reached out the Design teachers at North Rowan High for some extra support and was reminded of the empathy maps. We worked to create an empathy map based on Steven the main character.
Since none of us were ultimately certain about how this would turn out, we spent several hours planning, providing feedback to each other, and wondering. In the end, I think the activity was well designed and we supported each other in the process. It was a positive and rewarding experience to work with the content area teachers to plan and adapt the instruction to support student use of Design Thinking to create a product that would solve a need for Steven. During this time, AJ Juliani posted a blog "Empathy: the Most Important 21st Century Skill" which was so timely and really helped me to "connect the dots" with our students. Juliani discusses one of the ways to teach empathy is through stories and we were doing just that by reading the novel. The students were the expert on Steven. They knew about him, his experiences, his challenges, and his dreams. As a result, we were able to create an experience where students showcased their critical and creative thinking while solving a problem that mattered.
As I reflect on this experience, it has truly been career changing. Previously I had struggled personally to see how to connect Design Thinking to the curriculum of my colleagues. But in one swift moment, a beginning teacher solved that challenge for me. I am elated with what our students have done and inspired by their willingness to work hard to find a solution to help Steven in the novel. Perhaps more importantly, our students have experienced the power of empathy and how it can transform their perspectives. We worked with students of all academic abilities in this activity. It was amazing to see that all students have the capacity to be challenged with Design Thinking in a meaningful way. Many students commented that they loved the active learning associated with Design Thinking and that their thoughts were important and valued. Below is a short interview that I conducted with two of our students.
Many of you may find the materials that we used helpful in connecting Design Thinking to curriculum areas. All of our students have an iPad and we used Pages due to the ability to integrate tools such as video, audio, and drawing with ease. We spent less than five minutes showing students how to use the technology over the period of three days. We also created an empathy map using Keynote. We then printed out the empathy map for students to complete. We broke the journal up into smaller pieces to make it more manageable for our students so they could focus on one area at a time. Additionally, we provided some background on Design Thinking so students were able to connect the process with their activity along the way.
Below are the files that we used. There may be some things in the file that need to be changed but overall, we are excited about sharing the extraordinary things going on at China Grove Middle School with others. For more images documenting the experiences of our students, check out the twitter feeds of Miss Pate (@makennapate) and my own twitter (@scibri). Once again, a big thank you to Makenna Pate and Jeremy Boice for their willingness to create design challenges in their classes.
The ideas shared here are my own and do not necessarily represent my employers, associations, or organizations. These thoughts are entirely my own.