Earlier this week, my students began work on a design thinking project. When you ask teachers who have tried these in their own classroom for advice, the advice can be quite vague and frustrating. The general counsel given is typically, “It is like riding a bicycle, you can not really describe how to do it. You just have to get on the bike and give it a try.” Having a type A personality does lend itself to this proposal well. With great trepidation, I waded into the waters of design thinking. The project prompt dealt with current issues facing Latin America. We spent almost two weeks studying a variety of revolutions, movements, and issues facing this region since 1945. Then it was time for me to sit down, sit back, and let the students take hold of their learning. While I gave feedback liberally, I avoided giving too many details on “what to do” in order to avoid doing the creative heavy lifting for them. The results were surprising. My students spent more focused time working on these assignments than on any other project we have done all year! Similarly, yesterday when the projects were installed in the various public spaces around campus, they stayed with their installations longer than expected answering questions and pinning for a larger audience. Lastly, when they presented their project and findings to the class, the listeners asked more deep thinking critical questions to the presenters than ever before. Overall, design thinking was a MAJOR success!! My students remarked that they wanted to do these types of projects again. And, a few curious students came around to me during the installations to ask if they would be able to do something similar in their own classes.
Yes, guerrilla education or “design thinking” is not completely seamless. Yes, I had to very active in watching their planning and execution of their ideas. Yes, I had to remind them of due dates, project components, and the “reason” behind what they were doing. BUT, I would have had to do this for any project. It felt different but overall the students still needed support. I guess I went into thinking that the students would be able to handle all of the executive functioning of the project on their own as design thinking’s focus is to have the student own and control their learning process. This was an unfair assumption because they are still kids who need to learn these skills. Once I held a more realistic balance between letting the reins totally loose and checking in regularly on their targets, the projects worked. The response alone from my students to being active, to creating, to engaging a larger audience has convinced me that when done well, when thought out, when planned, and when given the space for students to tap into their creativity and interest, design thinking works smashingly well!
The fingerprint project and the border control project images as evidence that this actually happened.