Education is buzzing with design thinking. What this is can be difficult to define. Giving an elevator pitch on this style of teaching would be like trying to hit a moving target. Some educators describe design thinking as Project Based Learning, Challenged Based Learning, and/or Problem Based Learning. When I think of these words, I immediately envision ice cream. The base ingredients of all ice creams include cream and sugar. As one branches into differing flavors and textures that suit the individual’s palette and desire more ingredients are tossed in delicately. In the end, regardless of these additives, at its core it is still ice cream. Similarly, these education buzz words evoke a variety of responses as each is a shade different from the next, but each is still “ice cream.” The best way I can articulate this type of learning is to note that at the core each seeks to create an environment that values experiential learning and student ownership of their learning process. So while the approach may look differently if the starting point is Project Based Learning versus Design Thinking, the product may be quite similar as the student takes ownership over his or her creative process and attitude toward the assignment
This still is quite vague and will look different in each classroom. In my classroom this week I have attempted design thinking through an approach I will call guerrilla education. The word surprise or unexpected is a connotation for the word guerrilla. After assigning this project, I have been surprised by their work and they are about to surprise the school with it. In attempting to wade into the waters of design thinking, I gave my students the following assignment:
Select: An issue that a country faces
Do: Research on this issue
Brainstorm: Why is this issue significant? What are the possible solutions? What are the causes? What is already being done? What could be done? How can you create effective change? How can you reach the widest audience? How do you inform people?
Create: Either a product, policy, experience, or campaign that showcases/addresses this issue
Due: Friday or so…..
Their response has been overwhelmingly active. Three of the projects seek to suddenly take hold of common and well trafficked lounge spaces at school in order to stage protests, host performative art, and engage students in activism. When I wrote these vague directions, I immediately thought this would blow up in my face as students asked for more specifics and cornered me into “telling them what to do.” Instead, they brainstormed for an hour completely boxing me out of their exciting inspiration sessions. Given only peaks and glimpses into their early ideas, I was blown away by their creativity and interest. Of course, execution is a whole other beast.
I moved from group to group and asked them for a checklist and schedule for their projects and for them to list their targets. Things are going smoothly right now and the project deadline is now this Thursday. I am sure I will have an update then with what went wrong or could have been organized better; however, right now I find myself not holding the burden of the class at all. The students have completely taken over their classroom experience and have used me as a sounding board and critic. It is a very loose process which has felt scary each day but as someone who struggles to let go of the reins it is proving to be immensely rewarding…so far.
One group has selected to examine the Mexico-U.S. border control issues. They are paying particular attention to young children who are brought over illegally into the U.S. and the Dream Act. In order to raise awareness for these young children, they have made a video about the legal stakes these children face and while the video plays in the front entrance of the school, they have decided to sit silently behind fencing material in order to express the political, social, and economic limbo these individuals face once within the borders of the U.S. A second group is examining the Ciudad Juárez where four hundred women have been killed. These students have also created a video about the women, the city, and the response of the Mexican government. While their awareness movie plays, they will be collecting over four hundred fingerprints in order to have students visualize the magnitude of this number. The students will be taking hold of these public spaces on Thursday and surprising the student body not only with their work but with their message and creativity. I am truly looking forward to seeing the execution of these ideas and into rounding out my first attempt at curating creativity and guerrilla education in a History classroom.