guerrilla education part II

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.

guerrilla education

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.