Using Design Thinking and Technology to Create Community Impact
Design thinking in the classroom is all about developing collaborative skills and creativity. Technology heightens the synergy that design thinking generates, making the solutions both timely and effective.
If you want your students to feel as though their ideas matter and what they’re learning is important, it’s time to teach them how to work in dynamic teams that may develop unconventional approaches to challenges they face in their communities – whether that community is their classroom, the school, the neighborhood, or beyond.
Teachers are using design thinking strategies combined with technology to help their students find authentic solutions for community challenges. For example, 5th grade students who identify a need for healthy, low-cost foods, might determine that a community garden would help to feed families and offset grocery costs. The students would use technology to assess soil and water ratios, planting/harvesting schedules, and potential yield.
Meaningful projects like this do more than solve a problem for the community at large. They help students develop life-long skills and feel significant.
Design Thinking in this century may be as powerful as Total Quality Management once was in the last century. It’s an innovation that encourages non-traditional ways of developing solutions to extraordinary problems.
Prepare your students for design thinking
In ideal design thinking, you’ll bring together students from diverse backgrounds and experiences. Homogenous foundations do little for encouraging students to think outside the box and innovate. Students with unique experiences, however, can offer their peers more in-depth insight and perhaps unusual perspectives on how to realize solutions.
The Stanford d. school has identified five stages of design thinking:
· Empathize with others. Without empathy, students will not be able to understand the pain points of the community, nor will they be receptive to ideas.
· Define the problem. Solutions come only when the problem is understood.
· Ideate. Students suggest responses and solutions, no matter how unlikely. During this stage, it’s critical that the teacher allows the team to explore all options.
· Build a prototype. Some prototypes will work, and others will fail. What’s important is the learning experience.
· Test. Students check their own work and determine their effectiveness.
Computer-generated models, 3-D printers, and other available technology can strengthen design thinking. Teachers can combine technology with design thinking in a variety of ways including:
· Curating photos and videos
· Animating films
· Designing video games
· Building virtual models of STEM innovations
· Developing procedures and protocols
· Reaching out to subject matter experts (SMEs) outside the classroom
Taking design thinking and technology into the community
Technology has opened the door for design thinking to expand beyond the classroom. Students can take highly creative approaches to fill the needs of a community.
For example, in Warrenton, Virginia, middle school students accepted a challenge from the Library of Congress. The students volunteered to record the personal anecdotes of dementia patients. Residents of the memory care facility were excited to share their stories, and the students proved to be careful listeners. The recorded narratives are now part of the Library of Congress StoryCorps collection.
Why go to this much trouble?
Design thinking significantly reduces reliance on memorization for learning. Students who engage in design thinking learn to:
· Demonstrate flexibility
· Be receptive to change
· React with empathy
· Develop creativity
· Self-reflect on effectiveness
· Advance their critical thinking skills
When it comes to creating community impact, these are the skills citizens of all backgrounds and ages need.
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