alternative education

‘Design Thinking’…and Why We Should Have a Course on Learning to Work in Groups

The Learning 2030Summit focuses on the future of high school education, a future that will be influenced by the wider landscape of education issues; from informal to formal education, primary to post-secondary. In this Learning 2030 Blog entry explore how a Canadian student views the importance of design thinking and effective collaboration. Image © neurmadic aesthetic by Bryson McLachlan, Learning 2030 Blog Contributor From the start of our educational pathways we are presented with projects and problems that require us to form groups. Collaboration is a common theme that runs throughout elementary school, high school and into university. Eventually, it spills out of academia and manifests in other ways in the professional world. It is, simply, the process of working together to solve a problem.  The goals and tasks that groups must solve vary, but what remains the same is a manifestation of the old adage “two heads [or more] are better than one.” ‘Working Well In Groups 101’ Everyone has their own opinion about group work, an opinion usually based on personality types and previous experiences. The fact of the matter is that group work can be a very successful practice for solving problems and completing projects.  Why, then, isn't there a point during formal education – high school, university, etc. – where we are taught how to work in a group setting?  Time and again people are told to work together, but how many of us have actually been schooled on the nuances of how to work collaboratively? It wasn’t until I began the Knowledge Integration program at the University of Waterloo that I received any kind of formal education in how to work collaboratively. One method to improve collaborative work and solve complex problems that I have been introduced to is design thinking. Design thinking is not difficult to learn, and it is a process that I strongly believe should be implemented into high school – and even elementary school – curriculums.  Image © Gavin Topp   What is ‘design thinking’? Design thinking doesn't have a single, concrete definition. Its essence though it is a method of problem solving that, depending how you choose break it down, consists of four to seven steps. In the version I use, the steps are as follows:  1) define the problem you need to solve 2) create and consider different problem solving options 3) refine the options and create prototypes, and  4) apply the best possible solution.  Also referred to as ‘human-centered design’, design thinking is best applied to problems that directly involve people.  Design thinking aims to be a unified, holistic approach to solving problems, and is almost always applied through group work. Why should we use design thinking? Along with the four steps outlined above, design thinking has core principles that dictate how groups should function.  These principles involve: ensuring everyone’s voice is heard, leading with empathy, and being intentional when working collaboratively.  The process works best when everyone involved can put forward their ideas without worrying if they will be received negatively. There are no good or bad ideas; only different ideas that may or may not better suit the problem at hand.  A course (or at least a unit) on working in groups? Design thinking should be taught to students at a relatively young age, perhaps middle school or the beginning of high school: Starting young allows students time to hone and develop their proficiency with design thinking itself, and also with collaboration best practices.  It would allow them to graduate high school and be comfortable with applying their skills to whatever problems arise in their academic and professional lives.  Design thinking provides: a) an effective and flexible method for solving problems both in and out of school  b) a set of principals to guide effective group work.  The landscape of our world today is rife with large-scale, complex problems that span many different disciplines.  Climate change is an excellent example as it is a social, political, and economic problem for which we have yet to find meaningful solutions.  For these types of problems to be solved, students must be equipped with the necessary tools, to be able to work with people that represent vast and diverse interest groups.  Takeaways There is no one strategy that can applied to solving every problem; it is important to research and analyze a problem before applying a specific problem solving technique.  However, many of the problems we face today require group work. If people don’t know how to properly work together, the process of solving these problems is hindered.  Teaching students design thinking at a young age will produce individuals who know how to collaborate, to extract the best ideas from every participant. Design thinking and collaboration are means to an end. If used appropriately, they can be powerful tools for producing much-needed solutions to solve wicked, large-scale problems. Bryson McLachlan is a 4th year University of Waterloo Knowledge Integration student who has worked at Treehaus Collaborative Workspace using collaboration, innovation, and creativity to build and foster a coworking community.

What Will My New Grandchild Have Learned by 2030?

Equinox Summit: Learning 2030 focuses on the future of high school education, a future that will be influenced by the wider landscape of education issues; from informal to formal education, primary to post-secondary. In this Learning 2030 Blog entry, explore what a leader in informal science education and grandmother sees for the future of her grandchild – a high school graduate of 2030. Image © bengrey by Leonie Rennie, Learning 2030 Blog Contributor My grandchildren were born in 2013. What should they have learned by the time they graduate from high school in 2030?  It’s certain that whatever they learn, much of it will have been learned outside of traditional schooling.  Already adolescents have, in one device, in their hand: • a phone • camera • TV • radio • computer • GPS • a library for music and video • and a tool for games An age of touch-screen education Traditional divisions of media are collapsing as visual and broadcast media, computer games, and the printed word become available for download to a single mobile device.  Students at all stages do not need to attend school classes to learn. Schools will have a hard time remaining interesting and relevant if they don’t find ways to better include these media as part of the learning process.  While crossing the boundaries between in-school and out-of-school learning is facilitated by wirelessly connected mobile devices, the challenge for schools is to find ways to help this happen. Learning whenever there’s a chance to learn Learning in school should be designed to enable students to become scientifically and technologically literate citizens, who have the knowledge, skills, desire, and confidence to deal effectively with issues that arise that concern them. Not only in their school years but in their adult lives as well.  This means whatever students learn at school, they should be able to retrieve or find information, assess its relevance, and apply it to the situation or problem at hand.  Students need practice to do this and that means bridging the gap between school and life in the community outside of school.  Remodelling education Research and experience have shown that bridging this gap is not easy. Here are just of the two reasons why: 1. The “real world” is interdisciplinary, not unidisciplinary as suggested by school timetables describing individual subjects as if they were mutually exclusive. Situations or problems occurring in students’ lives outside of school will be multidisciplinary. In order to understand and find answers, knowledge from different subjects will need to be integrated. If students are to learn how to do this, explicit connections need to be made between school knowledge and community issues.  2. Linking school into community issues introduces values, such as social and environmental responsibility, and political and economic considerations that determine how society deals with problems and issues. Students will need to engage in critique and debate, and to evaluate and communicate ways that these problems and issues can be addressed. Falling behind in the world outside of school Whatever happens in formal schooling, change so far looks like it is likely to be slow, despite a few beacons here and there.  Change is happening much more quickly outside of school, and as mobile technologies advance, it is the youth who advance with them. Digital-age students set to graduate from high school in 2030 will need opportunities to learn in ways that that are consistent with how they are learning outside of school and they’ll need skills to determine what is worth knowing.  If they’re lucky, the high-school graduates of 2030 will know how to filter-out the misleading and irrelevant from the worthwhile on the digital landscape, they will use that landscape to inform decisions based on evidence, and they will use critical judgement to attend to the well-being of themselves, others, and the environment in which they live. Curtain University Emeritus Professor Leonie Rennie has made contributions “from oceans to Outback” to equity in science education and education in out-of-school settings in Australia. Her latest book is Knowledge That Counts in a Global Community: Exploring the Contribution of Integrated Curriculum.

The High School of 2030 MUST Be Built From the Ground Up

  by Dr. Guy Claxton, Learning 2030 Advisor I may have missed something, but I believe that the necessary starting point for thinking about the school of the future can’t be to tinker 'away from' what we have. We need a clear vision of what young people want (and need) outside of school, in order to be able to flourish in the 21st century, and to move toward that.  Then the whole apparatus of books, timetables, buildings, teachers and exams is up for debate.  The true test of a good education It seems blindingly obvious to me that the 'valuable residues' left behind in young minds after all those years in school is not certified knowledge, but the skill and confidence to cope well when ready-made knowledge is absent or insufficient.  To paraphrase the great psychologist Jean Piaget, students need to become experts at knowing what to do when they don't know what to do. In other words, they need to love learning, and be darn good at it. Not the kind of learning that's involved in preparing for tests, rather the kind that needs curiosity, perseverance, imagination, conviviality and self-awareness.  Out with the old… School's bite-sized approach to knowledge is old hat. Carving learning up into little bits that have right answers, which can be 'delivered' in an hour and tested 'objectively' develop exactly the wrong skills for life in the 21st century.  Kids need to develop the mindset of courageous, ingenious explorers, not the ability to parrot back dead facts on demand.  They need to be able to think for themselves, think on their feet, ask good questions, challenge what they are told, imagine new possibilities and make good friends.  (Image ©moodboardphotography) What we really need to do for the learners of 2030 It’s not about 'getting more kids to college.' It’s about figuring out how to develop minds that are strong and supple enough to thrive in a tricky and turbulent world; and how to develop spirits that love to turn that real-world intelligence on to projects that are personally satisfying and socially worthwhile.  That, as far as I can see, is the only game in town. Anything less is just wallpapering over the cracks. Professor Guy Claxton is Research Director at the Centre for Real-World Learning, University of Winchester and is an Advisor for Waterloo Global Science Initiative's upcoming Equinox Summit: Learning 2030.

Are Student-Run Schools the Way to Go?

by Samuel Levin, member of the Learning 2030 Forum Three years ago I designed and implemented a school-within-a-school at my public high school in Western Massachusetts. We called it The Independent Project. This school within a school was entirely run by its students. The pilot edition was only one semester long. And, in that first year, there were only eight pupils.  Those eight high schoolers spanned the academic spectrum from high-flyers bound for the Ivy League to students assigned special needs tutoring. Right now, I only want to talk about one of them: Marco.  Even if it just worked for one student… Had it not been for the Independent Project, Marco would have dropped out of high school. He failed most of his classes, struggled to read, and towards the end of his junior year, he often just didn’t show up at all.  He was pushed by his guidance counselor into trying The Independent Project in its pilot semester, and, even though he thought it seemed a little stupid at first, he enrolled.  Half of Marco’s day was dedicated to his Individual Endeavor; a singular enterprise that could be anything he wanted, as long as it could last him the whole semester and it was something he was excited about.  Revealing a talented learner He balked at first, telling the other students that he didn’t have a passion, but ultimately admitted he had always wanted to learn an instrument, and settled on learning to play the jazz piano.  Starting with learning to read music, he worked at it every day, and at the end of the semester, he performed a concert to a live audience. By then, he was skilled enough to improvise during the performance; a strong sign of a true jazz musician. Teaching each other what matters Although he had dyslexia, and had never actually read a book in his time at high school, he became committed to reading the novels that were selected each week by the other students.  He struggled at times, and once or twice became frustrated with the other students for reading too quickly. But he read all nine novels, by authors such as Faulkner, Vonnegut, Auster, and Wilde.  He almost dropped the program when he found out math was a requirement. But, after pushing himself, he discovered the equations behind poker, and realized that math was a part of his world.  He’ll never be a mathematician, but he now has a deeper understanding of the language of mathematics and its role in his life.  30,000+ YouTube viewers can’t be wrong At the end of the semester, for the Collective Endeavor, Marco helped the group make a short documentary about The Independent Project, which received over 30,000 views, and led to schools all over the world working to create their own version of the Project. This is a success story, and I could tell similar ones for every other student in program.  A lesson for 2030 That’s one thing I’d like to do in Waterloo during Equinox Summit: Learning 2030: talk about how The Independent Project’s successes show us that giving young people more agency and authorship over their own education can unleash the hunger, curiosity, and passion for learning that is currently dormant in most students.  I also want to talk about some of the failures – what didn’t work about The Independent Project, and how that can inform our attempts to design better schools for the future.  Mission-accomplished (?) Finally, I’d like to mention that Marco graduated high school, much to the surprise of some of the teachers in the school.  Shortly after that, he formed his own jazz band.  For me, that’s a clear measure of success.  But “number of new jazz bands formed” is not a national measure of success we can use to hold schools accountable.  I think that’s going to be one of the biggest challenges on the way to the future, and I hope we can tackle this problem in Waterloo this fall. In the school of tomorrow, how are we going to create standards that measure the things that really matter? Samuel Levin is a student at Oxford University and founder of The Independent Project at Monument Mountain High School and is a Forum member for Waterloo Global Science Initiative's upcoming Equinox Summit: Learning 2030. Watch Samuel's keynote address at Cornell University’s Youth Grow Summit