Putting Vision into Practice in the 7th Grade

by History Department Co-Chair Anthony Shaker

The 7th grade recently experienced its annual Interdisciplinary Design (I.D.) Week, a unique opportunity for students to put the progressive vision of the school into practice. For the first four years of this project, the whole grade worked on one particular topic (recycling, accessibility, etc.) This year, however, we asked students to investigate on their own to discover problems at Parker and pick their own topics. Through observation, interviews and surveys, students found a variety of issues to tackle: stress reduction, iPad charging stations, schedule redesign, a more functional desk, support for young women, etc. This activity allowed for more student autonomy and a broader array of issues to understand and address at the school.

A critical feature of the I.D. Week is what’s known as the “design thinking” process. This method, used by universities, design firms and businesses all over the world, seeks to build empathy, collaboration, creativity and revision, among other skills, as part of human-centered design. Students engaged in design thinking throughout the year to familiarize themselves with the process and feel comfortable with the terminology associated with the framework. Parker parent Erin Henkel, director of design company IDEO who’s an expert in the field, visited the students and provided real-world experiences along with important “pro tips” for their design week. Two of our favorites were, “Keep asking ‘why?’ in order to understand a problem” and, “If you’re stuck, BUILD SOMETHING!”

Throwing the normal schedule out the window, students spent the week in groups of four working on a solution to a problem they identified and selected. They empathized through interviews, class observations, research and surveys. They “ideated” by brainstorming solutions to the problem, pushing for creative and “wild” ideas. They focused in, choosing one particular solution, using the TIDES Garage to construct their prototype. Next, they tested their prototype and gathered feedback from the user. This allowed them to revise their prototype to improve and retest it. The week ended with the teams presenting their work to a panel of teachers, staff and administrators to explain their process, solution and implementation plan. Students received feedback on the feasibility of their plan, which they can use if they decide to pursue their solution later on in the year.

What’s more progressive than allowing students to take control of their curriculum? To have a “teacher-as-coach” dynamic? To provide a structure for students to deeply understand a “user” and what they’re experiencing? To make the whole school the classroom? To open the door to an endless amount of possible solutions? And for the work to benefit the community?

This project wouldn’t be possible without the support of IS/MS STEM teacher (and design thinking guru) Adam Colestock, Technology Coordinator Steven Files, 7th grade assistant Jasmine Hart, Annette Lesak and the ILIS team, all the teachers and students who volunteered their time and classrooms for observations/interviews and everyone who volunteered to serve on a panel.

Click here for photos.
Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.