Thursday, April 4, 2013

Extreme by Design Workshop

Extreme by Design is a film by journalist, Ralph King. The film documents the journey of Stanford students in the Design for Extreme Affordability class. The class is a multidisciplinary, project-based course where students work in teams, using design thinking methods, to develop products and services that serve the needs of the world’s poor. Using the film as a way to model design thinking, Ralph has developed a workshop format that allows viewers to stop at various intervals and practice the process. He has been working to bring this unique workshop experience to different audiences, including students, parents, and teachers. Here in Los Altos, we started with a group of 7th and 8th grade students at Blach Junior High.

Thirty students arrived early for a late start day. They came in looking a bit sleep deprived but smiling. After a few warm-up activities to get their blood flowing and their brains thinking, the facilitators began setting the stage for the workshop. Their challenge was to rethink the junior high elective experience. They began by interviewing each other and asking open ended questions about their partner’s current elective. They listened and took notes, continuing to ask questions that lead to further understanding. After watching a portion of the film, they discussed the importance of empathizing in the design process. Following this came defining, ideating, and prototyping, in between watching Stanford students address real-world issues using the same skills. 

Students were highly engaged and excited when they entered the prototyping phase. They were eager to gather materials and had no trouble jumping in and creating something that represented their idea. We saw creative models that involved classroom spaces and routines to new strategies such as the "helicopter of choice." Students were enthusiastic to share and couldn't wait to bring more ideas to their principal, Sandra McGonagle. She was just as excited as her students and promised to seriously consider their ideas for possible implementation.

Another important outcome of this experience was looking at how the film modeled teamwork. In the film, adult students struggled with collaboration issues; the same ones that often appear in the junior high classroom. The students in the film address conflict with honesty and in the end, valued reflection. It was also valuable for students to see that not every project was a winner and how important the testing and evaluation process is in the design cycle.

We plan to offer this same experience to both our parents and our teachers. We hope to continue to encourage design thinking within our community and feel the combination of hands on and video really help everyone see how the design process works and is applied to real world situations. In our district, we are working hard to bring student voices into the decision making process and this workshop let students experience a valuable tool for designing change. We hope many of these students will join our Student Ed-Con 2103: Learning Rocked and Redesigned this June!

By: Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach
Twitter: @kamithor @stuedcon

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