My mantra has always been, “I am preparing you for high school. Everything that we do in this class is to make sure that you’re ready for your high school Pre-AP English class.” The Innovation in Teaching Fellowship has shown me that I must change this mantra to, “I am preparing you for life by showing you how to think creatively and critically to make your world a better place.” Participating in this fellowship has pushed my thinking about engaging students and preparing them for the future.
Determining how to incorporate design thinking in my class was intimidating at first. As teachers, we tell our students to be fearless and unafraid to try things that are unfamiliar to them. Well, I had to take that advice for myself. I felt vulnerable and intimidated because I wasn’t quite sure about what I was doing. After checking in with my fellowship coach,Nafia, I attempted to apply design thinking through a novel study of John Steinbeck’s The Pearl. I have used The Pearl for years to teach an analysis method called SIFT, and we’ve done projects that have dealt with real life issues like Stand Your Ground laws and domestic violence. This year I leveraged design thinking to challenge students to choose a major character to empathize with. By inciting empathy, students were able to better connect with different major characters, which not only is a tested TEK (understanding character motivation) but also helps readers to make personal connections with the text. When students had the chance to prototype and build a product to help one of the main characters solve a problem, I witnessed a deeper level of understanding and analysis that I have never seen before. . With this twist on character analysis, they were able to present their prototypes to the character and even rewrote the ending of the novel incorporating their product.
Today are using the design thinking cycle as a way for students to create their own independent project. Each 8th grade student has chosen a topic that is meaningful to him/her. This fellowship has inspired me to give students complete autonomy of identifying a user (or “client”) and designing a product to help them solve a problem. They have chosen topics such as creating a schedule for our school that will help to reduce student anxiety from the workload and designing a peer tutoring program in Dallas ISD for second language learners to be tutored by fluent English-speaking students.
Some of their ideas seem to be massive undertakings, but failure is part of the process. By leveraging the design thinking process, students are now learning that things don’t always go as planned the first time.They’ve also begun to better understand empathy- listen and learn about the needs of their end user to determine what he/she needs. This fellowship has sparked innovation in my students and me, and for that, my classroom has forever been changed!
For more information on using design thinking in the classroom, we strongly encourage you to check out the novel engineering resources and research powered by Tufts University here.