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Stuffed Hamburgers and Trash Aquariums: Developing Creative Habits of Mind In and Out of the Classroom

Session 3
Christina Jenkins, Mary Cantwell, Shelley Paul — NYC iSchool, Mount Vernon, Woodward Academy

How might young people make more healthful eating choices? How might a school community reduce the amount of trash it generates? How might a student body strengthen its sense of community? How might a school reinvent its “lost and found” experience? Design thinking is a methodology for creative problem-solving that can be applied to many questions, large and small. Conventional solutions to the questions above might involve rewards or punishments, but designers learn to reserve judgement and generate solutions based on empathy, observation and insight. What if a child had a plush hamburger to remind her about healthful eating habits? What if a school confronted its garbage in a public “aquarium,” instead of discarding it privately? Design thinking is unique because it challenges us to propose solutions that respond to how people actually feel and behave.

We teach and facilitate design activities in three very different school environments. Together, we propose a session full of creative provocations and challenges that will both introduce participants to the design thinking process as well as develop new ideas for what creative problem-solving can look like in schools. Mary Cantwell is the Coordinator for Design Thinking at Mount Vernon, where she inspires DEEP thinking experiences with both students and faculty alike. Shelley Paul is the Coordinator of Teaching and Learning at Woodward Academy, where she incites and supports learning innovation. Christina Jenkins teaches design methods and many other things at the NYC iSchool, a public high school in New York City.

Conversational Practice

This session presents a series of short challenges designed to engage participants in aspects of the design process. Everyone will leave with newfound creative confidence and a physical deck of cards featuring design provocations, and we will work together on generating new ideas with an emphasis on practice.

(10 min) We will begin with a brief overview of our own perspectives, and stories about what design looks like in our practice. We will move to a series of activities meant to introduce participants to the major modes of the DEEP design thinking process (Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce). In each mode, we will engage in exercises that are meant to stimulate thinking in specific ways, and will reflect at each step about how these activities can be used independently or together in various situations.

(10 min) Discover: In the discover mode, participants will begin with a speed dating exercise meant to facilitate introductions and allow for rapid conversation. Conversations concerning school and community problems will give participants starting points for where a design thinking challenge can be found in their own backyard.

(15 min) Empathize: In the empathize mode, participants will cultivate empathy and understanding through needfinding and interviewing, and we will practice by creating gifts that respond to a partner’s weakness! We’ll pair off and discuss what we’d each like to improve on, and participants will invent imaginary solutions for each other. Understanding user need is vital in the design thinking process.

(25 min) Experiment: In the experiment mode, participants will work collaboratively to brainstorm unusual solutions to problems presented in selected photographs, and will develop physical prototypes of those solutions using play-doh, pipe cleaners, and other fun objects. In this phase, designers practice creative brainstorming, consider questions that sound like “How might we reimagine the _____ experience?,” and experience low-res, rapid prototyping.

(10 min) Produce: In the produce mode, participants will share their prototype, collect feedback from their colleagues, and incorporate that feedback into a second iteration of their work. Designers rely on this phase to make sure that their solutions are truly responsive to user needs.

(10 min) Reflection: We’ll conclude the workshop with a time to reflect on the session. We’ll provide postcards and invite participants to write themselves a “Dear Me” note that includes their own thoughts / inspiration from the session, and we will stamp and mail those postcards back to their classrooms a week later as a reminder of our process together.

Presenter Profiles

Shelley Paul
Shelley Paul
Atlanta International School
Christina Jenkins
Christina Jenkins
Room 402
Mary Cantwell
Mary Cantwell
Mount Vernon Presbyterian School


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