Lauren Vanin credits her leadership of the most recent Lower School Design Day to her professional development opportunity given by Stanford University's d.school. Billed as a "hub for innovation, collaboration and creativity," Stanford's mission is to help people become everyday innovators, everywhere. Vanin took that experience and expanded GA's design thinking efforts by giving students a way to empathize, both with each other and for others.
"After that conference, I realized that this was the future; companies were using these attributes to hire employees, so at some point we needed to get our kids on board," the fifth grade teacher recalled of her experience prior to her tenure at GA. "If we begin the work now, it will become natural for them sooner than later."
Because it was only a half day event on November 1, the participants skipped the ideate phase where students think of the problem they can solve. Instead, students were read, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires by their homeroom teachers and given a challenge statement. Each challenge statement was centered around what most magnificent thing the students can create to help THEMSELVES maintain a neater, cleaner school OR what most magnificent thing can students design to show compassion to the housekeeping crew?
CLICK HERE for a narrative video.
"Using literature to help propel students' thought processes into the creation phase worked really well," stated Vanin. "The book, The Most Magnificent Thing, sparked good conversation around creating the answer to the question we posed, but also helped students think about how they can show compassion."
The pairing of students to create and complete their challenge statement included pairing younger and older students. For example, third grade students were paired with Kindergarteners, and leadership opportunities abound.
"Teachers reported that seeing the third grade students in a leadership role with the Kindergarten kids was wonderful," said Vanin. "The third graders really took on ownership of the project and of helping their younger peers to see it through – it was great to watch."
Student ideas included rug cleaners, lockers to hold errant items, floor sweepers, trash picker-uppers, ice cream catchers, signs to welcome our housekeeping friends into the room, and many more ideas that would help the students maintain a neater school and show compassion. The older grades then took the project a step further. Once finished with the actual making of their creation, fourth and fifth graders took to technology and made commercials for how their projects could help their classroom friends in real life.
"The empathy a project like this created was amazing," Vanin said. "We talk a lot about the pieces within STEAM and design thinking with the kids, and projects like this become more tangible to them because they are getting to know the language better. The best part is when students can go from 'me' to 'we' in their thinking."
Check out the photos from the amazing projects created by the Lower School students HERE.