Design Thinking and the Continuum of Learning

Last Friday, CCI was excited to be a part of Perkins + Will’s Continuum of Learning Symposium, a day-long event at Drew Charter School to examine how we can better support students from “cradle to career.” The event focused heavily on STEAM — think STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) plus Arts — and the implementation of interactive learning practices to create an enriching educational experience. Over 150 educators from around the city gathered to participate in this conference.

We had the privilege of running the morning session, where our Executive Director, Rohit, led participants through a series of design thinking exercises to help the audience think more deeply about the problems students face and how we can help them overcome their challenges. To demonstrate the process of design thinking, we started with a different challenge: taking Rohit’s father to the doctor.

Rohit told the story of a stressful family trip to take his father to the doctor’s office, while the audience followed along and drew a map of the journey. Next came the “ideation” phase: each table of participants brainstormed ideas to make this experience less stressful, and were strongly encouraged to think outside the box. The ideas for $1000 pilot programs that came out of this exercise were fun, feasible, and easily tested, and did a great job of illustrating how crazy ideas can actually lead to a practical solution with potential.

Once the participants were familiar with the process, we dove into the second part of the design thinking session where our audience got to apply what they learned to helping students. Each participant pairing up and sharing a story of a student or acquaintance who struggled to complete their education, and while they shared, their partner made a journey map of what they heard. The next task was for everyone to share their partner’s story with the rest of the table, and to pick one situation to assess together.

At each table, participants identified a spot in their journey that presented an opportunity for intervention and worked together to come up with pilot test ideas. Ideas that emerged from this exercise addressed problems like the large emphasis on grades as opposed to learning and the inefficiency of certain educational websites. One table’s journey focused on the struggles of a young student who was pushed off the basketball team when more experienced athletes joined, and the challenges he faced when he dropped out of school. Their solution? An after school support program to help students who don’t make school sports teams improve their skills and learn the resiliency needed to overcome setbacks.

The ideas that came out of this exercise were once again inventive and creative, and illustrated that not only do educators instruct our next generation, they also have the opportunity and the expertise needed to be the social innovators of today.

Rohit’s design thinking session was followed by a lunchtime speaker talking about his experience teaching STEAM at Drew, and the afternoon closed out with back-to-back panels on Integrating Art + Design into STEM Education to Create STE(A)M and Building Partnerships to Facilitate the Continuum of Learning. The Continuum of Learning Symposium was informational and inspirational, and we are so grateful for the opportunity to be a part of it! Thanks to everyone who organized and participated; it was a great event.

Last but not least, all our love and appreciation to Perkins + Will for creating the kind of souvenir that could only come from a design firm! If you come by the Center, you can see these awesome little planters in our windows: