Posts Tagged ‘empathy’
Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)
I use the following activities to introduce elementary students to the design thinking process. The ultimate goal is for the learners to work on their own, self-selected problems in which they will apply the design thinking.
Introducing the general design process to elementary student occurs through showing the following video about the engineering process:
The Task: Build the Highest Tower
The goal of this activity is to have learners practice a simple version of the engineering design process.
In teams of 3 to 4 members, learners are asked to build the highest tower out of 50 small marshmallows and 50 spaghetti noodles.
As a team, ask learners to sketch out possible solutions
Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results. (Design thinking… what is that?)
Prototype and test ideas
After brainstorming and sketching possible designs, learners begin the process of building this spaghetti-marshmallow towers.
Revisit the design process
After some time prototyping, a time-out is called so learners can reflect on what is working and not working. Learners are encouraged to see what the other groups have created to spark new ideas.
Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through. (Design thinking… what is that?)
Return to the building and testing process
Next Step: Introduction to Empathy
As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. (from the d-school)
The second part of the introducing elementary-level learners to the design process is introducing them to empathy and its connection to the design process.
To have learners discover and explore the elements of empathy as it relates to design.
Introduction to Empathy
For younger kids (but even the 5th and 6th graders seemed to enjoy it):
Warm-Up: Great Egg Drop
Preparation and introduction:
Learners are asked to draw a face on an egg and are given the following directions: “Pretend the egg is alive – has thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Your job is to use the straws to create a protective covering for the egg so it will not crack when dropped from a 10 foot height. Address the following questions prior to building your egg structure:
- What do you think your egg is feeling about his or her upcoming drop?
- What do you need to make your egg’s journey less stressful?
- What can you do to reassure your egg that everything will work out okay?
- What forces do you need to consider in order to keep your egg safe? Consider gravity, rate of descent, impact.
Example Responses from a 6th grade group:
To begin, assemble groups of 4 or 5 and give each group various materials for building (e.g. 5-20 straws, a roll of masking tape, one fresh egg, newspaper, etc.) Instruct the participants and give them a set amount of time (e.g. 30 minutes) to complete building a structure, with the egg inside in which the structures are dropped from at least 10 feet in elevation and then inspected to see if the eggs survived. The winners are the groups that were successful in protecting the egg. (http://eggdropproject.org/ and http://www.group-games.com/team-building/great-egg-drop.html)
Delving Deeper: An Environment for a Gamibot
Lead learners through the following steps:
- Create a Gamibot – http://www.howtoons.com/?page_id=3475. With available art materials, decorate the Gamibot.
- Develop the Backstory for the Gamibot: Report via a Blog Post or Voki
- Create an Environment for the Gamibot Out of Natural and Art Materials. Make sure it fits your Gamibot’s backstory creating an environment that is tailored for your Gamibot. Be ready to explain why it fits your Gamibot.
Squishy Circuits: Designing for a Human Being
To put everything together by creating a design for another human being.
Learners design a squishy circuit product based on the specifications given to them by a classmate – the client from all of the available colors of Play-Doh (conductive clay), modeling clay (insulating clay), and LED lights.
Lead learners through the following steps:
- Learn about and experiment with Squishy Circuits (for how to do it, see http://www.makereducation.com/squishy-circuits.html)
- As partners, decide who will be the designer and who will have a product designed for him or her – the client.
- As a designer, find out the following from the client:
- What do you want me to build?
- What size do you want it to be? It needs to be scaled in some way. (Note: learners are given graph flip chart paper with 1″ squares and taught about scale, e.g., 1″ = 1′, 1″ = 2′, etc.)
- What color Play-Doh? Modeling clay? LED lights.
- Construct the design while your client gives you feedback. The client is not permitted to touch the Squishy Circuit during the design process.
- After completion, roles are switched.
Learning is a result of listening, which in turn leads to even better listening and attentiveness to the other person. In other words, to learn from the child, we must have empathy, and empathy grows as we learn. Alice Miller
I have a fitness teacher. She knows fitness, she knows how the body works. She knows how to break down the exercises and how to teach them. What she doesn’t know is each participant’s body. She assumes she knows what is best for all of the students. In other words, she lacks empathy for those in her class. Some tolerate her, others do not go to her class because of her lack of empathy for her students. But these are adults, children in public school education do not have such a choice. So this post is a call to action to highlight and become intentional in bringing teacher empathy into the classroom.
What is Empathy?
Daniel Pink in a Whole New Mind describes empathy:
Empathy isn’t sympathy- that is, feeling bad for someone else. It is feeling with someone else, sensing what it would be like to be that person Empathy is the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s position and to intuit what that person is feeling—to stand in their shoes, to see with their eyes, to feel with their hearts—it is a stunning act of imaginative derring-do, the ultimate virtual reality, climbing into another’s mind to experience the world from that person’s perspective.
A Rationale for Empathy
Given all the pressures placed upon teachers in today’s schools, I think, not necessarily due to all of fault of their own, some educators overlook the reverence they should take in relating to and interacting with their learners. Jonathan Kozol in Ordinary Resurrections so beautifully stated:
Good teachers don’t approach a child with overzealousness or with destructive conscientiousness. They’re not drill-masters in the military or floor managers in a production system. They are specialists in opening small packages. They give the string a tug but do it carefully. They don’t yet know what’s in the box. They don’t know if it’s breakable.
. . . and . . .
Human beings are precious. Their values, thoughts and independence are very important to them. When dealing with another person one has to know that one is “walking on holy ground.” Defining empathy skills in practice – Carl Rogers and unconditional regard
Empathy for one’s students should be a top concern of educators and intentionally used as a primary instructional strategy.
Empathy and the Educator as a Design Thinker
Given the recent popularity of design thinker, some educators are looking at and proposing that educators using design thinking to design the learning experiences in this classrooms. As Grant Wiggins notes in Beyond teacher egocentrism: design thinking:
The learning is the center of our world, not the teaching. And until we see that we are in the business of designing and causing learning instead of merely in the business of teaching, we will fail to cause optimal learning. Great care has been given to thinking through the goal of the learning and the conditions that have to be in place if optimal engagement and active learning, in a group of diverse students, is to occur.
Many describe empathy as the first step of effective design thinking. “One of the core principles of design thinking is its focus on human values at every stage of the process. And empathy for the people for whom you’re designing is fundamental to this process” What is Design Thinking?
I would go as far as saying that empathy is necessary for designing all facets of teaching: setting up the classroom, selecting curriculum, choosing and implementing classroom management strategies, and teaching each individual learner as unique individuals.
Benefits of Empathy in Teaching and Learning
Finally in terms of benefits to teaching, learning and the classroom environment, empathy is a necessary precursor in order for the following to develop:
- Foundation of the teacher-student relationship: With educator empathy, the learner feels as though the educator has a genuine interest in and really understands him-her.
- Individualized, differentiated, and personalized education: There is absolutely no way an educator can tailor instruction to the meet their learners’ needs, interests, desires without empathy.
- Meeting the social emotional needs of the students: “Addressing the host of unmet social and emotional needs that students carry into the classroom demands that teachers be able to look below the surface and understand what’s driving a particular set of behaviors” (Unleashing Empathy: How Teachers Transform Classrooms With Emotional Learning).
- Modeling empathy to increase empathy by the learners: When educators walk the talk of empathy, students can see empathy in action and develop those skills for themselves. ‘Ultimately, creating empathy comes down to leading children by example. “We have to model what we want them to do”‘ (Creating Empathy in the Classroom).
Educators inherently know that empathy is important to the operation of their classrooms and the success of their students. Educators must meet the needs of each of their students, no matter their background. At the core of this educational mission is the teacher’s ability to empathize with these students, moving beyond the teacher’s perspective to those of the children he or she encounters. Beyond this there is also the argument that empathy itself should be a goal of education; students should leave the classroom or school environment equipped with skills to build meaningful relationships with their peers (Empathy in the Classroom)