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Posts Tagged ‘empowerment

Introducing Design Thinking to Elementary Learners

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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

The goal of this activity is to have learners practice a simple version of the engineering design process.

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Source: http://slideplayer.com/slide/9058715/

The Task

In teams of 3 to 4 members, learners are asked to build the highest tower out of 50 small marshmallows and 50 spaghetti noodles.

The Process

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?)

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Prototype and test ideas

After brainstorming and sketching possible designs, learners begin the process of building this spaghetti-marshmallow towers.

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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.

The Goal

To have learners discover and explore the elements of empathy as it relates to design.

The Process

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:

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The Task

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://www.icebreakers.ws/medium-group/defend-the-egg.html)

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Delving Deeper: An Environment for a Gamibot

Lead learners through the following steps:

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  • 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.

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Squishy Circuits: Designing for a Human Being

The Goal

To put everything together by creating a design for another human being.

The Task

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.

The Process

Lead learners through the following steps:

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  • 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.

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Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

September 25, 2016 at 2:30 pm

Learner Empowerment

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A major theme during the Educon 2.8 conference in Philadelphia during the last week of January, 2016, was learner empowerment. Here is a Storify of tweets about empowerment from the conference: https://storify.com/jackiegerstein/what-conditions-are-necessary-for-empowerment-in-s.  Highlighted Tweets include . . .

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The conference and Twitter discussions motivated me to write this post on learner empowerment. Thomas and Velthouse offered a specific description of learner empowerment by identifying four dimensions:

  1. Meaningfulness – This describes the value of the task in relation to individual beliefs, ideals, and standards. If the work you need to do doesn’t have much or any meaning to you, doesn’t seem to hold much or any importance, then there isn’t much or any motivation to work hard and produce quality work.
  2. Competence – Here’s the confidence piece. Empowerment derives from feeling qualified and capable of performing the work. You can handle what you’re being asked to do.
  3. Impact – The more impact you believe you will have, the more motivation you feel to work hard. You are empowered if you believe you’re doing work that makes a difference—work that matters and is important.
  4. Choice – This dimension relates to whether you get to determine the task goals and how you will accomplish them. The more choice you have, the more empowered you feel (http://www.facultyfocus.com/articles/teaching-professor-blog/whats-empowered-student/).

Sadly, most educational institutions from Kindergarten through College do not create conditions for empowerment. They are often the antithesis of empowerment. Students of all ages are told what to learn, how to learn it, and how they will be assessed for what they are supposed to learn. Way too often there is a lack of opportunities for meaningful learning and choices for individual learners. Competence only comes for the best traditional students, ones who thrive in these drill and test environments. Too many learners often feel that whatever they do within school doesn’t matter.

In a school climate of empowerment, educators become purveyors of hope.

Empowerment refers to measures designed to increase the degree of autonomy and self-determination in people and in communities in order to enable them to represent their interests in a responsible and self-determined way, acting on their own authority (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Empowerment).

With the assistance of educators, learners can develop feelings of empowerment within their school settings. This often translates into increased hope for their educations, their lives, their communities, and their futures.

Some strategies that educators can do for setting up conditions for learner empowerment include:

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As a parting shot, here is a video of one of the Educon 2.8 panels on empowerment:

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

February 13, 2016 at 2:39 pm

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