In the Beginning…

This year marks the beginning of my third year at my high school after 21 years as a middle school humanities/design teacher.  This year marks the beginning of another round of looping with students from 9th grade to 10th grade in my gifted honors English class.  Both of these beginnings are propitious events as they indicate I have made it through yet another year of an American High School, a beast unlike most any  other institution I’ve ever encountered.  But I’ll save my Freireian, Gatto-ian systemic critiques for later.  There’s another beginning to discuss.

This year also marks the beginning of a new class I’m putting together and piloting with our Art Department chair.  Listed under the generic (for now) name of “Design Lab” we’ve modeled the semester-long class as part design thinking workshop, a’la Stanford’s, Mount Vernon Presbyterian, and countless other forward thinking schools; and part Innovation and Open-Source Learning, as per the work of Don Wettrick (If you’ve not read it, his book, Pure Genius (which it is), describes the what, how, and –for anyone who’s still not getting this whole movement towards inquiry-based, self-determined, heutagogic learning–the WHY for moving towards this type of learning in at least one class in every school.)

Now, I’ve been following Design Thinking (DT)and doing deep divimac_gallery_02es into the concept for over fifteen years.  Possibly this was engendered by a fascination with Apple and how it not only changed the way we interact with the world, but also the way we look at the world.  We’re far more design-minded now than we used to be and one can draw a direct link from Apple to that mindshift.

Of course, maybe my interest was piqued by my fascination with toothbrushes, a fascination ignited by the story of the original Braun, Oral-B Cross-Action Toothbrush and just how large a role Research and Design played in that game changer of a toothbrush.

Whatever the case, I’ve been using design and DT as a way for my students to inquire into the nature of the built environment, read information out of it, and then set about to make it better for a long time.  But I always had to do it in service to another curriculum.  That is, my use of DT and design-based learning has always been as a method to deepen their learning in English or Language Arts.

And while I’ve learned a lot, and while my students have always risen to these challenges in ways that made me proud (see our participation in the Industrial Designers Society of America Design Learning Challenges in 2012 and 2013) I longed for a class where the students and I could just engage in DT for extended periods of time pursuing real world problems they found and wanted to solve.

This year…these past two days?  This is the start of something great.  Steve Jobs once said that he wasn’t happy unless he was starting something great.

Design-Lab is something great (though it’s name is not).

The learners I’m privileged to work with are even greater.

I hope  you read about our journey this year as I update this blog, because it’s going to be “insanely great.”  (Did I mention/allude to Steve Jobs enough?  No?  Here…Not enough people have ever seen this…’Makes me tear up every time I watch it, because he, along with so many other visionaries and Hackers (great book!) made it happen.)


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