Welcome to the Extraordinaires Middle School Design club. On December 9, twelve middle school students from Perkiomen Valley Middle School East began a journey to develop their innate design muscles and minds through a human-centered approach to problem finding and solving.
We began the year with an improvisational theater game to get comfortable with one another and to better learn each other’s names. I then read the children’s story, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This led to the group pairing up and conducting empathy interviews with each other in which they were asking questions and probing to find out as much as they could about their partner, not only through what they said but how they said it. (The better part of this lesson is adapted from Kriscia Cabral‘s contribution at Scholastic.com)
After interviewing their peer partner and looking for patterns and emerging problems amidst the answers, students begin sketching potential “magnificent thing” for their partners. Ms. Cabral rightly includes a preparatory step — the framing of a problem statement–which helps students organize their thoughts and narrate a problem, but my high-school student helper and I could move amongst the group quickly to provide 1-to-1 support and advice, and, in doing so, move the session along a bit more quickly.
Working with middle school students, which I’ve done for over 20 years, takes a good deal of patience and a lot of individual attention. Some of them have already put up the ego defenses while others are as willing to take risks as third graders. So putting them at ease that there was no “right” answer here and talking them through ways to synthesize their data and find ways to address multiple perceived problems at once gave them the confidence they needed to step up their process and move to the actual low-fi prototyping that most wanted to get to from day 1.
Pictures below reveal a good deal of their process and progress. Next week: Completing the projects, Presenting Magnificent Things, and Unboxing the Extraordinaires.