Sunday, February 15, 2015

School Partnerships

We have been using design thinking, otherwise known as human-centered design, to engage students from elementary to high school in deeper and more meaningful ways. Design thinking also promotes transdisciplinary learning. At my school design challenges are often a part of core classes but also integrated studies. Students begin learning the LUMA System of Innovating for People as well as tools from the Stanford d.School and #DEEPdt when they are in lower school. By the time they reach high school students have a shared language and are armed with a system for innovation. Some examples of projects that use design thinking for community partners include mobile APP
Ellis students use LUMA Institute methods to plan
community design challenges. 
design for tourists to engage with public art around the city, a flamingo feeder for the zoo, an artificial
 limb designed and 3D printed for patients with arthritis and light shelves to save energy and promote natural lighting. Not every design challenge is tied to a partnership but the most successful design challenges have been. 

We learned early on that students would get frustrated if design thinking was used in unauthentic ways. We found that especially high school students want to be change agents and the most successful design challenges are tied to service learning in and around the Pittsburgh community. Recently we have begun designing solutions for global partners as well in the class I co-teach called Global Leadership x Design. Students take "learning walks" around the city to build empathy for problems they are trying to identify and solve. They typically do "stakeholder mapping" before field visits and select empathy building methods before leaving the classroom. 

From museums to local business and natural areas - students are provided with opportunities to make real-world connections to the curriculum. Our students have the opportunity to visit over thirty partners across the city. Once a teacher develops an idea for a design challenge, I can help connect them with partners that make sense. Part of my role as the Director of the Learning Innovation Institute at The Ellis School is to connect teachers with the outside world as I help make active learning come alive across our school. Not only have we partnered with other non-profits and industry but also other public and private schools. 

Community partnerships, no matter what kind, enrich the curricular program by allowing students to explore careers and connect with mentors and role models through empathy-building interviews, internships and work-based learning. Additionally, partnerships enrich curriculum by integrating community service with academic study through service learning; students typically identify the partners needs and develop products or services to address the problem. The role of a faculty member is typically to meet with the partner and cultivate the relationship. We have several teachers that prefer to work with partners directly but found that we needed a structure and support system in place to systematically infuse partnerships across the program. We formed our "partnership collaborative" two years ago. This is a group of teachers who spend a portion of their role cultivating, curating and maintaining community partnerships. During our first year we designed goals and did a needs-assessment as well as developed a digital depository of current community partnerships at varying levels across the school. Partnership collaborative teachers are also charged with helping connect the partner to our curriculum program and supporting teachers with the integration process. 

As the administrator at my school responsible for partnerships and outreach, it's always a fun and fulfilling role to connect people. I strongly believe partnerships must be mutually beneficial for both organizations. Here are some other great guidelines written in 2013 for Edutopia by Josh Block that have been helpful to me: 

1. Establish an Environment of Shared Leadership and Ownership
It must be clear to students that outside collaborators are also classroom leaders.

2. Plan Together and Create Common Goals

Successful collaborations are built on a shared vision. The planning process is a chance to co-create this vision by investigating and working with the strengths of each participant. 

3. Communicate Regularly and Reevaluate

All classroom units and all relationships have their moments of struggle. Respond to these challenges proactively and with openness. Make space for students to communicate any issues that they may have, and regularly check in with classroom visitors about how they think the project is working. Revise or tweak lessons when necessary.

4. Value and Celebrate Student Work

Classroom collaborations should be designed around the idea of students creating. 

5. Fundraise Together!

Collaborations cost money, but there are many arts grants that contain education components. Approach artists and experts, and find out if they are willing to write a grant with you. 
By collaborating with experts in different fields,  students at my school are able to immerse themselves in experiences and projects in authentic and meaningful ways. 
Ellis US Biology students partnered with the University of Pittsburgh
School of Public Health on a Flu study two years ago using Design Thinking. 


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