Thursday, September 19, 2013

Design Thinking in Action-Teaching Creative Process

When I first began teaching at Scarsdale High School six years ago, I was amazed at how grade oriented the students were. I would demonstrate a technique and describe their assignment and all too quickly I would hear, "I'm done. What grade do I get?" I had been teaching previously at a similar school: high stakes and high socio-economic level. So what was different? The previous school had been all girls for one and private as well. I have no idea if either of those things were significant, all I knew was the techniques I had previously used weren't enough to get kids to engage at Scarsdale.

In architecture classes, in curriculum I designed, I embedded a process. I did this by instinct or feel. As an artist myself, I know the importance of process. Often unsure of the end result, I lean on my own process. In Architecture, my students always had to brainstorm, come up with at least three solutions before they explored only one and were allowed to fail, start over or redesign anywhere along the way. After the first few projects in a class, students got used to my insistence that they follow the "rules". 

My other classes, where I was following a jointly designed curriculum, did not go so well. I struggled to get kids to slow down, brainstorm many ideas and then finally develop one. Kids' attention spans are getting shorter and shorter-actually that's probably true for all of us. Multi-tasking, their days programmed to the second, students can only give a few minutes to any task. Tutors are hired so that students will block out time to work on a subject, not because they need help with the work or material. And we are all used to "sound-bites" of information. We no longer read long articles in the newspaper, but expect the information to be summarized in a short paragraph or video clip. 

This year, I began the year using a road map for design thinking with all my classes and the difference is palpable. I love it! By slowing them down at the beginning of the year, I think I've set the ground work for a full year of focus on process. And this is a great thing! If students learn to follow a process and trust it, it is easier for them to take risks or pursue an idea without knowing its outcome. They will take more chances and be more creative as they will not be limited by knowing how the idea will turn out in the end. 

I asked one of my classes if anyone had ever gotten three-quarters of the way through a project and decided they didn't like the topic or wanted to change it, but didn't because they and already spent so much time on it. Almost every student raised their hand. I asked if they had any ideas about how to rectify that and one young man said, "I think it would be really helpful to follow this road map with anything we do particularly the brainstorming part, before we pick the direction we want to go in and invest so much time." Exactly. 

I am excited to see what happens for my students as this process becomes integral in their practice. Having a road map, a process, will, I think, free them up to try ideas and fail, try again, learn to be resilient and ultimately more creative, thoughtful, adaptable, imaginative and just plain better thinkers and makers.