21st century skills
Who will solve the problems of the future? They will have the empathy, tenacity and intellect to understand a complex situation. They will be well versed in “the 4 C’s”: creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. They will have a design thinking skill set and an innovation mindset. They will have grit. St. Andrew’s Design Thinking and Innovation program cultivates these skills, and challenges every student, especially, the most gifted and talented.
Brain research is informing us on how students learn best, and this guides our practice at St. Andrew’s. The “good learning” neuroeducation benefits of our Design Thinking and Innovation program are astounding. They include a range of neurodevelopmental demands as well as an emphasis on real-world scenarios that engage students in projects that create emotional connections.
service learning/social enterprise
All humans share the same basic needs for clean water, shelter, nutrition, education, energy, and medical aid. The needs are fundamental and serve as powerful themes around which students can develop deep empathy, question assumptions, and inspire solutions. By studying how others live and work, students can create simple, functional and potentially life-changing objects and systems as part of a socially responsible, compassionate and sustainable type of design thinking. Confronted with real human need, we hope the design process connects students to the power of change and intensifies the belief that it is personally possible to make the world a better place.
At St. Andrew’s we value creativity — an evolutionary force strong enough to ignite questions, ideas and actions in every young child. This unbounded mindset of fearless imagination needs to be sustained and engrained. Embracing creativity through the process of design thinking builds a new, innovation mindset. Both neuroeducation research and our own experience inform us that creativity can be learned.
So at St. Andrew’s we value and deliberately build creativity. We equip students with a flexible design thinking process to guide them, put developmentally appropriate tools in their hands, and teach them relevant skills. We guide students to a series of creative successes, which builds their creative confidence and their innovation mindset. They begin a wonderful journey of seeing themselves as creative individuals, problem identifiers and problem solvers.
Why Not STEM?
The National Science Foundation first coined the term STEM in 2004 to describe the connection between science, technology, engineering and mathematics. While the connections supported by STEM are undeniably important, the boundaries imposed by STEM are confining.
St. Andrew’s has intentionally crafted a broader philosophy that letters alone cannot capture. In the world of education, STEM seems to be defined by its technologies, based on a well-founded fear that a lack of technological skill will handicap graduates. But we believe that there is a broader kind of illiteracy in the world that is more troubling. There is a lack of ingenuity and innovation.
At St. Andrew’s we have given STEM deep roots, but also embedded it in something greater. We believe that creativity can and should be applied to the deepest needs of others. Service-centered design and social enterprise are important fields — we want our students to have the skill set and mindset to find creative solutions to meaningful problems.
What Does a Design Thinking Project Look Like?
We are often asked to describe the hallmarks of a design thinking project. Sometimes we follow a simplified model and at others times we incorporate a fully developed design process. In addition, aspects of design thinking are cherry picked and used to enhance other class projects — for example, having students iterate their work, or include real people with real considerations and needs and exploring these with empathy.
Sometimes we just want to test students’ ability to work creatively and collaboratively so we give them a contrived problem to solve. We instruct them to build a tower from spaghetti that will hold a marshmallow as high off the ground as possible. Doing this gets students to focus a lot of their attention on a structured iterative process that is at the heart of design work: prototype, test, feedback, refine.
We want to give students the opportunity of failing in front of their peers, and do it in a supportive environment. We want students to learn to fail well.
the full design process
Other times we expand to do the full design thinking process, and have students look at problems in the real world: real people with real considerations. Students must work through and balance all these human needs.
Think of our earlier problem of how to give homeless people in Washington, D.C., access to drinking water. Why does this problem need to be solved? What information do I have? What information do I need? What are my boundaries and constraints?
Students must explore problems with empathy, getting at the human connection that lies at the heart of true design work. For example, students might interview people to augment more typical forms of research in order to deepen their understanding of a problem. They may then seek feedback from these same people to help them refine their work towards a more authentic, valuable solution.