School redesign: a 21st-century approach

School redesign: a 21st-century approach

School redesign: a 21st-century approach

New programs are being implemented to empower and inspire students to become digital-native innovators.

School design has always been a seemingly effortless question, especially to a generation of creative thinkers: “How do we incorporate technology into the classroom?” However, as schools around the country face larger budget constraints and more demands from parents and families, some are looking to design thinking to help them find more sustainable, well-designed options.

“Design thinking lets us ask, ‘How do we build what we want instead of just buying what we want?’” says Rebecca, a fourth-grade teacher at St. Benedict’s School in Queens. She prefers to use the term “design-thinking for the 21st century.”

“Nowadays, we’re moving so fast to get different things done,” she says. “We have to be creative and think fast in order to stay on top of it.”

One of the most compelling reasons why schools are beginning to re-evaluate their school environments is that they are continuing to fail to innovate, says John Hall, a member of the board of directors for the Urban Design League of San Francisco.

The application of design thinking, a discipline coined by Tom Peters in the 1980s, can foster creativity and create curriculum aligned with today’s needs.

Design thinking fosters a collaborative environment that provides a more collaborative model. Working groups of faculty, school administrators, parents, students, and a teacher work together, often co-teaching a class. Teams formulate multiple projects that include all students, each with their own unique interests. Many of the projects are based on hands-on learning and by the time they get to the end, a prototype has been created. Projects typically culminate in either a process or final product that can either be created for the classroom or incorporated into community-wide plans, Hall says.

“Teachers see themselves not as the main architects but as architects of the future,” Hall says. “They’re adding qualities that will ensure that the school community is positive, a learning space of the future.”

Practically speaking, the impact is larger than any academic program, Hall says. It’s about changing the mentality of the district and the way school leaders understand and relate to their communities, he says.

At a school in New York City, John, a kindergarten teacher, led a group of students that asked to rename their neighborhood. The concept behind this brainstorm was that how the school community as a whole views the neighborhood is often what affects the way the students learn.

The student group created posters, slogans, balloons, cereal boxes, banners, bunnies, and even as they say, “some hairy ribbons” to express the action and appropriate language they needed to use to help make the idea a reality. At the end of the day, they selected Mount Tremper to be the new name of their community.

“Design thinking is a chance to be bold and innovative,” John says. “It’s a real opportunity to start fresh.”

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