Today was pretty incredible, as it marks the end of iDiploma’s first full-scale design brief. As a bit of background, we launched “Consultivations” last year (named by the students, who liked the thought of combining the word “consult” with “innovation”). In the consultivation model, we hosted community members and business leaders, and asked them to share a problem or opportunity with the iDiploma team. Using design thinking as a framework, the students engaged in a rapid 90 minute session that began with empathizing with our guest (we called them our client) and ended with our students proposing potential solutions. This model, a reverse mentorship model, empowers students to create innovative solutions to messy problems. We had such great success with these 90 minute sessions, on both the part of our students and the clients, that we wanted to scale these innovative consultations to something bigger.
This year, we launched design briefs. Back in August, Dr. Brett Jacobsen asked the Mount Vernon community to share their problems with our students in the form of a design brief.
We choose just one design brief to test the idea that our students could work on a project – or as we call it, a venture – for an extended period of time and with real-world expectations. Jeff Garrison, of S.J. Collins Enterprises, became our very first design brief client, who tasked our iDiploma group with the design of a pocket park in a nearby community retail space he and his team are building for a Spring 2017 opening. Our students spent time in the community interviewing users, gaining insights about the preferences and priorities of their intended users and ultimately ended up distilling their insights into 5 potential designs, and then, today, they pitched one concrete and clearly constructed Sketchup modeled design to both Mr. Garrison and his landscape architect, Eric Shade, who were impressed and even a bit surprised by the level of detail and sophistication these students presented. To say I am proud of their work and the delivery today would be an understatement. Seriously, these kids rock:) They did it. And they’ll do it again and they’ll keep doing it. They will continue to impress adults with their skill, knowledge and capability because adults don’t expect that from students enough. They don’t let students work through messy, tough problems that don’t have clear answers. They don’t let kids struggle long enough to figure it out. I had moments during the design brief process where I was so incredibly frustrated with these kids because I know, I mean, I KNOW they can do more. Just as Mr. Garrison said to them today, there were moments when we could tell they treated this design brief like a school project – and it wasn’t until they realized this was not a school project that they hit their stride. He is so very right. School projects. School assignments. Tests. Quizzes. Those are not real life assessments – today was an assessment. And these kids, they nailed it:)
I am confident that our high school students can deliver clearly articulated solutions and well-designed prototypes if we just would give them a chance. The learning that happens during this kind of real work is the kind of learning we should be providing opportunities for – if we don’t let our kids face these kinds of problems and if we don’t expect greatness, we are failing them.