We’re in Good Hands; Student Innovation is Alive and Well
DLR Group prides itself on our emphatic and forward thinking approach to our school design work. Often in our visioning and programming process we spend time in class observing activities and shadowing students. We use this to create a foundational understanding, or snapshot of education in that respective place, allowing us ask better questions and design more meaningful solutions in the next phase of development. We also get to see glimpses of innovation and creativity that might otherwise go unnoticed to passersby or even vested stakeholders like administrators or board members. Taking this one step further, we conceived of an idea to showcase and stretch youthful innovation as far as we could while providing students a framework to be successful. We call it the “Student Innovation Challenge.”
We’ve hosted this challenge at School Board conferences from Massachusetts to Minneapolis, Texas to Tennessee and have several more planned in 2016. Three to four middle or high school teams set out to address global challenges that many adults would shy away from. They are given an iterative process consisting of five steps as a guide, with the last step being delivery of a presentation to an audience of conference attendees.
In preparation of the challenge, teams are mentored by both DLR Group experts and a teacher in their school as they consider both the context of their problem and theorize potential steps to take to address them. They are unrestricted in who they can reach out to globally, with some teams finding local leaders, corporate CEOs or university professors to help. We caution that the work must be their own and resources like these are best to share information and not guide the conversation.
Once at the respective conference, teams get right to work. With the benefit of countless professionals who serve as board members, they are further exposed to information and critique. They are also given an umbrella problem that overarches all three teams and encapsulates key ideas of their base problem so that they need to expand their collaborative circle to meet an even greater challenge. This mimics many real world scenarios in both professional and academic circles. At the end of a long and invigorating day, preparations are made to share their innovation with an audience. Nerves are high but the material is theirs – they are passionate advocates for their solutions – not passive learners.
At our most recent event, teams from Briggs Chaney Middle School, Lanier Middle School and Jefferson Academy from in and around the Washington D.C. area set their sights on success – and they delivered. With problem statements that they developed for each other, two teams examined key issues on gender in the workforce with one solving pay scale inequities between women and their male counterparts and the other seeking opportunities for female leadership in the STEM fields. The third team tackled climate change and how the record setting temperatures globally affected two cold loving species of animals.
This type of inquiry driven, project based learning may not be what these students are accustomed to and in many cases neither are the board members or administrators who observe the Student Innovation Challenge. The showcase of learning undoubtedly has caused a second thought of “what if we did this in our school district?” more than once and that’s the just the point. Engaging students as owners of their learning has proven to have an impact on their success. There isn’t a singular way to best educate students or one space that fits every learning scenario. The more time I spend observing learners, the more I embrace the diversity of learning itself.