Design Thinking in Middle School: A Human-Centered Approach to 21st Century Learning

Teacher Development Grant 2017-2018 Project Summary

Ann Yi

Southeast Middle School • San Pedro, CA

In the project, Design Thinking in Middle School: A Human-Centered Approach to 21st Century Learning it is proposed that students learn best through inquiry, problem solving, and testing their assumptions about how the world works. In pursuit of this vision for student learning, a team of teachers at Southeast Middle School plan to open a magnet center focused on bringing a “3I” – Interest, Impact, and Innovation-driven approach to teaching and learning. Students will work on collaborative, cross-curricular projects that center on design-thinking, a powerful learning tool that teaches students to use empathy and critical thinking to tackle problems of any kind from a human-centered point of view. In this model, the teacher’s role is to provide opportunities for discovery and to guide students to understanding through their innovation projects.

The theme of each student innovation project will arise from a creative process that hinges on the five essential elements of design thinking: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. Within this model, students will be given opportunities to engage in systematic, thoughtful work that means something to them and to others. The transition from a teacher-centered, depository learning framework to a student-centered, design-based learning approach requires teachers to work in a highly collaborative setting to develop cross-curricular and student-centered projects. Teachers will participate in an intensive, ongoing feedback cycle of reflective practice including model school site visits, theme-based training, and peer collaboration.

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