Design Jrs. Sketch-01

Thinkers of the Future

The future is unknown.

Prior to AC4D, I spent a lot of time working with students of all ages, from pre-school through high school. My most recent role was at Eanes Elementary School in Austin where I taught 3rd Graders. I taught all subjects, but was lucky enough to have a supportive administration that trusted me to create my own projects for my students. It was in these projects that I saw my students come alive. We took on big, messy projects that allowed them to “figure it out” for themselves, and they simply oozed with enthusiasm, often wanting to skip recess to work.

When I asked myself the question, what’s a problem worth solving? I couldn’t let go of that special joy I feel when teaching. And I can’t let go of my fear that the school system is spoiling a young person’s chance for a bright future.

What I mean by this is, students are wildly unprepared to do just about anything upon graduation from high school and even college. But the problem is, we no longer know what we are preparing our students for. The future is unknown. The young people of today will be asked to solve problems in the future that we have yet to fathom. So how could a teacher possibly prepare her students for the unknown?

It’s clear that we no longer need to create students that can perform well on tests, and memorize facts. Really, we don’t even need to focus on preparing students for college.

We need to prepare students to be the thinkers our future will demand. We need to give them the skills and confidence to take on unknown challenges. And we must give them the courage to solve problems not only creatively, but earnestly and with reverence for the complexities of our world.

I propose a program for design thinking that gives students the opportunity to explore human centered design principles as it applies to complex problems. The problems will be both real and imagined, and students will learn skills such as sketching, ideation, prototyping, testing, and iterating. That’s right, it’s AC4D for young learners.  

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What I Learned

There are many schools in Austin that have taken on initiatives to incorporate social emotional learning (SEL), STEM, and design thinking. The importance of these skills is gaining traction, but teachers are so strapped with meeting state requirements, that doing a deep dive into the world of Design + Empathy is close to impossible. We need another way.

Schools could adopt the Design + Empathy program as part of their curriculum. It could be an after school program. Or it could a summer camp. After considering restrictions and running the numbers, I’ve decided that they best way to test a program like this is through a summer camp model offering a 1 week day camp.

The working name for this camp is Design Jrs.

Design Jrs Sketch 2-01

The age range the program will focus on is 9-13 year olds. This is the age in which students have enough cognitive ability to think outside of their own selves, work independently as well as on teams, and whose parents still need to find activities and camps for them during the summer break.

Most summer day camps in the Austin are a week long and range from $250-$350 a week. By running a quick calculation of costs, revenue model looks sustainable.

I’ve also learned that my customers for this model are not just the students, but that the parents are my key customer.

What’s Next

Moving forward there are many parts of this plan that need to be validated. Will parents pay for this program? Will they understand it’s value? Will students be excited to sign up?

The first step in testing this plan is to conduct customer interviews with parents to understand how they go about finding and selecting a summer camp for their child.

I’ve been around parents and students enough in the past to have a vague idea, that I believe looks something like this:

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If this decision making process is true, I’ll need to dive in more to developing a plan for helping Design Jrs. become a no-brainer camp decision.

Additionally, I plan to validate the enthusiasm of students. To do this, I’ll run short sessions in the classrooms of some of my past co-workers. The development of the curriculum will be an on-going process, but at this stage I’ll start by testing the concept and get feedback from students on the parts that excite and resonate most.

Other important steps forward include securing the location to host the camps out of. For this I plan to do some research and have conversations with schools that are already equipped with the types of space requirements this program will need.

Areas for Support

Have you yourself taught design thinking workshops or lessons? I would love to hear your approach and learn what resources or methods you found most valuable. Do you have ideas of possible locations? Do you know of similar programs in Austin I should be aware of? Do you know of any design organizations that would be interested in a partnership or contributing to this venture?