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Feet with Rainbow Leaves

Inquiring minds, innovation and why learning should be a messy business!

In last month’s post I mentioned how our MacLachlan team has embraced Stanford University’s Design Thinking program. This month I am going to share a little more about how design thinking informs our approach to learning at MacLachlan.

Pioneered at Stanford University, Design Thinking (DT) is a methodology for innovation that promotes the development of non-linear, creative, real world problem solving. DT is a human-centered approach to future ready competencies and learning skills.

We make it our mission to prepare MAC students for what goes on in the real world and what happens in that world is very seldom clean and linear.

A child born today will be 30 in 2050 and will probably live into the 22nd century along with their children and grandchildren. As educators we need to be designing our schools to be teaching in a way that will help these children to succeed in 2050 and beyond into 2100. No one really knows what the world will look like then but rapid change is a certainty.  We are watching, listening and researching intuitively to address the skills that are needed for the 21st century and beyond .

Education can no longer be just about filling student brains with information. We need to teach them how to make sense of all the information swirling around them, how to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant , true and untrue facts and how to combine these facts to solve real world problems.

Pedagogy based on design thinking and problem-based learning

By adopting a pedagogy based on design thinking and problem-based learning we are moving away from a framework based solely on the basis of the 3 R’s -Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic.  Progressive schools are listening to the experts who are highlighting the 4 C’s -Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration and Creatively. These skills teach children how to deal with change and adapt to new learnings and unfamiliar situations.

Just recently we held one of our Future Ready days at the school where we asked our students – “Think of one thing in our MAC community you wish you had the power to change. What if we gave you the tools to generate change?”

Teams of students ranging from grade 7 – 12 were formed and each team was instructed to start this exercise by asking “How might we…?” One of the teams decided on an issue relevant to them and asked, “How might we better accommodate peoples’ needs with the drinking water stations in the school?”

It was fascinating to observe how the team approached the question. They first determined if there was in fact any need for change and when they determined that there was room for improvement their solutions ranged from the eminently practical to ideas of much greater scale. For example – if the problem was getting water to people then we could: install more machines with faster flow mechanisms; find a way that people could use fewer cups when they forgot their water bottle and not have to make so many trips, i.e., provide bottles to everyone; add a drinking spout that has a sanitizer component. Lots of good ideas which then became extrapolated into thoughts and development of prototypes relating to how water supply, preservation, conservation and distribution could be improved on a global scale.

Here was a real-life example of how Problem-Based Learning (PBL) is critical to our community. PBL is an instructional method of hands-on, active learning centered on the investigation of messy, real-world problems. Some of the defining characteristics of PBL are:

  • Learning is driven by challenging, open-ended problems with no one “right” answer.
  • Students work as self-directed, active investigators and problem-solvers in small collaborative groups.
  • A key problem is identified and a solution is agreed upon and implemented.

Rather than having a teacher provide facts and then testing students’ ability to recall facts via memorization, PBL attempts to get students to apply knowledge to new situations. Students are faced with contextualized, ill-structured problems and are asked to investigate and discover meaningful solutions.

Three design and innovation methodologies

Inquiry is at the foundation of all teaching at MacLachlan. The use of inquiry is facilitated by our teachers and the methodologies that teachers use become more sophisticated and complex as students progress from grade to grade. Inquiry is continued and enhanced by the integration of three design and innovation methodologies:

  • design thinking
  • systems thinking
  • computational thinking

Entrenched within this innovative learning experience is the concept of Systems Thinking (ST). ST is a holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate, and on how systems work over time within the context of larger systems. Systems thinking is a way to discover answers to questions when linear thinking will not work as it focuses instead on complex relationships and interrelationships. It provides the perspective that most of the time various components affect one another, often in unexpected ways. This approach is embedded in developing curiosity and big picture learning.

Computational Thinking (CT) is a process that includes a number of characteristics which include Decomposition, Pattern Recognition Abstraction and Algorithm Design. Used in the development of computer applications it can also be used to support problem solving across all disciplines. Students who learn CT across the curriculum begin to see the relationship between subjects as well as life outside the classroom.

Working in concert, these methodologies foster future-ready competencies and provide authentic real-world learning experiences as well as the development of technical and soft skills such as empathy, reciprocity, resilience and communication.

At MacLachlan our aim is to educate students to believe that they are the ones who can make the world a better place. These three interrelated problem-solving approaches are fully integrated into our MAC curriculum and are clear evidence of how we re-imagine possibilities.

Author: Lisa M. Duranleau | Executive Director

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