Behind the Data High School Class Puts Students at Center of Design Challenges
As a high school student interested in pursuing a career in medicine , Priya Ganesh wasn ’ t really sure taking teacher Garreth Heidt ’ s Design Thinking class was going to help her look impressive to colleges or bolster her grade point average . But looking back a year later , she is thankful that she had the experience - because it helped her land access to an exclusive class at Syracuse University and also gave her a perspective on problem-solving and collaboration that will serve her well into the future .
“ So much of what you learn here is applied outside the PV bubble ,” said Priya , who graduated from Perkiomen Valley High School in 2017 .
Priya was part of the first class of students to take Design Thinking , which is offered as an English elective . Mr . Heidt modeled the class on a method of thinking called “ design thinking ,” and borrowed heavily from Lehigh University ’ s “ Moutaintop Program .” He was also influenced by the work of teacher Don Wettrick at Noblesville High School , Indiana , and his “ Innovation and Open Source Learning ” class .
Mr . Heidt first became interested in the educational potential of design back in the mid-2000s . He was driven by two questions : “ Why are things the way they are ?” and “ How can we make them better ?” Those questions also were the kick-off point for Design Lab at the high school .
“ Design is a way to engage students in real-world learning but to do so in a way that they recognize how the things they ’ ve learned are already important to real-world learning ,” he said . “ It ’ s a holistic application of everything that students have learned and it also gets to the four Cs of 21st Century Learning - critical thinking , creativity , communication and collaboration .”
During the Design Thinking class last year , one of the students ’ first challenges was to design their own classroom in a way that would make it conducive to their work . They interviewed each other and Mr . Heidt , made observations , researched materials they could use to redesign the instructional space , and then purchased and installed their new furniture . The students were used their design-thinking muscles to help move ideas forward with the redesign of the Perkiomen Valley Middle School East library .
Priya found the Design-Thinking class unusual , in the beginning .
“ Design Lab is not like any other classes I was taking ,” she said . “ The rest of the classes I was taking were lecture style . In Design Lab , there ’ s no right answer , which bothered me at first .”
But she became more comfortable with that idea as the class went on , as she grew to understand that the “ right answer ” can be elusive when a team is always working to improve upon what it creates . In addition to developing a
Above , students in Mr . Heidt ’ s Design Thinking class present their ideas for a classroom redesign . At left is a picture of the prototype of the classroom redesign that students created .
new classroom design , the students were also challenged to come up with their own idea to solve a problem , develop a prototype , and then present it to the class . Some examples of the ideas students worked on included a proposal to add an 11th grade gifted honors English class , and a project to present a winter showcase to raise awareness about social issues like addiction . Following presentation of the prototype , students had to reflect upon what they had learned . These reflections were one of the best parts of the class for Mr . Heidt .
“ The students said , ‘ Here ’ s where we failed and why .’ At that point , I ’ m really happy because it ’ s not about the grade , it ’ s about the growth ,” he said , adding that having a former student return and say she liked the class is also great , too .
Priya went on to Syracuse University and is now a freshman majoring in chemical engineering . But she found herself in a design class there - one that is required of those who receive the leadership award that she received . She was one of the few students in the class who already had design-thinking experience .
“ Learning how to go through the design process is so helpful . I went to school and once you go into the outside world , this is how people think ,” she said . “ It ’ s about how you can take what you already have and make it more efficient .”
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