For the past two days, students in NOVA Lab have been experiencing the entirety of the Design Thinking Mindset through the amazing “Extraordinaires Design Studio” @Extraordinaires by Hub Games (@wearehubgames) .
I’ve worked with this product before, with middle school students in 2016-17 in a middle school pilot for the company, and also with MS teachers and teachers from around my district as a focus for 1/2 day workshops. I’ve yet to see this product fail in helping people new to DT actually engage with empathy and discover clear needs for their characters.
So when it was time to introduce my students in NOVA Lab to Design Thinking, of course I hit up my Extraordinaire’s Design Studio kits and let the kids fly. Here are some observations over the past two days from students:
Period 9, 9/11/19
Today’s class began with students pairing up with their partners (which were decided upon during yesterday’s class). Partners then discussed their Extraordinaire character, including details such as their physical appearance, occupation, and day to day activities. The characters on the cards appeared to be facing some sort of obstacle or event in their lives, whether it be not fitting in at school or being a superhero solving crime all while trying to be there for her kids. After examining and recording the observations made about the characters, a set of partners was then paired with two more students who had the same character card as them. By becoming a group of four, it created a larger discussion about a common character and their daily battles. Additionally, adding more people to the group brings new ideas, therefore students gain more perspectives and thoughts on one character that they could have overlooked previously. This group later prepared a general outline as to what their character’s daily routine might include, as well as proposed three necessities for their character. Students wrote their ideas of what the characters’ needs are in a flow chart, followed by their explanation as to why they believe their character needs that particular item. After organizing these ideas, students created one sentence that combined the characteristics, needs, and daily activities of a single character in a short phrase.
So, why is this significant? Discussing the characters’ daily activities and what their emotions might be (from what we can see in the photos) allows students to feel empathy for these characters. Observing characteristics and daily routines allows students to get a better understanding of what the character endures every day and how it creates an impact on their life.
What’s next? Now that NOVA Lab students are beginning to grasp the idea of empathy, and how it differs from sympathy, it gives them more of an ability to solve problems. This is because it is difficult to solve a problem for someone without putting oneself in their position. Now that students are able to do this and feel for others, it gives them endless opportunities to help others and solve issues.
Today in Innovation Lab we dove further into figuring out how we can help our character that we looked at on the card. We started out by reviewing and observing the card one again, then after that we discussed with our partners about a day in the life of our character. This exercise is a practice of empathy, but also with our problem finding/solving skills. After this, we joined with another group with the same card and began discussing what our empathy map would look like. This helped us establish a need for the character. For instance, we had the “rap star” card and we decided that he needed success to help provide for his family. Mr Heidt generously provided a worksheet where we could write down our thinking in an organized manner. After we had our thoughts down, Mr Heidt let us know about the 10 traits that a superintendent and a CEO would want in a worker. The Superintendent said Problem Solving, but the CEO said Problem Finding. We had a discussion about why this might be, then Mr. Heidt left us with an assignment to sketch out a way to solve the character on our card’s problem. Tomorrow we will get more involved with the solution to my “rap star”’s problem.
Tuesday, 9/10, 2019
In today’s class, everyone started off with a game called “Long Lost Friend”. It involved ad-libbing a conversation based on a singular topic. A prompt would be similar to “you just met someone who is your long, lost friend, or you should not have met”, and 2 people would have to freestyle act their way through a chat. After that, we spent the rest of the time on an activity called “Extraordinaires Design Studio”.
For this activity, every two people would be given a card that features a rather comical person and background, such as a superhero, wizard, or pirate. Each person had a background to match their occupation. On the back, the card showed 3 images, something surprising about the person, a picture pertaining to their day-to-day life, and a little detail about something in a setting they are commonly found in.
So we all have cards with rather comical outlooks on fantasy characters, great. What’s the point? Well, we all had to do something with these cards (or rather, about them). Looking at the pictures and details about these people, the students were tasked with creating an empathy map for their person. This involves 4 main criteria: their raw appearance, the environment they are most found in, details relating to their occupation, and any other observations that could be made here. Most of these details were inferenced from the images, and few were grounded in fact.
What’s the point?
In the mind of most designers, they have to start by thinking about 1 question: What is a problem in people’s lives, and what can be done about it? A similar phrase covers a wall in our classroom right now. In order to solve a problem, people have to empathize with others and their struggles in an area. This “design studio” was made to build empathy for a person, even if it’s a comical one. It is meant to get the class started on thinking in the empathetic track, to begin the true purpose of this class. It is an “Innovation Lab”, after all.
Alright, we are learning to empathize. What happens next?
Well, we have empathy down, sort of. There is still much more to go on that topic, but the seeds have been planted. After empathy, the next step would be design. It is soon time to begin a design sprint, to gather ideas and begin experience in that part. Now that students have a grasp on empathy that will only get better with time, the closer we become to starting the design process. Not only that, but the bulk of the year’s work approaches that much more.