Testimonial #2


Another letter, though from the same author as testimonial #1, about the impact of the type of learning students experience(d) in Design Lab/NOVA Lab.

Dear Mr. Heidt,
I hope you’re doing well! And that you remember me! I had an opportunity a couple weeks ago that reminded me of your class…so much so to the point that I texted Z__, and I haven’t talked to him in almost a year.
To backtrack a little bit, I am about to go into my third year at Syracuse (I just came across the email I sent you in my first year at school and it’s terrifying how fast time flies). And I am currently in Michigan doing an REU (it’s a National Science Foundation-funded undergraduate research program) which is at the University of Michigan. While I was here, I got to visit Greenfield Village which has the Henry Ford Museum (I’m staying at UM-Dearborn because my research is in Detroit on low-altitude wind turbines but I’ll get into that later) and we saw a FULLY OPERATIONAL DYMAXION HOUSE. To be completely honest I wasn’t even sure if it was Buckminster Fuller’s design because they didn’t really talk about him until the actual tour but I kept thinking about it, and when they started talking about Buckminster Fuller I got so weirdly excited, strange looks from people and all. It was crazy how everything tied back years later. And also how Bucky’s design was so functional (especially environmentally speaking) yet so impersonal. It’s nuts to me what people value, not that we can help it. But the story of the house just made human decision-making seem so arbitrary to me.
I’m sorry for the awkward transition but I need to move on before I go off on a tangent. Another thing that reminded me of your class here was the research I’m doing. It’s kind of awful. The actual research is super cool, I’m studying chemical engineering but I’m working in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering here. We’re trying to compile data of the power outputs of a low-altitude wind turbine designed by a Detroit local and see whether the power that they produce would be a feasible solution to helping communities with low energy access have more of a leg up, especially with how important internet access is in this time. The benefits are that you don’t need a giant wind farm to get energy from these (hence “low-altitude”) so they can be installed anywhere, they’re green, and they’re all made from upcycled materials. It’s super cool. But there’s a bunch of problems with the current collection systems. And everything I have suggested has been vetted 1000 times before implementation. It’s so frustrating, but it definitely made me think of Design Lab. Especially because we have the same factor going against us the most. Time. I only have ten weeks here, and I understand why they want us to have the best iteration of our ideas but it feels like I’m not getting anything done.
Institutions also suck. I know they’re funding and paying me but having to go through 7 different people/organizations to get the go-ahead to buy a fifty dollar part is really tedious. It was getting super frustrating a couple weeks ago when I came across a picture from Design Lab. It was of the chalkboard & believe it or not I had written it. But it was of “successes” and “opportunities” that we had. It definitely put me in a more positive mood and look at my setbacks from a different point of view. And this week we finally got some usable data and I finally got MATLAB to work with me & we actually have a power curve. So we’re making progress! Even if I’m only here for 3 more weeks!
I wanted to thank you for making Design Lab & Gifted Honors English the only classes that an engineering student was able to apply to life after high school. I really didn’t realize how much of what we learned wasn’t necessarily about just writing/grammar (although some of it was) but more about challenges we were going to deal with in the lab and in school and in life and how to channel those frustrations and roadblocks into something positive and productive.

Ideas for Projects

I’ll post ideas here whenever I find them.  Everything is open for inquiry, iteration, and implementation.

Keep in mind:

The United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals


NASA is looking for ways to clean up space junk.

The U.S. government tracks tens of thousands of pieces of space junk, including derelict satellites and large pieces of orbital debris. But smaller pieces can be lethal to astronauts and inflict major damage to satellites, too. (NASA)

Philly Parking Day

Designing for social impact…and fun.





Can We Stop Food Waste?

Why are things the way they are?  How can we make them better?’

I found this article on one of my news feeds.  Opportunities are everywhere.

If we look at this seriously, research and define a problem scaled, perhaps, to the realities of what a group of students can do…?  Who knows?

Now is the time.  Here is the place.  We are the one.

Global Strike for Climate Change

Greta Thunberg burst on to the world stage when she stood up for the world.  A lone girl, a big world.


She wondered why things are the way they are.

She’s still wondering.

But she’s trying to make it better.  (Congress?  Not so much.)

So can you.

Plastic Recycling…Not!


Turns out plastic isn’t really getting recycled.  So now what?

A Teenager, Some Fish and a Business


Check out this video about a young man in Indiana who got interested in aquaponics and think about how easy and how difficult it can be to start your own business/pursue your own ideas.  Persistence, learning from failure, and passion pay off.

You may have to register for LinkedIn, but I suggest you do so just because it’s a great place to network with people and be treated like a professional.
Screen Shot 2019-10-03 at 6.44.14 PM

Some Links and Resources as Background


NOVA Lab Newsletter 1st Edition 2020: this is the introductory packet that I e-mailed to all parents of students a week or so before class started.  It lays out the philosophical and pedagogical rationale for the class as well as sets a timeline for the work we will do together.  If you are interested in the first iteration of this class in 2016-2017–You can read more about that here.


Of course, it might be easier to watch some videos or listen to podcasts to get a sense for what the class might be like.  For that I recommend the following:

1)  Here’s one from Natalie Nixon, a Prof at Phila. University, on what’s necessary to thrive in the coming years.  You’ll be developing these skill sets as you work through projects in Nova Lab.

2)  Take a look at my YouTube playlist about Design Lab

3)  Design & Thinking Documentary.  (Not super exciting, but thorough.)

4) The Shopping Cart— A look at design thinking & innovation in action through one project


Our Library Redesign work with Students and Teachers at MS East from 2016IMG_3608

Why would you even consider such a class?  Three drivers:  Autonomy, Mastery, Purpose


Sample Blogs from 2016 class

Irina Koleva

Jordan Wenning

Katie DeRosa

What Might the Class be Like in Practice?


No doubt you’d like to know how this class works and why it’s necessary.

For that I offer this website:  Startedupinnovation This is the website of a teacher from Indiana, Don Wettrick.  I’ve followed him for several years, skyped with him numerous times, and used Skype to bring him and his students into my classroom.  The class is, in large part, modeled on his work.

Here’s a great overview of Don’s work and the mindset behind it.  It’ll take you a 1/2 hour or so, but if you’re interested in actually doing something different, in changing school so that it taps into your interests and the things you want to learn…if you want to DO SOMETHING that benefits not only you but a wider community, please watch this.

Finally, here is Don’s Youtube channel where he posts with his students most every day.  Check out some of the videos and just listen to what these students are DOING!


Design Thinking for College Admissions

I received the letter below from one of the counselors at my HS today.  As a recap, I piloted a Design Thinking and Open Source Learning class last year for 13 students.  For several reasons it didn’t fill up enough this year, but with the endorsement below, I’m hoping to be off and running like nobody’s business next year.

The course referenced in the student letter below was a hybrid between a course based in design thinking and one that was based on the work of Don Wettrick and his Innovation and Open-Source learning course at Noblesville HS.

The upshot of the letter?  The student gets into a select class in design thinking for engineers at Syracuse BECAUSE she had a class in Design Thinking in HS.


Dear Mrs.___,

HELLO THERE!!! How are you? I’m so sorry I didn’t email you sooner, college has been so extremely busy, and I have way less time than I thought I would. Classes just started yesterday, and it’s overwhelming, but I am so ready for the next four years, and honestly, that’s thanks to PVHS for preparing me. 🙂

I remember coming into your office all the time last year panicking, but I can honestly say I made the right choice. I live in the engineering dorm at Syracuse, and my whole hall became really good friends right away (which for some reason hasn’t happened in other halls). As I spend more time with these kids and get to know them, I’m realizing how similar we all are, and all my doubts about whether I picked the best school for me and very quickly fading away. I wish I could have told myself last year to just CALM DOWN, because everything truly does work out in the end. XD

In addition to the residence halls, the college itself is really really cool too. It’s much more progressive than I imagined it, and for the most part, they’re really good at addressing certain situations appropriately and with grace. Everyone feels really safe here, and I’m so grateful for that.

And I’m not sure if you remember, but I was freaking out last year because my design thinking class dropped my GPA (it was prep) and I didn’t think I’d get a lot of scholarships. I want to tell you this because I feel like a lot of incoming seniors NEED to hear this, so if you could please please please tell them about my experience, I honestly think it might help them decide what electives to take.

I am majoring in chemical engineering. The scholarship that I got at Syracuse is called the Engineering and Computer Science Leadership Scholars Program. When I got into the program, I was required to take this class called ECS 100 Seminar…I had no clue what it was, but when I showed up for the class I found out that it’s a new program they’re trying out, and it is COMPLETELY DESIGN THINKING BASED. We all need to find a problem in society, and as future engineers, design some sort of solution. We go through the entire design process and constantly revise. At the end of the semester, we present a prototype and a presentation to the class. We don’t get homework, and class time is devoted to working on the project. The class isn’t graded on a grade level…you basically get an A based on how well you work as a group, attendance, and participation. They want us to utilize all our resources and come up with creative and innovative solutions on our own, and without a real template. In addition to this kind of exposure, we get a lot of money, a paid research position, and invitation to the honors program, and priority consideration for study abroad, among other benefits. It is SUPER cool, and I will definitely let you know how it goes. It’s amazing to me that a college is trying this hard to change with the times, and I’m really glad to go to a school that does this.

HOWEVER, I honestly think part of the reason I got into this program is because I took design thinking.

I was talking to the admissions director because they handpicked the recipients, and they told me that the fact that I had experience taking this type of class really stood out because although engineering students need to know about the design process, a lot of them just take math and science classes and aren’t well-rounded. I REALLY wish someone had told me this, but if someone ever asks about it, here’s a first-hand experience 😉

Thank you for everything you’ve helped me with for the last four years, and I REALLY look forward to college and keeping in touch with you!

Header Photo– R. Buckminster Fuller holds up a tensegrity sphere, April 18, 1979. (AP Photo/Bill Ingraham)