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Design Thinking

Design Thinking

Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies, a middle and high school, wants to equip young people with skills to become critical thinkers and innovators and find success in college and careers. Students use Design Thinking, a structured way of innovating that involves identifying roles, techniques, environments, and tools to address problems using human-centered design, learning by doing, and collaboration. When integrated with core curriculum, Design Thinking makes creativity and innovation an integral part of learning at this Detroit public school academy. 
Michigan Nightlight: What really differentiates the design thinking approach at your school?
Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies and Henry Ford Learning Institute Executive Director Deborah Parizek: A number of schools across the country are starting to adopt Design Thinking on a project basis, but at Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies (HFA: SCS ) and other Henry Ford Academies, design problems and projects are woven into each area of academic instruction and students are challenged to apply the process to develop and test potential solutions.
New students at Henry Ford Academies participate in a Foundations of Innovation course and students in grades K-12 engage in quarterly or semester-based challenge projects. Design Thinking Challenges frame real world problems driven by the needs of individuals and/or members of a community. These “human-centered” challenges demand that our young Design Thinkers spend time getting to know their clients and the situation in order to surpass superficial or self-referential responses.
For example, a Design Thinking Challenge prompted HFA: SCS students to consider how to transform “The Shack,” a
Design Thinking is hard to do well and requires frequent opportunities for practice in and across disciplines.
community garden in the Woodbridge neighborhood, to improve the quality of residents’ lives. Using Design Thinking, our teachers helped 7th graders directly apply what they had learned about plants, geometry, industrialization, and community gardening in their standards-based curriculum. Their process started with visits to community spaces, including the renowned Heidelberg Project, to develop a first-hand understanding of the concerns; they then deepened empathy through video interviews with gardeners and other community members, narrowed their focus to specific needs, “ideated” their responses to those needs, and tested their prototypes at The Shack, installing stepping stones, picnic tables, wind chimes and a new garden layout.
Over time and Design Thinking Challenges, we see our students change, gaining empathy and feeling empowered to become transformational agents in their own community. We are also excited about empowering our parents to use the Design Thinking Process to identify solutions to common school problems. Foundations of Innovation and our Design Thinking core curriculum were developed by our management organization, Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI).
What are the keys to success for design thinking with the students attending your school?
These past four years, we’ve gained valuable insights into what works and what still requires attention to ensure a meaningful learning experience for our students and the adults involved.  The "good news" is our students love to tackle Design Thinking Challenges and are able to make connections to their academic class work easily and authentically. They share that design thinking is particularly meaningful when users are friends, family, or community members and when the topics have personal relevance. We’ve also learned to focus more on gaining empathy, limit total time to build and test prototypes to reduce “falling in love” with the early versions, remain more open to feedback, and structure documentation and reflection on the process for deeper learning overall.
What existing challenges remain with this approach and how do you plan to overcome them?
Design Thinking is hard to do well and requires frequent opportunities for practice in and across disciplines. Therefore, we’ve had to think carefully about our expectations for students and how we communicate them. Our students surprise us
We believe that education is the critical factor in determining economic success for individuals and for the entire community. Nowhere in America is the educational opportunity gap greater than in America's urban centers, especially in Detroit.
with their insights and skills. Nevertheless, we need to scaffold their skills development to provide an intentional sequence toward proficiency. To that end, we have developed a comprehensive scope and sequence chart that outlines what students should learn at various stages of development, what those behaviors look like, and how teachers might facilitate student progress along the way from novice to emerging to proficient practitioner.
Implementing Design Thinking well is also dependent on the quantity and quality of staff development and support materials provided. As challenging as it is to teach design thinking effectively, assessing students' progress is even more difficult. We embed feedback loops with users and experts, as well as public exhibitions at the conclusion of a Design Thinking Challenge for students to demonstrate their work to an appreciative audience. We also document changes in their behavior that signal growth in understanding and increased skill in applying design thinking with a set of rubrics tied to a clear developmental sequence. As one teacher reflected, "I think part of the shift for these early design challenges is to focus on assessing the process. In this case, it is the group or individual’s ability to talk about the process and articulate their ideas that matters most, and the actual prototypes they develop become more visual aids." 
Finally, we’ve learned that teachers must become comfortable as Design Thinkers themselves to coach the process effectively. We encourage them to use Design Thinking to address whole-school issues. For example, the staff at Henry Ford Academy in Dearborn used the process to re-design their all-school assemblies.  After learning students wanted to sit with friends and became more invested when peers delivered parts of the monthly program, teachers re-designed assemblies to address those needs and attendance increased to over 95 percent on average.
How does your school address issues of equity?
We believe that education is the critical factor in determining economic success for individuals and for the entire community. Nowhere in America is the educational opportunity gap greater than in America's urban centers, especially in Detroit. We are focused on preparing students in Detroit to succeed in college, in the workplace, and as transformational agents in their community. As a charter school, HFA: SCS provides the opportunity to become a Design Thinker to every student, regardless of academic aptitude.
How do you innovate programming around design thinking? Where do the ideas come from? How do you know if they are going to work?
HFLI has worked in partnership with a number of leading organizations, including the Stanford University’s d.school and IDEO, to bring Design Thinking to education. Through generous supporters of HFLI’s work, such as The W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Ford Motor Company Fund, The Skillman Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we have had the opportunity to bring this different way of teaching and learning to Detroit. Engaged in Design Thinking ourselves, we are developing and implementing simultaneously, gathering feedback to revise existing tools, practices, and materials, as well as create new ones. Each July, HFLI hosts workshops at HFA: SCS that bring together educators from down the street and across the globe to expand the use of Design Thinking and bring new insights and effective practices. Design Thinking is an ambitious undertaking, but we’re convinced that this work can add substantially to our collective ability to teach valuable college and career skills.

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  • Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies
    Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies is an exemplary Detroit middle and high school that prepares students for college and career success through real world experiences that have an explicit focus on innovation, creativity, art and design. ...


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