Menlo Park City School District is a K-8 school district located in about 30 miles south of San Francisco. There are three elementary schools and one middle school in the district. This district has been engaged with design thinking and the K12 Lab Network on the district level for several years.
For MPCSD's deep dive day, we facilitated a design challenge for representatives across all the schools.
Our design challenge was framed around the question: how might we expose students to a variety of new languages and cultures in an innovative way?
For the challenge, we paired the MPCSD participants with eight of our favorite professional designers. Melissa Pelochino kicked off the day by emphasizing that it was NOT a workshop, but instead an experimental design studio -- which meant less teaching and a lot more doing.
We were also joined by the principal of Hillview Middle School, Erik Burmeister who inspired the challenge: “Design several innovative World Language Program delivery models using the exposure strand as inspiration” as well as Menlo Park City School District superintendent, Maurice Ghysels, who has been an integral part in creating and supporting the MPCSD and K12 Lab Network Team partnership over the past three years.
We began with the people that matter, the students. Each school principal shared notes from a pre-recorded interview with a student, otherwise known as a “personal profile card.” These students were identified as our users and would be called on to provide feedback to the group later on in the day.
To kick off the challenge, we posed some questions to the participants to consider like, “how does it feel to try something new?,” “how do we react when pushed outside of our comfort zone?,” and “how might we participate in new experiences to help us better understand our students?”
To investigate these questions and others like them, we immersed our participants in something totally outside the norm with the help of Monica Martinez, creator of Don Bugito a local prehispanic snackeria, who came to share some of her favorite innovative insect creations with us. That’s right, insects. Participants tasted delicacies like crispy fried grasshoppers and chocolate covered mealworms to name just a few. The more apprehensive participants were seen holding the hands of their more adventurous counterparts in support with a few squeals of surprise and delight along the way. It was clear that we were successful in pushing our participants outside of their comfort zone and we were lucky our group was so open and willing to go along for the ride.
Comparing these insects to very traditional American snack foods like corn nuts and chocolate covered pretzels paved the way for the “fire round” brainstorming sessions which followed. We used this article, How Steve Jobs’ Mastery of Analogies Sent Apple Skyrocketing as inspiration for this part of the day. Groups of participants visited six very different brainstorming stations which used experiences from life and media as a way to get people thinking outside of the traditional World Language program frame.
Stations featured articles, movies and pictures showcasing different ways people are exposed to, and engage with, new things -- like how Bank of America engages with its customers in different ways, how life-time pen pals grow in friendship, and how Bear Grylls brings less adventurous city dwellers into the wild.
Team ideas took flight and hundreds of them covered the walls. To help teams translate these aspirations into action, we created two new prototyping tools -- check them out on the materials page. The tools helped participants to break down ideas into bite-sized elements they could build and learn from. Teams had exactly 20 minutes to make their ideas tangible in the form of an experiential prototypes which they would share with the students they focused on during the empathy phase earlier in the day.
Foam and paper went flying all in the name of testing prototypes with students. Participants told us that testing was by far the most powerful part of the day because they got to see the reactions of the students they serve. The form of prototypes varied, from interactive presentations with role play at lunch time, to new passports and cooking lessons in other languages. The students, all ranging in age from 8-12, provided valuable feedback – “l would not wear a ‘culture ha’t but I would wear a bracelet.” And so the participants learned.
We gave a hearty thanks to our students and sent them back to school so participants could process and improve their ideas. Teams refined their solutions and then created a storyboard to communicate the concepts to the rest of the group. Check out two of the groups presenting their storyboards below!
To close out our day, we got real. What’s next? What did we learn? What are we going to take action on and promise to ourselves and our team? One group came up with a calendar and accountability roles so they could touch base after they start testing ideas back at their site.
We did not explicitly go through the phases of the design process, the way we typically do in a more introductory workshop, but we did experience all of the phases of the process in a very organic and designerly way. What you sacrifice in guiding people through the defined stages of the design process, you often make up for in emergent discovery of people’s perception of the process and the mindsets that go along with them. And that’s exactly what happened here.
We cannot wait to work with our next school, East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy, an Aspire Public Charter School located in East Palo Alto, CA in February, on their challenge focused on Special Education and to see what churns up in the innovative waters of Menlo Park in the meantime.