Earlier this winter, teaching artist Beth Bundy worked with three classrooms as part of an “Example Residency” for a school new to Right Brain—Oregon Trail Primary Academy, an IB charter school in Boring, Oregon. Beth took a departure from her usual visual arts residencies and planned a new kind of experience for students based on Stanford’s d.school (Institute of Design) Design Thinking process. One of intents behind Design Thinking is to prepare future innovators to be breakthrough thinkers and doers. What could be more Right Brain than that?
Beth met with teachers to frame a Design Challenge for each classroom with explicit connections to academic content, which ranged from big topics like understanding a marketplace or engineering for a sustainable world to more heart-centered skills like personal growth and wellness.
Students would be working in small collaborative groups to create prototypes that visually represent their solution to their classroom’s design challenge. But before the kids began, the adults needed to have a clear understanding of the kind of deep commitment to experimentation that a focus on Design Thinking requires.
So, Beth and OTPA first invited teachers and family volunteers to attend a hands-on crash course in the give-step process of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test. In under an hour, participants had a taste of the messiness, risk, good listening and persistence that is needed for creative solutions to arise.
As Beth says, brainstorming and experimenting is often where group work can be profound:
“Sometimes schools just want artists to teach techniques with materials rather than help guide students’ inquiry. But artists work with ideas as well as materials and we should be able to teach kids the power of the creative process, especially with the clear structure and group roles that Design Thinking provides. This is more “real world” work—the problem-solving is the art—and the students need to incorporate each other’s feedback to make their solutions even better.”
It can be scary for teachers and artists to have less control over the final product, but it’s very rewarding to see the creative solutions that bubble up when we allow children to direct the process, practicing their own risk-taking and experimentation. I think it’s another definition of bravery – how can we make a leap into an atmosphere of possibility without feeling foolish or setting ourselves up for failure? We need to connect with each other as a group and leap together.
Emily Stone has worked as a Right Brain Coach since The Right Brain Initiative entered classrooms 2009. She currently works directly with Right Brain schools in the North Clackamas Schools and the Oregon Trail School District.