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Edu DesignShop @ MIT

Hello Maharam blog followers! 

My second post is about a recent experience that has helped me understand some of the large-scale systemic issues with the education system as it exists today. Since my work at Porvir this summer is based on comprehending the latest innovations and approaches to education, I was thrilled to participate in the weekend-long workshop about education and design thinking. 

Last weekend, I had the privilege to represent RISD with 3 schoolmates, Ryan Mather, Eliot Bassett-Cann and Denise Thornberry, at a unique “Design-a-thon” at MIT. The EduDesignShop, mentioned in my last post, was an opportunity for students, educators, policy-makers and other professionals to join together and use the ‘Design Thinking’ approach to address issues in our education system. The purpose of the weekend-long event was to launch ideas into the education world that would trigger creative solutions to systemic problems. 

Our team, composed of three students and one architect, had by far the youngest average age. At first, I was a bit apprehensive of the lack of experience in our young team, but ultimately our proximity to the issues that were being discussed actually gave a more personal insight on many of the issues, and so, gave us an advantage. 

Among the many topics we discussed, the general idea of focus versus broad interests as well as the notion of failure became a trend in our brainstorms. After many opportunities to step back and understand our drawings, maps and post-its, we came to realize that the value in our whole experience at the DesignShop was in documentation. By tracking our thoughts throughout our process, we were able to identify patterns, retrace our steps and link ideas that may have seemed random but were in fact totally connected to one another. 

When it came time to hone down on a concept for the final presentation, a mere 36 hours after we had all met for the first time, we had our documentation to synthesize. At that point, it was clear that documentation is the key to comprehension, and that failure as we are taught in school should be considered in a different approach. Failure should be noted as an opportunity for improvement, not like many public schools are teaching it today. We decided to present our solution for a systemic change in education as the “Epic Fail Book,” which is a place for kids to take down notes on their daily experiences. The journal has an obvious physical component, but the project is about much more than the actual journal. It will provide a means to challenge the approach that the system uses to help students understand success and failure. This journal is intended to be as personal or pragmatic as its user would like, and serve as an opportunity for kids to engage with their world in a more synthesized way. We hope that this project will be used to help your kids make connections between what they are learning in classrooms and their daily experiences from the soccer field to the kitchen. 

At around 5pm, 25 presentations later, the winners of the design challenge were announced. Many of the proposals had been for web platforms to be used collaboratively by students, teachers and even members of each community, so we were surprised with the judges’ decision to award us a prize for our project. The “Epic Fail Journal” was awarded some financial assistance to get things started, as well as a consultation with Massachusetts Secretary of Education Matthew Malone on the implementation of our project. Whether this project comes with me to Sao Paulo or not, I am excited to apply many of the concepts I learned last weekend to my work with education innovation. I will bring this experience with me, and hope to be able to implement some of the take-aways at my job this summer (and beyond)! Stay tuned for more news…