Spotlight on Meadowbrook’s “Design Thinking” Program

“Design Thinking at Meadowbrook is about synergy, ingenuity, and stick-to-itiveness,” explains academic-advancement director Kristen Haugen. “We’re encouraging our students to tackle big ideas with big integrative solutions and to take bold action instead of holding back. To fail fast and try, try again. Also to seek out feedback that makes the product better. Basically how to be global learners in our modern, global society.”

WP_20170302_004For art teacher Becky Blumenthal, Meadowbrook’s Makerspace Studio is a launchpad for hands-on projects that bring classroom lessons to life. When her 6th-grade students were studying Roman culture in their social-studies class, Mrs. Blumenthal had them build columns with dixie cups and find out how many such columns it would take to balance trays that would successfully support a student’s weight. For Egyptian culture, the class’s task was to replicate cave paintings using dirt, clay, charcoal, and berries—as well as to mummify a hot dog! Younger grades made compasses for orienteering; minted coins using plaster and clay; created maps of imaginary islands using found objects; wove textiles with recycled fabric; and made their own paper.

“Seeing students get so excited and so focused on their Makerspace creations is what being a Design Thinking teacher is all about,” Mrs. Blumenthal says. “We start with an open-ended problem, we embrace new ways of thinking about the problem, and then we test and rework to solve it. This kind of inventive problem-solving is preparing our kids for the jobs of the future. Makerspace shows them how to adapt and be fluid thinkers.”

Over in the Science Room, science teacher Janice Mockaitis also teaches through the lens of a multidisciplinary, Design Thinking framework. Mrs. Mockaitis is on the cutting edge of the garden-to-table movement, with an ample vegetable garden where students prepare the soil; plant seeds; tend to the growing plants; harvest carrots, watermelons, pumpkins, etc.; and enjoy eating their produce while simultaneously studying its nutritional value. Additionally, she garden to table spinachis expertly trained in the curriculum of Engineering is Elementary (EiE), which fosters engineering and technological literacy with an emphasis on math skills. And Mrs. Mockaitis collaborates with the renowned Fox Chase Cancer Center’s “Immersion Science Program” to bring real-world medicine into the classroom. “Our students draw on all the components of STEM/STEAM to investigate the world around them, whether that be inside school, out in the garden, throughout our 16-acre property and beyond,” Mrs. Mockaitis says. “We are constantly analyzing how science connects to other academic subjects and to the world at large. I feel proud of how far Meadowbrook’s Design Thinking program has come and how many exciting developments still lie ahead of us.”

Hour of code projectSpeaking of the path forward, let’s turn to Meadowbrook’s Computer Lab where 5th graders and 3rd graders are discovering the brave new world of robotics and coding through their very own Ozobots. Mrs. Haugen leads the older group in development of an addition-fact game (ultimately to be played by 1st graders), while the younger level creates a Halloween-inspired haunted path and then narrates the story to go with it. “Coding with bots is a perfect activity for our Design Thinking program,” Mrs. Haugen says. “It links the hands-on, real-world application of technology with the critical human value of empathy. Our kids are designing for others and putting themselves in the shoes of the end user. They’re coding for humanity—and having a blast. So are we as educators!”

written by Khyber Oser

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