PR: Making It Work : Constraints and Insights

Wednesday. The power is still down, so we are working at the Dept. of Corrections, which has a working generator. Above, you can see what is outside the front door. The Dept. of Education used to share its space, but then the building was condemned, so the DoE moved out…and now back in. The lobby was crowded with people on computers. It is not clear whether they are government officials. There is no internet there, and you have to be searched to come in, so….18 or 20 of us come and go in the tiny room allocated to us, and our computers have to be reconfigured so that they can communicate with the server that belongs to Corrections. To have a conversation with the director of Science Curriculum, the lovely and brilliant Lilliam, we go into an empty room filled with tables. While we are talking, an office grows up around us. 45 minutes later, people are taking their seats and revving up for the day. It is already 11. No one knows who is doing what.

Miguel (the young-looking guy in the maroon shirt), who spent the previous day working with the director of Spanish to streamline the curriculum, is busy in the corner. Greg (pink shirt) is wondering what he is supposed to work on, now that he has helped to translate with Lilliam and me. He joins the director of English. Valeria is not there, and we wonder if she has gone to meet with the Sec’y of Education, Julia Keleher (she’s not Puerto Rican and is also not an educator). She has. Jaime and Mayra, the director of Math, have been intently streamlining the 3rd grade math curriculum, since it was too detailed and internally inconsistent. Jaime (gesturing in amused frustration at the sketchy internet) has to leave tomorrow. He is very concerned about whether or not Principals will be able to safely open schools on the 23rd, and has offered to create a step-by-step plan. FEMA has something like that, to help schools go from being shelters to being schools again. It doesn’t say anything about what to do if you can’t find your teachers, or if the school building has been flooded or has no roof, or how to re-register students or schedule co-located schools. The word is that it is going to rain again (read: thunder and lightning and inches per hour that will cause more flooding, more standing water in the craters where street trees used to grow, and knock out more of the grid), so we go to lunch while we still can. Waiting in line is a way of life now, and it takes us an hour to order our food. Like most places, they have had to cut back their menu, and are serving roast chicken and some form of starch (yesterday, we had grilled cheese). But the bread is plentiful and we get back to the office before the downpour begins. At around 3, after having been warned that the generator will have to be turned off at 4 to conserve diesel, I discover that Miguel has been working all day to create a design challenge based on reforestation, without telling me. We should have been working together! Also, he has never taught design thinking before, and so the plan is sketchy…and how will teachers be able to pull off such a complex, interdisciplinary thing without any scaffolding—for themselves or the kids? And in the back of my mind…will ANY of my work be used, or are they just going to bring me there and send me back and have Miguel do it alone?

I might not have been kind. Miguel, sweet and enthusiastic about keeping his job, looked crestfallen. In effort to explain what needed to happen instead, I realized that I had gained an important insight. If you could break up design thinking into Levels (One is activities to build skills and mindsets, Two is hyper-local, contained, or discipline-specific, and Three is national or global with professional partners, etc.), then teachers could start with One, which would be appropriate for use in “soft starting” the schools. You would not want content-heavy lessons, or complex projects, when kids might not be there, or would be shifting around, anyway.

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