“My” day arrived. I was the architect and the facilitator—but not the one who really made the magic happen. That would be Jose Obregon, Design Tech High School senior, who became that much more of a leader yesterday, facilitating his friends from Bayamon’s Escuola Francisco Manrique Cabrera as THEY facilitated a series of design sprints to create an experience steeped in innovators’ mindsets, skills, and a design process. Our goal was to design a system to train teachers and administrators about creative problem solving and how to use it in education. We did that by doing it. Twelve FMC students also became leaders, facilitators, and innovators. They were AWESOME. Their teacher, their principal, and an FMC young lady talked about how Jose and his teacher Rob Bolt, co-founders of El Pueblo Unido Foundation, transformed their thinking and their lives when they built an exchange program for students and teachers around design thinking and innovating together. Totally student-built, this program has lifted all involved on both sides of the partnership, and yesterday they created a transformative experience for 50 adults involved in education and innovation, from elementary school teachers to the Governor’s Chief Innovation Officer. All I had to do was set it up and trust the kids and the design process. (If you want to know more about design thinking, check it out on this same website).
I learned about Elpueblounidofoundation.org when another one of Rob’s students, assigned to do research regarding real world applications of design thinking and Puerto Rico, came across my blog from October and sent me an email asking to connect. They were headed to Bayamon, to launch their partnership. Jose became so inspired by the event that he asked for a gap year so that he could move to PR and pilot classroom-to-classroom partnerships in PR and also more school-to-school mainland-PR partnerships. He started a foundation to raise funds. When Gloria asked me to come and lead this day, I immediately thought of them. I didn’t want to be a talking head, and I kept returning to the one thing I know about teachers—they care about the kids. When Rob offered to come and bring Jose so he could run the design challenge, I was thrilled. And when Jose offered to bring the kids from FMC, we were all jumping up and down. It made perfect sense. For one thing, design thinking is all about challenging assumptions. For another, innovation should be fun and non-threatening. And besides, what great empowerment for the FMC students—to be the first to shift the paradigm for PR teachers and administrators! Gloria was all for it. The Chief Innovation Officer from the Governor’s office had a busy day. She was only going to stay for a few minutes—she ended up cancelling her meetings and joining us for dinner.
Other assumptions were challenged in the course of the day—makerspaces are too expensive, for one. Christine did a wonderful job of setting a “Do with what you have, low-tech” mindset. 3-D printers are not a makerspace. Take broken things apart and discover parts, purposes and complexities. Her “when is a block of wood not a block of wood?” question resulted in third graders redesigning their furniture in ways that made so much more sense. She also emphasized the idea that you don’t have to know what you’re going to end up with when you start innovating. Just trust the process.
The day ran as follows: Spaghetti-Marshmallow challenge to reflect on skills and mindsets for collaboration, dealing with constraints, and failing to learn (among other elements like communication and creativity). We mused on the fact that kindergarteners’ towers are much more likely to succeed than business school grads. Why?? That led to a conversation about PR kids and their superpowers, such as resilience, resourcefulness, persistence, optimism, etc. Notably, those characteristics (also shared by their teachers) are the characteristics most often identified as those held by innovators. The students then led a design challenge to redesign a lesson based on kids’ needs. After reflection and rest (no one wanted to stop when we called lunch!), we solved the problem of how to train educators to use design thinking…by doing it! In the end, I felt less like a magician and more like the alchemist who mixes up a chemistry and creates more gold than she ever felt she could. But not without Christine, Rob, Jose, Maritsa, Rebecca, the students from FMC and all of our participants and most especially Gloria, who made it all happen. So yeah, let’s ask the Department of Education…what IF??