Art uses creativity for self-expression. Sometimes that expression contributes to the development of culture. Design uses creativity to solve problems. Problem solving is at the core of what is commonly called innovation and often contributes to the development of economic value. To create value, you have to know how to solve problems effectively.
Engagement, willingness to take risks, empowering students to believe that they can be creative by practicing, learning and encouraging them to problem solve, prototype, fail and iterate are ideas unheard of for most US school systems, even though these are the issues in the 21st Century Learning Skills identified as part of the national core curriculum's activities. These bold, new ideas that designers practice every day are getting some traction as an alternative to the present rigid US education system and could help to raise education scores of US students.
Since the introduction of the National Curriculum in 1992, which included as one of the core subjects design and technology, the British education system has recognized that teaching design to K-12 grade children teaches a process and approach to creative thinking even if students don’t become designers when they leave school. This means that all young adults entering the workforce have an understanding of design. How does that compare to the people we work with in business? Besides the educational benefits for students, it also means a much better reception in the workplace for design because many more people have a fundamental grasp of what design can do and how it works as a process.
As part of IDSA’s efforts to promote design to business, we've set a long-term goal of ensuring that all students coming out of school at least know and understand what design is and what it can do. With this in mind, the following article outlines some of the advocacy IDSA has in the works to better integrate design into the K-12 education system.
Design High Schools – A Radical Approach
During the fourth quarter of 2010 IDSA began uncovering a new trend—the design high school. So far, we have uncovered five high schools in the US whose specific charter is to teach design or to teach through design methodologies and thinking.
The oldest of the schools is called DASH (Design and Architecture Senior High) in Miami. This school was voted the 15th best high school in America last year and the second best magnet school in the country. This is the premier design school and has been an “A” school for over 10 years. They have a specific industrial design track.
In Philadelphia the school CHAD (Charter High School of Architecture and Design) is a learning community committed to an innovative program integrating the design process with the mastery of a strong liberal arts education.
A stone’s throw from LAX in Los Angeles we found the Da Vinci Design High School. The newest and potentially the most interesting experiment to date. At Da Vinci, we met the most motivated staff we had encountered and with some digging we discovered why. Behind the Da Vinci is a board of trustees with powerful members that have a strong, clear vision to change education and make a difference. The chairman of the board is Chet Pipkin, founder and chairman of Belkin International as well as trustees from Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems (and yes, they have rocket science computer systems and CATIA software at their disposal at this school!) are driving this charter school. In December 2010 the school received funding to build a new type of design school. This funding has been instrumental in setting up the Da Vinci School, which will be two schools in one: a design school and a science school.
IDSA's Los Angeles Chapter Chair Shelley Takahashi, IDSA and various members of the Belkin design team are working with Da Vinci to help them understand how to integrate design teaching and methodologies into a high school curriculum, and help guide and advise them on how to teach the topic of design. One of the challenges that the school faces is to find qualified high school teachers who are also capable of teaching design. Today this is a rare combination of skills.
In Detroit The Henry Ford already has a high school within the museum called the Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies. The founding principle of this school is “learning by doing,” which is similar to design thinking. They have also recently opened a second academy in the Detroit suburbs.
The fifth school is in New Orleans, the Priestley Charter School, which focuses mainly on the built environment as its design focus. Michelle Biagas, principal, has the following to say about why they are an architecture and design high. "In the past, school curriculums have been created that only fed or bolstered the academic side of a child. This has created a gap among the students who need something extra in order to realize the importance of education in their lives."
Finally, there is the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) in New Orleans. This school is not a design high, but it is worth mentioning because it has some very progressive thinkers there that are using design thinking, care of Arnold Wasserman's Collective Invention, to design their curriculum and methodology. NOCCA is thinking about adding design and more specifically they are considering adding a Design Thinking elective to their options. Imagine artists, set designers, musicians, dancers, songwriters, actors, sculptors and more learning about the wonderful tool of design thinking!
A factor that recognized and observed by the staff at these schools, is that the students become engaged in what they are doing versus the more typical theoretical approach in schools today. Not surprisingly engagement translates often into better behaved and motivated students with better results. Scale that to the entire US and think of the impact that design would have on national competitiveness?
In addition to the five Design High Schools, there is also an organization in San Francisco called iDO, the Industrial Design Outreach program that is taking a very innovative approach. This program is run by Martin Linder. What Linder has done is to create design modules. His program has been successfully implemented at four San Francisco public high schools: Abraham Lincoln High School, Academy of Arts and Science High School, School of the Arts (SOTA), and Thurgood Marshall High School.
At the other end of the spectrum is the work of Emily Pilliton and Project H. Project H’s focus is the re-thinking of environments, products, experiences and curricula for K-12 education institutions in the US. Read more about Studio H, a rural high school in rural North Carolina.
Doris Wells-Papanek, IDSA, an industrial designer with years of experience in the Xerox Parc facility, who then went on to receive an education degree, has developed a methodology for teaching based on design thinking for K-12. Her hypothesis is that by using design thinking methodologies to teach normal subjects, kids will become more engaged and that will translate into higher scores and better developed graduates. IDSA has been working to link Wells-Papanek to the schools and to start the process of seeking funding to test this hypothesis because if it is true, we have a blueprint for some major improvements in the lives of millions of K-12 kids! The kids who are taught this curriculum would come out of school saying they had a blast, and we hope their test scores would improve as well. For more information go to Tailored Learning Tools.
In 2011 she ran a Design Learning Challenge for IDSA. The Design Learning Challenge encouraged xollege students to think about redesigning their old High School using the Learn, Think, Do methodology. Read about the outcomes of the 2012 Design Learning Challenge.
IDSA K-12 Design | Education Symposium
Doris Wells-Papanek is leading the Education Symposium on Nov. 10, 2012, at the Henry Ford Academy in Dearborn, MI. The symposium will engage approximately 50-60 K-12 and college design-based educators, vested practitioners and forward thinking college students from across the United States and Canada. The day will be spent reflecting on the impact of design as a methodology for teaching and learning. Attendees will network, exchange best practices, problem-solve, and build relationships that will. There will be keynote speakers focusing on different aspects of learning and thinking. The day will end with a clear vision for 2013’s K-12 Design Education Symposium.
IDSA Design Learning Challenge 2013 | Cultivating Creative Innovators
Building on Victor Papanek’s insightful framework of engagement and approach to human-centered design, as well as the expectations of the Common Core State Standards, IDSA's Design learning Challenge 2013 will invite K-12 educators and students to participate in a collaborative, student-directed design learning process. This will be the fourth year for the Design Learning Challenge. Wells-Papanek has led this program from the beginning and each year the program gets stronger and offers a valuable learning experience not only for the students but often for the teachers as well. On more than one occasion, the teacher whose class was enrolled in the program was as new to the program as the students. All involved found the Learning Challenge more than worthwhile.
Our goal is to create a community interested in integrating design into the K-12 system and to connect the various players to create collaboration and a much faster learning/iteration/experimentation cycle. If you are interested in getting involved, sharing your stories or contributing to the IDSA K12 Design Initiative, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.