The Maker Education Movement has taken off in the past few years, as leading-edge educators have come to see the many benefits of creative, hands-on problem-solving. In 2015, ISTP opened its own MakerSpace on Cohn Campus, and last year we installed a MakerTech Lab to expand our students’ opportunities for digital design.
At ISTP, however, unlike many other schools that pursue MakerEd, design is comprehensively integrated into the curriculum, and is much more than just a dedicated half hour in the MakerSpace once a week. As we have implemented the PYP and MYP (Primary Years Programme and Middle Years Programme), teachers have come to see how the design thinking ethos of Maker Education pairs perfectly with the creativity and wonder emphasized in the International Baccalaureate’s* inquiry-based curriculum.
In fact, during their Units of Inquiry, students have often utilized design thinking to come up with innovative solutions to problems that arise.
For example, as part of their Unit of Inquiry – Sharing the Planet – the Kindergarteners explored the central idea, “Soil is essential for life,” by planting and caring for an edible garden. However, as they watered and weeded each day, the Kindergarteners observed that crows had been eating their plants!
Teacher Cynthia recognized that the situation presented students with a perfect design thinking challenge – how can we keep the crows from eating our garden?
In the design thinking process, once the problem is identified, the next step is to brainstorm possible solutions. After discussing many ideas as a class, the Kindergarteners decided to pursue two possible fixes. They built two scarecrows to frighten off the birds, using recycled materials that they gathered. They also surrounded their plants with plastic forks, with the theory that the birds not deterred by the scarecrows would be prevented by the forks from landing or perching near the plants.
After implementing their solutions, the final step for the Kindergarteners in the design process was to observe how effective their solutions were and to make improvements if possible. Luckily, the crows have not returned and their garden is thriving.
Teachers in all grades at ISTP organically incorporate design thinking into their Units of Inquiry. This spring, the 2nd graders constructed their own Rube Goldberg machines as part of their examination of forces and simple machines during their How the World Works unit. As part of this same Unit of Inquiry, the 4th graders are designing, carrying out, and presenting their own science experiments.
As we have incorporated design thinking beyond the maker space, teachers have reported greater engagement from their students. Teachers see that their students become especially invested in problems they are encouraged to solve with their own ideas, using their own initiative. Parents, too, have commented that their children seem even more engaged in their learning, and have begun to speak more passionately about their school activities at home.
At ISTP, we strongly believe in the importance of incorporating design thinking across our curriculum, both inside and outside the classroom, as it teaches important 21st century skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, creativity, and innovation. Most importantly, it nurtures a passion for learning, the most essential skill of all.
*Only schools authorized by the IB Organization can offer any of its four academic programmes: the Primary Years Programme (PYP), the Middle Years Programme (MYP), the Diploma Programme or the Career-related Programme (CP). Candidate status gives no guarantee that authorization will be granted. For further information about the IB and its programmes, visit http://www.ibo.org