Last weekend, teachers and administrators from the Dayton School District participated in a learning experience hosted by Project Breaker . The focus of this workshop was to learn about and experience the design thinking process.

This framework, developed in partnership with Stanford’s School of Engineering’s K12 Lab network, is based on the concept that the best learning occurs when learning utilizes real-world problems, and allows students and teachers to work together to develop innovative and creative solutions.

On day 1 of the training, teachers focused on ways to increase community engagement. The Breaker Challenge framework engaged teachers in using the seven different steps of design thinking to create an inventive thought process to solve a problem. The first step is to create empathy, that is, starting to solve a problem not with the solution in mind, but rather with the needs of real people. Teachers teams canvassed the community to gather information from people by asking questions and listening to what they had to say. The groups using this process then synthesized the information they learned from each user and articulated the problem that they would solve. Next, teams brainstormed potential ideas and solutions to the problem and then began to create a prototype. Following that, the teams went back out in the community to test their prototype by asking community members what they thought of their idea and soliciting feedback. Teams came back together and made adjustments to their prototype and then created a pitch to share with the rest of the group. The last stage of the design cycle is time for reflection and next steps.

The Dayton staff quickly embraced this creative design model and on the second day focused on a problem that was relevant to the school community. In this process, teachers gained a deeper understanding that soft-skills, such as empathy, collaboration, and communication can be just as beneficial to their students as their subject matter being taught or the actual end product. One teacher wrote that this process showed her “the extreme importance of valuing discomfort and taking ownership of the process along the way”. Staff members also realized how curriculum such as writing and math, can be better integrated into problem-based learning, therefore creating a more relevant and enjoyable learning environment and as one teacher put it, “reimagine the school day”.

Teachers learned how valuable the skills in the design thinking process will be not only in terms of keeping their students engaged, but giving them core skills that will help them succeed in life. As one Dayton teacher reflect, she learned “A process that facilitates a true collaboration from many voices.” Working in any sort of field requires co-workers to come up with solutions together, to communicate and collaborate and Dayton schools are beginning to give students the ability to thrive in that environment.