Dear Adat Ari El Day School Parents,
Over the course of this school year, the K12 Lab Network has been hard at work training and coaching the teachers at Adat Ari El Day School in an innovative methodology called design thinking. Since that work has taken place largely behind the scenes in trainings, phone calls, and video hangouts, it’s a special pleasure to have the opportunity to write to you, the ADAT community, and brag about the great work your teachers are doing to make your child’s school more student-centered and innovative.
If you’re curious about design thinking, there are a number of great resources available online, including the Stanford d.school website where you can also read about the work we do in the K12 Lab Network. Design thinking is a human-centered creative process used to solve problems and overcome challenges, and leans heavily on collaboration, navigating through ambiguity, and biasing towards action. Design thinking asks you to take an empathetic approach to problem solving, which means you look to understand how problems manifest in people’s lives, and combine that with a bias towards building solutions that can help improve those problems. In that way, design thinking integrates nicely with Jewish ethics, especially the attitude put forward by Tikkun Olam.
At ADAT, teachers have been exploring this intersection with Jewish education by invigorating stories we’ve been telling for eons with a creative mindset, like having students imagine how Noah’s Ark would be redesigned. 2018 has been especially energized: teachers have paired up and developed incredible lessons and projects that blend content knowledge with design thinking and maker activities in the ZDL. We’ve been continually inspired and impressed by the vigor with which your Day School’s educators across grade levels and content areas have collaborated in order to get creative projects up and running.
For the rest of the school year, each grade is exploring a different design challenge. In TK, they are building a house with blocks. Each room in the house will solve specific needs. Kindergarten is redesigning the Biblical Garden behind the DFC with their 6th Grade buddies. First Grade is exploring the question, “how can something small change the world?” Second Grade is getting ready for the transportation unit. This unit focuses on redesigning the transportation experiences of their parents. Second grade will also explore the modes of transportation in the bible like chariots and camels. Third grade is deeply immersed in their project to beautify our campus, and fourth grade is gearing up for their design of a California mission later in the year. Fifth grade will begin a project about community and what it means to have a “home,” while sixth grade will design a new “ancient” civilization that would support their specific personalities. As Adat Ari El teachers prepare to launch and refine these projects, they are working closely with us to create experiences that will engage their students’ curiosity, enlist their unique problem solving skills, and empower them to improve their world.
We will continue our work with ADAT over the next few months, and cannot wait to see the outcomes of these incredible projects. We think that the best is yet to come.
Ariel & Devon
K12 Lab Network @d.School
Walking into the ZDL, my colleague Devon and I exchanged smiles as we took in the bright charm of the place. The two of us love creating learning experiences for teachers– no moment is greater when you arrive, set the space and let the magic begin. We’re chronic over-preparers, Devon and I, the type of educators who create a graphic organizer 10 different ways so we can see which one feels right, and there’s nothing more liberating when preparation is over, and it’s time to do.
At the d.school, we believe in doing above all else. One of our designer mindsets is being biased towards action: the impetus to build and test ideas and concepts rather than talk about them. Our first workshop with Adat Ari El was crafted to model action by running the teachers through their own design workshop in three hours, and they performed with energy and enthusiasm– owning what it means to act and think like a designer.
When our work with the teachers ended for the day, Adat Ari El opened the ZDL to the entire community, and we were moved by the volume of interested parents and stakeholders who arrived to hear us speak about our work. Of course, being biased toward action, we couldn’t help but run the community group through a rapid design session, so they could experience for themselves what it was like to learn from a design perspective.
As the night came to a close, it dawned on us that the day was just the beginning of a relationship that would continue to yield great learning experiences for teachers and students. We arrived ready to work with a few teachers, and we left feeling like members of a community.
Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from all men, as it is written (Psalm 119:99) “I have gained understanding from all my teachers.”
There is a thunderous quietude in the Zebrack Design Lab (The ZDL). Conferences and summer trainings are winding down for teachers and administrators; summer camp and activities are closing out for students. The maintenance staff has left the ZDL sparkling, new materials have been ordered and put away, and the space that is usually buzzing with students is lying in wait for the promise of a new school year and a new beginning.
As I sit in the middle of the the ZDL and plan for the students’ return at the end of the month, I am working to remind myself to slow down and to not fill the quiet space with my own thoughts, ideas, and assumptions.
One of my favorite things about the design thinking (DT) process is the way it invites all learners to have moments to excel and moments to slow down. DT provides a jumping off point for learners who do not know how to begin, a methodology for learning how to delve into research, and (the tactile learner’s dream) many, many systems for hands-on experiences.
As a learner, I have always been an idea generator. The part of the process that comes most naturally to me is the “ideate” phase. This is the phase in which the designers throw as many ideas into the world as they can without worrying about any limitations. All ideas are welcome. No ideas are too silly or too challenging.
However, my favorite stage is not the one that comes the most naturally. Rather, my favorite stage is the one that I find the most challenging: the “empathize” stage. I find “empathizing” to be challenging because the process asks me to stop myself before jumping to solutions. I need to be human-centered rather than idea-driven. I need to conduct interviews and observations. I need to ask the right questions. I need to, as the floor of ZDL 1 reminds me, get out of my own head and “start with the heart.”
Jumping to solutions too quickly cuts out the most important part of a design challenge: the people for whom we design. There are so many examples we can point to that show the danger of being idea-driven instead of empathy-driven: governments which do not consider the people they represent, businesses that think more about the bottom line than the customer, exams that do not think about the learner.
Starting with the heart– empathizing– provides tools to enlist the ethical partnership of the “end user:” the person, community, and/or situation that is affected by a problem or a need. Only through discovering the human-centered cause of a problem can we thoughtfully engage in the work of Tikkun Olam, repairing the world.
I am fortunate to be joining Adat Ari El Labowe Family Day School for many reasons, one of the best is that I have the privilege of working with a team of incredibly dedicated and courageous educators.
The faculty ended last school year with an introduction to “Creative Confidence,” a book we are all reading over the summer, and this launched us into a conversation that has continued over the past few months. Although most of our teachers are physically off campus, they have never been very far away. Through their emails, calls, and on campus visits, I have learned about our school’s history, students, families, and the amazing things that our teachers are planning for the coming school year. This has helped me keep the needs of our students and school in mind when stocking the lab and thinking about lessons to re-engage our students with DT.
I am also fortunate to have an additional partner in getting our space ready and creating environments that inspire creativity. As you may have already heard, Adat Ari El has partnered with Stanford’s d.School, one of the world leaders in DT. Ariel Raz, an educator from Stanford d.School’s K-12 Lab, has been working with me all summer designing coaching models for our teachers in order to take our DT practices to the next level. Ariel is a thoughtful, creative Israeli who is a master of making the creative process tangible and actionable. He and his colleague, Devon Young, will be leading professional development on our campus twice during this academic year and will provide ongoing, virtual coaching throughout the year. This amazing collaboration between the d.School and ADAT’s own intrepid faculty fill me with joy and kavana, purpose.
But the quietude still hangs over the ZDL as our most important asset has not yet returned: the students who will fill this space with the buzzing (and sometimes banging) sounds of their hearts at work.
With our students in mind, I am slowing myself down from creating specific design challenges. Instead of jumping in with challenges and problems that I see in the world, I am holding back, allowing the silence to grace the ZDL for a few weeks more, and leaving a question hanging in the air for our students when they return.
“What are the biggest problems that YOU see in the world that YOU want to solve RIGHT NOW?”
I am grateful in this ever changing, noisy world full of flashing lights, traffic, and unpredictability that our educators at ADAT are raising up students who know themselves, serve others and act to improve the world.
I cannot wait for our students to return from summer break renewed and ready to stretch their empathy muscles and to begin with their hearts!
Click here to learn more about our collaboration with this prestigious and foremost institution in the field of design thinking.