This past week I had the pleasure of meeting the amazing U School staff. They have been spending the past month in intensive professional development sessions, while simultaneously building an entire, design-based high school from scratch. Their dedication and passion for young people is beyond inspiring!

During our time together we focused on creating the curriculum for the Innovation Labs. A U School student spends 85 minutes of their day in one of the three Labs: Build, Highlight, and Organize. Each student experiences each Lab for roughly 40 days, and will go through all three by year's end. The Labs aim to teach a variety of skills, from making physical objects to media literacy to community organizing. In addition, the Labs lead the students through an iterative Design Process, exposing them to aspects of Design Thinking (what I like to refer to as the "Three M's": mindsets, methods, and materials).

The U School Staff working on "portraits" of current, incoming U School freshman and future U School graduates.

The U School Staff working on "portraits" of current, incoming U School freshman and future U School graduates.

Brainstorming ideas for teaching different steps of the design process in the Organize Lab.

Brainstorming ideas for teaching different steps of the design process in the Organize Lab.

We spent the first day building a shared understanding of what we were designing (the curriculum) and who we were designing for (the students). Our process focused on externalizing/making visible the research and individual work (related to the Innovation Labs) that had happened up until this point.

Once we felt that we were all on the same page, we split up into small groups to begin brainstorming ideas around the outcomes and outputs for each of the Labs. We tested different brainstorming methods like Action Storming (a technique derived from the KJ Method) and a form of "forced provocation" with the Fast Idea Generator tool to help stretch our 'out of the box' thinking. This also helped the staff learn about different design methods and tools they could use with their own students. This is an example of the "meta" experience the U School Staff had during our design week–they were both learning about Design Thinking and the Design Process, and planning how to teach it (quite a feat!).

Between the three Labs and the six steps we denoted for the U School Design Process, the Staff had many different "units" to consider as they fleshed out the curriculum. To help stay organized we created the grid you see in the image below. We posted this grid on the wall in our workspace and referred to it often throughout the week. 

The first version of the grid we used to manage the large number of units we needed to design.

The first version of the grid we used to manage the large number of units we needed to design.

I intentionally built the grid out of low-fidelity, removable materials (painter's tape, masking tape, and stickies) to encourage revisions as we learned what worked and what didn't work. We used it for iterating how the work groups were structured, the flow of our work process, and how the content being taught and assessed was delineated across the three Labs. The image below shows the final form of the grid taken on our last day of the design week.

After many iterations, the final version of the grid we used to manage the large number of units we needed to design.

After many iterations, the final version of the grid we used to manage the large number of units we needed to design.

The week ended with feelings of exhaustion, accomplishment, pride, and I bet some stress around what still needs to be fleshed out before the school year begins on September 8th. But, after designing with them for a week, I know there is no one better cut-out for the job than the people that make up the U School Staff. I am very excited to see all of their planning and designing be put to the ultimate test with the end users–the students!

More updates to come as the school year kicks off in early September... 

Comment