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A Design Curriculum Combats The Creativity Crisis In Public Schools

   /   Dec 5th, 2011Design, National, New York City, News

Students in Brooklyn storyboard for the website they are designing

We all remember times when school felt completely useless and abstract – for me, it was in chemistry class, a subject I thought would never apply to my life or career. In this tough employment climate, debate about how to educate  with dwindling resources, and what is relevant for students to learn, has raised to a fever-pitch.

Many are critiquing the standard liberal education at universities: is it unnecessary, some are asking? Shouldn’t we be focused on teaching critical job skills? On the flip side, others criticize schools for becoming too narrowly-focused on hard maths and sciences. Laura Seargeant Richardson, Principal Designer at the global innovation firm frog design, has called this the “creativity crisis,” and suggests that design work and “play” time should be more deeply incorporated into basic curriculum. “Eighty-five percent of today’s companies searching for creative talent can’t find it. In a recent IBM survey, 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the number one leadership competency of the future,” writes Richardson.

Project: Interaction is a promising program teaching New York City students to use design in tangible applications to change their communities. It hopes to merge creative time in schools with the development of practical job skills. The idea is to have students take on a specific project, like web design, and through completing it, become better and more confident problem-solvers. Two graduates of the School of Visual Arts’ Interaction Design MFA program, Carmen Dukes and Katie Koch, created Project:Interaction after they were inspired by a talk in which a designer urged them to teach interaction design to others in order to strengthen the profession. The two students wondered how they could bring design education to high school students.

Over the course of one year, Koch and Dukes interviewed educators, students, educational consultants, and entrepreneurs in order to get an idea of how their concept could become reality. They successfully pitched the curriculum to three schools, all of which accepted it, and chose one in which to prototype the project. Now they are teaching the design curriculum in an after-school program at an all-girls public school in Brooklyn, NY.

The after-school program, Project GROW, focuses on offering meaningful activities for young girls. They are working with a small group of students to design the website for the program, providing a rare opportunity for young people to actually have an impact on their school environment, rather than simply receiving education or extracurricular activity as a service provided to them.

Sticky-notes help students organize their thoughts and ideas

“It’s a two-hour-long class, and we are happy to have to so much time. It’s a small group, nine or ten students – the perfect-sized group to work on this kind of a project because everyone can have a job. The students had no web design skills; we are starting from scratch. They had basic web knowledge, but there is a lot of learning going on. They don’t always know why we make certain decisions for the site, like having log-in and registration. We’re hoping to have the site up by the end of January,” said Dukes and Koch.

Dukes and Koch keep a blog of their project, where they outline their teaching methods, including the surprises and challenges that help them refine their strategy as they go.

Entrepreneurs and designers know that problem-solving is a complex skillset that requires critical thinking and teamwork. It is refreshing to see how Project:Interaction is engaging young learners in gaining these necessary, practical skills.

4 Responses

  1. [...] Dowser blog profiles Project Interaction, a really interesting approach to educating kids. It is design thinking meets public education meets social problem solving. I love [...]

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