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Sunday, 29 September 2013 22:00

Education initiative experiments with human-centered design

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Building off the Grand History Lesson program, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Kendall College of Art and Design and Grand Rapids Public Schools are piloting a curriculum based on human-centered design principles, with the goal of creating a school around the immersive learning structure.  Building off the Grand History Lesson program, the Grand Rapids Public Museum, Kendall College of Art and Design and Grand Rapids Public Schools are piloting a curriculum based on human-centered design principles, with the goal of creating a school around the immersive learning structure. COURTESY PHOTO

A collaboration of the Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kendall College of Art & Design and the Grand Rapids Public Museum wants to explore the possibility of creating a new K-12 school based on human-centered design thinking.

The project kicks off this year as 10 public school fifth grade classes take part in the recently launched IMMER5E pilot program. The partners see the project as the first phase in a three-year plan to create a “museum school” based on design thinking.

Drawing on human-centered design principles and leveraging community assets and the design expertise at Kendall College, IMMER5E takes students out of the classroom and puts them in a place-based learning experience at the Grand Rapids Public Museum. Students in the program study local Grand Rapids history from before the region was inhabited to the present day.

With Kendall’s expertise in innovation, collaboration and process improvement, program advisers hope to impart the principles of design-thinking to reshape the learning process.

In most cases creativity is consigned to extra curricular activities, which is a false premise, said David Rosen, president of Kendall College, citing research from international education expert Ken Robison. It should be easy for business leaders to understand the value of fostering creativity at a young age since creativity is closely tied to entrepreneurship, Rosen said.

“They understand that what’s important today is having a talented workforce, who might be narrowly trained but bring something more,” he said. “Most understand the value of creativity to their businesses. All entrepreneurs — whether entrepreneurs know it or not — use design methodologies, ones that are lean, have rapid iteration and constant testing and validation as you move to a final product.”  

Mulonge Kalumbula, social studies curriculum supervisor at GRPS, said the program will give students a chance to get out of the classroom, interact with materials and develop their sense of inquiry and creativity.

“For this group specifically, the students are studying the Grand Rapids community using the museum experience and artifacts,” Kalumbula said. “The idea is to have kids work within the discipline of how social scientists would work and bring the history to life examining the pieces of the exhibit like an apprenticeship process like they would have in the field.”

Sometimes history is thought of as a dead subject, and it’s hard to keep students interested in the classroom, Kalumbula said. Relating the learning to where students live creates a more engaging experience, he said.

“The way you learn to think is the greatest determinant of your future success — it’s not  the content,” Rosen said. “If it’s imbued with design thinking, problem solving and creativity, not only will it give an edge in the job market, but it will give you a natural affiliation to places that enrich, support and intensify those aspects of your thinking.”

John Berry, director of Design West Michigan, agreed.

“Anything that helps raise the understanding of the value of design to the region and that helps people recognize the many design professions here is a good thing,” Berry said. “Starting with children in the K-12 system will be an advantage to the region’s future.”

Anybody who is sensitive to markets and niches and creating demand is going to want to have people who are agile, Rosen said.

“When you pack the (educational) tool kit, you pack it with things that will allow students to create more tools,” Rosen said.

As an early example of the design-based learning process, Rosen said he was introduced to a program at Black River Public Schools in Holland where fifth grade students were learning tessellation. At the end of the program, the students scored higher on the standardized math test than eighth graders taking the same test, he said.

“The trend that is really being studied here is immersive learning,” Kalumbula said. “While it’s not a particularly new trend, we want to look at how kids learn in real time with a focus on the process of learning.”

The program is loosely based on the Grand History Lesson, a weeklong immersion program at the Grand Rapids Public Museum based on the “Big History Lesson” program from the State Museum in Lansing. That project and phase one of the IMMER5E project, which runs to the end of the 2013-2014 school year, is funded through a $49,509 grant from the DTE Energy Foundation and a $14,991 grant from the Michigan Humanities Council.

At one time, the public museum was actually part of GRPS and this program looks to rekindle a relationship between the two entities. The ultimate goal of the project is to develop a curriculum that could potentially be used in other school districts, sources said.

If the project is deemed a success when it wraps up in 2016, administrators could look for a permanent home for the program. As MiBiz previously reported, one site under consideration is the former Public Museum facility located at 54 Jefferson Avenue. However, it’s still too early to say for sure where the program could find a home, said Kate Moore, communications director for the museum.

At the completion of this school year, program coordinators will convene to discuss results and compile data on the course work.

“I think that the achievement on standardized tests and value added by the experience through the type of education that the students will be exposed to will be the first measure. That is the way we tend to value success — to move the bottom as well as the top,” Rosen said. “The second mark would be at a more effective level in seeing the rudiments of the soft skills being developed.”

Positive outcomes would see students much more engaged in their learning environment. They would be more likely to act collaboratively and use resources around them to reinforce aspects of their personal change, Rosen said.

“We want to build an authentic learning environment that helps teach students to solve complex problems using methods that you can’t learn from PowerPoint presentations, movies or books,” Kalumbula said. “With human-centered design, students can consume information in a place-based format and digest it. One thing I always ask students about their learning is ‘So what? Why does what you learned matter?’ This type of learning bridges that gap.”

At the completion of this year’s project, Rosen said the rubrics for the curriculum will help format next year’s beta test for sixth grade classes. When that is finished, program coordinators will come together to write an entire K-12 curriculum.

“We are taking it slowly,” Rosen said. “Education programs always need to be improved and (be) subject to the same design processes … so the end result can always be enhanced.”

Going forward, Rosen said Kendall will continue to act in advisory manner, contributing resources and expertise.

When the school year is complete, it’s likely that more funding will be needed to continue and expand the program, officials said.

“At the end of the year, we’ll probably be looking for more partners,” Kalumbula said. “It’s important to keep this project going.” 

Read 3704 times Last modified on Saturday, 28 September 2013 17:21

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