Teachers John Madden and Matt Daly attended an intensive workshop at Stanford University's prestigious d.school as part of their summer professional development, bringing back with them new insights and experiences to share with students and colleagues.
Q: What do places like MIT, Princeton, and Stanford have in common with the Morristown High School Academies?
A: High-level, innovative programs in Design Thinking!
This summer, Morristown High School English teachers John Madden and Matt Daly spent an intensive three days at the K12 Lab, one of several rigorous professional learning opportunities offered by Stanford University’s d.school--a dynamic cross-disciplinary program in design thinking. A hallmark of both the Humanities Academy and the STEM Academy at Morristown High School, “design thinking” is a human-centered methodology for addressing real-world problems that foregrounds empathy; throughout its iterative stages, design thinking revolves around a deep interest in developing an understanding of the people for whom we are designing. Stanford’s K12 Lab gives educators the “creative confidence” to further their knowledge of design thinking through actual design challenges and to develop specific strategies for implementing the methodology in their own classrooms and schools.
As part of a diverse international cohort of 50 teachers and school leaders, Madden and Daly assumed the role of students in an introductory design thinking course. This enabled them to experience instruction from the students’ point of view as they collaborated with other educators to problem-solve and negotiated a range of different perspectives and levels of expertise. Daly recalls, “the emphasis on creating empathy in our designs was constant throughout the activities, and really brought home the concept and importance of keeping the ‘human’ in human-centered design.” They also found a strong correlation between the imperative to recognize one’s assumptions and biases in the design process, a salient theme of the Stanford workshop, and their own professional development in Culturally Responsive Practices and Social-Emotional Learning, which teachers in the Morris School District have been focusing on over the past two years.
In the Humanities Academy, students learn the fundamentals of the design thinking process in their first year of the program and then focus on its various applications through in-depth, self-directed projects in subsequent years. Their course of study culminates in an original senior-year creation and presentation. Because feedback is essential to the design thinking approach, students are given multiple opportunities in and out of the classroom to develop ideas and share their research with the school and wider community. Madden and Daly have established a series of “In the Schools” forums held at the town/township library for this purpose, and students present their end-of-year projects at the annual Humanities Night at the high school. Along with their peers in the STEM Academy, Humanities students can attend several design thinking sessions at Princeton University, where they work side by side with Princeton undergrads on design challenges.
Together with their Humanities Academy classes, Madden and Daly have devised a core set of “Habits of Mind” that students learn to cultivate and draw from as they approach their coursework and research projects. These habits of mind include values-based principles such as empathy, mindfulness, and intentionality as well as principles that are reflected in an individual’s behavior, like flexibility, intrinsic motivation, and persistence. Thus, the Humanities Academy emphasizes the significance of the metacognitive dimension of learning: a student’s mindset is integral to the creative process and to the end result. According to Madden, their approach to teaching vis-a-vis “habits of mind” was echoed throughout the workshop at Stanford’s K12 Lab. “It was tremendously gratifying to realize how far developed our program at Morristown High is, and how the ideas coming out of Stanford University are things our students are already well-versed in here in the Humanities Academy,” he stated.
Having left Stanford with an invaluable network of teachers and professors to continue learning from, with new activities and resources to export into their own classrooms, and with new ways to frame objectives such as approaching a text or writing a paper, Madden and Daly want to ensure that their experience in the K12 Lab travels back to the Morris School District. They look forward to opportunities to dialogue with colleagues here in the Morris School District from a range of academic fields about ways that this methodology can inform teaching practices across subject areas and bring teachers from different disciplines together through a shared and richly productive language of inquiry.