Fostering creativity and innovation in students is easier said than done. Creativity has been identified as one of the 4C’s (Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity) that all students must learn in order to become successful 21st-century citizens. At ACS (the American Community School of Amman, Jordan), our student profile has identified Creativity, Critical Thinking and Communication/Collaboration as essential components of a successful graduate, ready to become a self-guided learner in a rapidly changing, complex world. So we asked ourselves, how might we change the culture of our school to develop these skills in our students?
The world needs problem solvers, willing to tackle challenging, complex issues with an entrepreneurial spirit. In order to give our students a common understanding of how to solve problems, we adopted the Design Thinking method, a human-centered, problem-solving technique. Using Design Thinking provided our students with a model that they could use to take a complex problem, and break it down into manageable pieces. At its heart, Design Thinking taps into a student’s ability to connect to an issue or problem. Design Thinking is deceptively simple because it only involves five steps: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. These five steps make up a cyclical design process that encourages critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and an innovative/creative approach to problem-solving.
Google is currently one of the most innovative companies in the world. They are also responsible for bringing the concept of 20Time to the work week. Employees of Google were encouraged to spend 20% of their time dedicated to a passion project outside of the scope of their job duties. As a result, many of the innovative products created by Google were a result of employees exploring their passions. This concept has worked it’s way into many classrooms around the world. Giving students ownership over their education and allowing them to pursue academic interests outside of the scope of a school curriculum instills a sense of ownership over the student to take responsibility for their education. Allowing students a dedicated time each week to explore something they are passionate about also shifts the role of the teacher away from the provider of information, to a mentor, guiding students to resources and fostering skills needed to develop critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.
At ACS, we recognized the power of giving students a voice in designing their own education. This year, we are piloting a program (Design.Make.Change.) designed to foster creativity and innovation in students. During the first semester, high school students were given dedicated time to learn about the Design Thinking process and apply it to a range of activities. Students collaborated with each other to find solutions to problems they identified in their own communities. This provided all high school students, and teachers, with a common vocabulary that could be used to reinforce problem-solving techniques. During the second semester, all high school students used the same dedicated time to explore a passion project (also known as a 20Time project). Teachers were to mentor groups of students based on their own interests or hobbies. The result was that often the teacher and student were learning new skills at the same time. Students have responded with enthusiasm as they explored topics of their own interest. During this time, students have demonstrated their understanding of the Design Thinking process as they have understood how to take ownership of their own learning.
While the program is still new, we are excited to see how students have risen to the challenge of becoming self-guided learners. Through this process, we have consistently seen students demonstrate the 4C’s and begin to shift the culture of our school to reflect important 21st-century skills. If you would like to learn more about our program or see examples of student passion projects, please visit our website: Design.Make.Change.