The single most impactful adjustment I made to my curriculum in the later decades of my teaching career was to make room for students to work on issues they chose that were interesting and relevant to them. This was scary for me because I never had any idea where the year would lead me. But I learned so much along with the students that the risks I took and mistakes I made were definitely worthwhile. One year, my small 3rd grade class decided to investigate overfishing for their Genius Hour project. (I always did a group Genius Hour project with my 3rd graders because it was their first year doing major research in Gifted and Talented, and my classes in that grade level were generally tiny.) If you had asked me at the beginning of the year about my interest in overfishing on a scale of 1-5, I would have said 0. But these students were all passionate about the ocean, and that is where their interest took us. Weeks into their research, I was just as committed and concerned as they were – especially after our Skype session with a journalist covering the issue.
From that project to many others that I could describe where students were making plans to solve real-life problems, the message was clear – when students see the value of their work, they are much more engaged and ultimately become more empowered. This is where the Design for Change website could help you. Instead of starting from scratch as my students and I did, you can begin with a framework that is chosen by your students. With racial justice, educational equity, and climate change as the three main topics to select from, they can then find out more from podcasts and other materials that have been curated to guide them on paths toward making positive contributions toward our world as they learn. Whether you want to do a long-term unit, or focus on “Empathy Warmups,” “Design Sprints,” or “Community Action” individually, the free resources on this website – including a teacher platform to monitor progress – will give you much more support than I ever had when my students initially began passion projects.
Design for Change has a site for the United States and a global site. Both boil down the Design Thinking process to these four steps: Feel, Imagine, Do, Share. The global site even provides toolkits written for specific countries in their major languages. There are also options for using the materials virtually or in face-to-face environments.
Though we can’t always do this in education, I found that engagement comes quicker if you start from a place a student already values rather than working to convince a student, “this is what you should value.” But students often need to investigate a bit to realize what is important to them, and this is where Design for Change can help.