Patrick Learns to Speak: Design Thinking for Teaching Compassion, Team-Work, and Creative Process

prototype 5The challenge: in our world, many people are unable to relate to the needs and lives of others. That said, teenagers, with limited life experiences, and with their tendency to see the world through a rather narrow scope, are paradoxically poised for some of the most powerful connections a human can know.

What does a 15 year old at a private school in San Francisco have in common with Patrick?

Patrick is a deaf 15 year old in a rural area of Uganda. He spent the first 15 years of his life cut off from others, communicating only with crude gestures…until a teacher named Raymod Okkelo taught him sign language. His story came to me via Facebook, and it moved me.

I teach a course called Mystery of Connection. It’s about the pitfalls and paradoxes of human relationships. They are both necessary and impossible, the best and most challenging things in our lives, the source of heartache and joy. Teenagers want desperately to understand and process their own relationships. Thus, the class.

I had already designed a unit, inspired by a Silicon Valley design company called IDEO. They produced something called Design Thinking For Educators, and while I have many criticisms, it lead me to design a unit in which students explore a well known Hebrew Bible story, explore the themes in their own lives, and produce a work of art in three stages: sketch, prototype 1.0, and prototype 2.0.

The students were ready to share their second prototypes, but today was the day before Thanksgiving break. Many students were missing. And I’d been struck by Patrick’s story. An idea came to me, on the spot: let’s do an exercise on empathy, art, brainstorming, creativity, and teamwork.


Phase 1: Students Watch Video.

Text, Self, Philosophy TrianglePhase 2: Students use SELF, TEXT, PHILOSOPHY/THEME triangle to design a sketch in under ten minutes. In short, the sketch must:

  1. Show the imagery, words, or phrases in the Mt. Sinai text.
  2. Demonstrate or describe one of the themes of the text, as students had already explored in the major project, a week earlier.
  3. Make the piece about Patrick – his past (as presented by the video) and his future.

(Their Anchorwork – work to be done while waiting for next steps) was a paper revision and / or a worksheet.

prototype 3Phase 3: Students are paired up to share their drawing. They had 10 minutes to create a sketch that was a hybrid of the two sketches. As I walked around, students speculated about Patrick’s life – the silence and loneliness of his past, his smiling as he connected to others in the story, and his future – and all the new possibilities.

Phase 4: Pairs are combined; groups of 4 have 5 minutes to create a hybrid of all their work.

Phase 5: The two teams of 4 then present their work to each other.

prototype 1Phase 6: The whole group of 8 debated how to create a single work, including elements and ideas from all 8 students.

Phase 7: Two students (one from each team) drew the final design on the board while the other students worked on Anchorwork.


patrickThe Final Product

The final product is a design that combines powerful emotion, with images of loneliness and connection: ears and eyes, hands and motion, fire and a mountain, and out of the top, a brave and powerful fist breaking forth.

Students seemed amazed that they had come up with this.

We spent some time talking about Patrick and the power of his new speech.


This Thanksgiving, I will be mindful of voices – the voices of people in the world, and in our own nation, silenced by oppression.

But this Thanksgiving, I will also be thankful: of the privileges and blessings in my life, for the power of words which brings me closer to the people around me, for my students, for trying something new.

And for the teacher who opened up Patrick’s hands – and his world.

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Defending the first to speak

defenderYou just saw a movie with a group of people – and as everyone is walking to the exit, someone asks: “What did you think?”

You have a few options.

A) Blurt out the first thing that comes to mind.

B) Hold back and get a sense of other people’s responses, formulate your ideas, and decide what your social goals are.

Isn’t it awesome to have a fully developed pre-frontal cortex? To be able to moderate your mouth, to make complex decisions about conversational cause-and-effect?

Teenagers: Brains are in not fully developed. Hormones are pretty darned developed.

By the time they realize what they want to say, they’ve already said the wrong thing.

Classroom Scenario

You offer a prompt or a question – perhaps on a controversial topic. The whole class is silent and still, except for one hand. You call on that brave soul.

The idea is half-baked. Maybe a little offensive.

A flock of hands now flies up. Students launch an offensive on the first speaker.

True, his idea was lacking. But after critique number two, nearly any student would become locked, defensive, and want only rescue himself from the onslaught.

What do you do?

After two or three critical comments directed towards a student, give him/her the courtesy of responding, clarifying what s/he meant, or defending his/her point.

Afterwards, it’s your job to highlight whatever grain of truth is in the idea. [Then, move on.]

Not only is it the fair thing to do, but also, it might allow him/her to invest less in protecting him/herself, and more energy in opening up to a new perspective.

He might even learn something.

 

 

 

 

Design Thinking at the Nursing Home: (or “how to end the year with a ‘WOW!’)

wowDesign thinking: empathy for the context of a problem + creativity in the generation of insights and solutions + and rationality in analyzing and fitting various solutions to the problem context. (Wikipedia: Design Thinking)

The last 3 months of class combined Design Thinking with Compassionate Listening — see the story, in comic form, below.

comeek1page1comeek2page2kids and seniors

Real students’ quotes:

Q: What was the goal of visiting the Rhoda Goldman Plaza?

  • “It let us fully explain our project and the reasons why we chose to create something the way we did.”
  • “To get advice from elders and see what they have to say on a topic they might know a lot about.”
  • “to make these people happy by showing them that someone does care about them and what they have to share”
  • “to be able to put our reflect and re reflecting skills to work”

Q: What are some of the things you TOOK AWAY from the experience? How was it valuable to you as a person?

  • “The connection I had with them and now, it opened my eyes to real life and the history of the people and our country “
  • “I was great to be able to make a connection with a person who is so different from me”
  • “i met a wonderful lady who was very kind and interesting… From the experience i took away practice in presenting and ways to interact with another person i just met before presenting a personal project to them.”
  • “I learned that life is very precious and to not waste it but live it everyday”