Design Briefs: Blurring the Line Between School and Real Life

Most people would agree that maths, science, reading, and writing exist outside of the classroom. So why do we teach them in separated classes in school? At Mount Vernon Presbyterian School, connecting students to the world around them plays a big role in establishing the context for student learning.

As a third grade teacher, I have taken students out of the classroom and have been amazed at the types of questions and learning the students were capable of. I brought students to the neighborhood public library once. Students came upon this sign:

This led to an exploration of the homeless condition in our community. This experience became the backdrop of several areas of study. The third grade team were able to use this empathy narrative to drive learning in persuasive writing, several maths areas, and social sciences. Our lower school students have been to Walmart, Home Depot, Whole Foods, and other places to experience economics, arrays, marketing, healthy choices and so much more.

This type of expeditionary learning is one way to blur the lines between school and real life. Because the students were engaging the experience in a natural way, the learning was authentic and long lasting. Another way is the use of design briefs in the upper grades.

Design briefs are a fundamental component of the Innovation Diploma program of study at Mount Vernon. Using design thinking practices and tools, students make observations the world, connect with people and develop ways to innovate and solve real world problems.

In Rosalyn Merrick’s MoVe talk, she tells a story about Mount Vernon Presbyterian School students that did just that. An Innovation Diploma design team worked with commercial developers, S.J. Collins, to design a “pocket park” in a new Whole Foods Market development in northeast Atlanta. The iDiploma students that worked on that project were recently invited to the grand opening of the shopping center, they were responsible for naming “Peachtree Station” Seeing their completed work has left an impression that won’t soon be forgotten.

When students are able to put their learning in a real world context, they are more engaged in the work they are doing.

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