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The Free Thinkers

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

We can’t think of a better way to kick off 2017 than by recognizing the Free Thinkers design team at William C. Longstreth School as our 6th-8th grade team of the month.

When the students embarked on their DT Philly project in the fall, they invested time in identifying problems in their community and empathizing with fellow students.  During this time, they noticed their classmates complaining, slouching, tilting their chairs and desks, and getting out of their seats to move around the classroom.  Students, they realized, were uncomfortable, and this was affecting the learning environment, so they asked “How might we create a more comfortable desk area in the classroom for students so they can pay more attention, be more productive and want to sit down? 

As they researched this issue, the team realized many factors contributed to student discomfort.  Students of all sizes had to use desks and chairs of the same size, students didn’t have everything they needed at their desks, students were required to sit for long periods of time without a chance to move and stretch, etc.  When the team members talked to fellow students, they learned that their classmates wished desks could accommodate everything from a cup holder to a built-in gaming system.  At first, the team tried to incorporate all of their classmates’ wishes into their design ideas.  After realizing that wasn’t practical, they sought advice from DT Philly design experts, who guided them back to their “How might we…” question to narrow their focus.  Now, as they move into prototyping, they have more focused ideas they want to explore.

Longstreth is a seasoned participant in DT Philly, and the team features several returning members—including a young lady who has been on the team each of the last three years—and a veteran teacher, Mr. Rocco.  Their experience gives them a better understanding of the design thinking process, appreciation for each stage of the process, and the ability to evaluate and modify their past practices.  For example, last year the team communicated primarily through the messaging app Kik.  Having done that, they now see the benefit of spending more time together and meet in person once a week during the school day to share ideas and advance their project.

The team members have been proactive in seeking advice from the professional designers who volunteer with DT Philly, and they are enjoying their experience and the opportunity to interact with and design for their peers.  Working together as a team and generating big, crazy ideas that can benefit the students in their school is fun and rewarding.

With just under a month to go until the Free Thinkers and their fellow design teams present their challenges and solutions to the DT Philly judges, the teams are knee deep in prototyping and testing.  Stay tuned to learn more about the students’ efforts!