Design Initiatives goes to San Diego: part 2



On Tuesday 2/12, I jumped back over to San Diego for my second visit in a week to “America’s Finest City.” This time, I went to join a convening of education innovators and changemakers to network and share approaches to school design and redesign. The meeting was hosted at the Design Lab at UC San Diego, and convened by the Center for Secondary School Redesign.

Fun window stickers casting shadows at Ideate High Academy in San Diego.

I was graciously chauffeured around the city for the day by Dr. Shawn Loescher, a recent graduate from MLFTC’s Leadership and Innovation program (where I’m currently a student!). A veteran of school reform and redesign in San Diego, Shawn is currently the Chief Executive Officer of Urban Discovery Schools, a charter school system in San Diego which is utilizing design thinking for social transformation. Shawn took me on tours of both Urban Discovery Academy (grades TK-8) and Ideate High Academy (grades 9-12), and I was blown away by the engaging spaces and learning taking place. To learn more about Shawn and the Urban Discovery Schools, be sure to check out this feature the Teachers College did on the amazing work happening there!

After visiting Shawn’s schools downtown, we headed up to La Jolla to join our fellow conveners at UCSD. First, we toured the Design Lab, including a special look at the Power of Neural Gaming (PoNG) Center. Leanne Chukoskie, the Associate Director of the Research on Autism and Development Laboratory (RADLab) and a leader of the PoNG team, led us through a demo of the PoNG games, which included a set of games that use eye movement tracking in gaming to help children and adults on the Autism Spectrum focus their attention. Not only were the games fascinating, but it led us all into a great conversation about the potential for design to impact the way we approach equity as well as innovation for schools and other learning environments (like gaming platforms!).

After visiting the Design Lab, we spent the bulk of our time exploring how we might build communication avenues and infrastructure for a collective of changemakers working at student-centered design and design thinking. We all shared our stories, and we began to see some of the incredible school designs and collaborations these educators and teams of educators have been involved in. From creating new schools based wholly on design thinking to collaborative school redesigns with communities based entirely on student governance and student-led pedagogy, there was no shortage of inspirational stories of both processes and outputs of leveraging design to drive human- and community-centered improvement in local schools.

We also had a rich discussion about designerly work itself, and the moment design thinking, in particular, seems to be having in education. Most all of the assembled participants had experience with school redesign, and so the possibilities for design thinking as a set of tools and mindsets to leverage for school redesign seemed a natural fit. What made this meeting so unique as it relates to other design thinking conversations I’ve been in with educators is that this wasn’t wholesale evangelism for design thinking, devoid of nuance or context. Michèle Morris of the Design Lab offered an incredible insight when she shared that at UCSD, they don’t believe in design thinking as having some special magic in and of itself, but rather as a tool that adds breadth and depth, for how people can innovate within systems. As a group of folks working to live out that idea here on the Design Initiatives team, I think we have found the same to be true in and around our Arizona communities.

The participants for the day were:

As a follow-up to this February meeting, this group reconvened virtually this week to explore the concrete next steps we could take to start to bring this network to life beyond the initial convening. What’s exciting about both the original gathering last month and this week’s call is that our collective enthusiasm hasn’t waned, and we’re eager to get going. Be on the lookout for future outputs from this group of committed changemakers!

Special thanks again to Shawn, Michelle, Joe, and Bob G. for your generosity, commitment and energy in convening and hosting the group!