What could you add or change in this community to make it an even better place to live?

Not an easy question, but one that was posed earlier this year to gifted and talented program students at Waconia School District 110’s three elementary schools: Southview, Bayview and Laketown. Last week, after much research, thinking, design and review, students showcased their answers.

The “Design Thinking Challenge” is an approach to extend students’ thinking and increase their 21st century skills in the “four Cs” – communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity, according to LeAnn Millender, district instructional teaching coach.

“Students have been working on their projects since January and have purposefully and intentionally gone through each step in the design thinking process,” she said.

Design thinking is a methodology for creative problem solving developed through the institute of design at Stanford University, explains instructional co-coach Jake Hockinson. It can be used by instructors to form their own teaching practice, or taught to students as a framework for real-world projects, like the ones that culminated last week. Design thinking also has been adopted by major corporations like Target and United Healthcare to solve problems and improve their business operations.

Coaches Hockinson and Millender have been working in partnership with local elementary school teachers to introduce and apply the approach in the classroom. In addition to the Design Thinking Challenge, the approach also has been used in the All’s Well gratitude initiative that Southview students were involved in (see Feb. 1, 2019 Waconia Patriot) and other classroom projects, like designing the perfect backpack.

“Students, and in fact all of us, always want to jump quickly to a solution to a problem,” Hockinson said. Design thinking is a more systematic approach.

The process involves five steps: 1) gaining empathy or understanding through research – in this case, students interviewed friends, family and community members; 2) defining the problem; 3) brainstorming solutions; 4) developing a prototype idea; and 5) testing and refining through review and feedback from others.

So, the big question in the students’ project, “how do we make this community a better place to live,” led to all sorts of additional questions, or driving questions, such as: How might we make a place where families can get together in Waconia? How might we get kids more active and off their screens? How might we create a way for anyone to have fun outside with friends or even strangers? How might we get people to socialize more in winter?

Laketown students who were showcasing their projects last Wednesday called the challenge fun, but also that – a challenge sorting through the problems and the solutions, then landing on one idea.

With student teams assigned to the project across third through fifth grades at all three public elementary schools, there were plenty of winning ideas.

How about these?

• A family clubhouse or an activity park

• An Activity Island – a redesign of Coney Island

• A Waconia scavenger hunt

• The Wildcat Race, using devices to find coordinates in and around Waconia

• The Great Maze, a life-size maze with obstacles and terrain

Maybe even a winter Nickle Dickle Day?

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