Ky schools moving to student-friendly design

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Associated Press

Posted on January 18, 2014 at 1:02 PM

EMINENCE, Ky. (AP) — School districts around Kentucky are moving to a more student-friendly design aimed at keeping pupils engaged and offer flexibility for both pupils and teachers.

The "design thinking" concept is the brainchild of University of Kentucky Education Professor John Nash. Eminence Independent School Superintendent Buddy Berry told the Lexington Herald-Leader (http://bit.ly/1iWyImE ) the concept is to make decisions about how the school day functions with empathy for teachers and students alike.

Nash runs the Laboratory on Design Thinking in Education. Berry went to a conference in 2011 held by Nash on "design thinking," which has been used for several decades by businesses and other organizations.

Nash spent nearly a decade at Stanford University, where design thinking was studied and implemented. He then started a private company to help nonprofits use the method, but academia called again. In 2011, he ended up at UK as a professor and head of the Next Generation Leadership Academy.

While training future leaders, he started to ponder how design thinking could be applied in schools.

"The people who are most affected by design thinking in schools are kids, but they are usually never part of the solution of how schools can be run to be more meaningful," Nash said.

Design thinking follows a standard pattern: Define the problem. Brainstorm radical solutions. Find prototypes of solutions. Get feedback on how it works. Fix problems before implementation.

Also, don't spend a lot of time talking about how something won't work.

At its most simple, design thinking is about making decisions with empathy, or with the needs of those affected in mind.

Berry interviewed students, teachers and staff about what they wanted to make school more meaningful.

"It was bigger than adding a single program or a new class; we literally went out and redesigned the entire process," Berry said.

In the case of Berry's school district, half the high school students travel to Bellarmine University in Louisville two days a week to take college classes. Eminence officials created the first Wi-Fi school bus so students could work on laptops while traveling.

Bryan Station High School data specialist Stacy Middleton, who oversees a 70-member design team, said the concept is being used to offer shorter class blocks to give teachers flexibility.

"It's so much more important than a schedule — you're teaching people to use their minds and come up with ideas, and get empathy for the people they're affecting to come up with some wonderful solutions," she said. "That life skill is more important that any content I could teach."

The new schedule has many modules that can be put together for longer classes, or shorter ones to work with teachers, hold study halls or for students to mentor one another.

"This is going to create more enthusiasm for school because you'll have more time to process and comprehend it," said James Conley, a Bryan Station senior and design team member.

Students also will have more flexibility to tailor their schedule to their interests, Middleton said.

"We want kids to explore their passions and we want them to be prepared to explore whatever those are when they leave here," she said. "I think that's what the design team has really been about."

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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