Design Thinking, Service Learning and Social Entrepreneurship (For 10-Year Olds)

During the 2016-2017 academic year, a small team of elementary educators at NIST International School explored how the confluence of design thinking, service learning and social entrepreneurship could be combined into a powerful learning experience for students. This piloted initiative was offered as a year long inquiry into How We Organize Ourselves under the central idea: People create systems to address issues and support needs.

Early in the pedagogical design process, teachers sought to align the learning experience in the school’s core values: integrity, caring, community and growth. We wanted students to have the opportunity to embody a spirit of compassion, creatively make with needs in mind, collaboratively enrich the lives of others and effect positive change in the world. The goal was to empower students to become more socially active, environmentally responsible, empathetically innovative and solution-oriented visionaries. We designed the experience to be founded in 21st century skills, the five Essential Elements of the PYP Programme, and were inspired by the work of Tony Wagner (Creating Innovators) and Daniel Pink (Drive). What follows is a story of the year-long learning process.

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During the first months of the year, students read news articles about young entrepreneurs and innovators around the world during reader’s workshop. They actively engaged with texts that inspired them to begin envisioning themselves as youth change makers capable of effecting change. At the same time, students were learning about the design thinking process by making and tinkering in our school’s Makerspace. They explored the values inherent in making for others and seeking out needs that address real-world issues.

As students became more familiar with safe and sustainable use of age-appropriate tools, they gained a sense of empowerment by witnessing their ideations transform into tangible designs. They applied flexible and resourceful thinking when confronted with limitations and by the end of the first semester, students had built a foundation of hard skills (cutting, hot-gluing, 3-D printing, hammering, wedging, etc) and soft skills (empathy, collaboration, resilience and creativity). A culture of innovative ideation was created.

As the first semester drew to an end, students were finishing a read aloud of the book entitled, “A Long Walk to Water,” which tells the true story of Salva Dut–a Lost Boy of Sudan who escaped from civil war as a child. As an adult, Salva returns to southern Sudan to start a foundation that digs water wells for local communities. Students were very inspired by Salva’s story to bring water to his homeland and wanted to help. A small group of students began to meet and organize during their lunch period to take action and support Water For South Sudan, Salva’s foundation. “We’re going to start a business and raise money for Salva,” they proudly proclaimed one day. “We’re going to sell lemonade and shaved ice.”

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Without teachers even mentioning starting a business or the year-long pilot initiative, students had organically started one on their own. It was now the teachers’ goal to re-channel and shift student energy towards a more skill-based and sustainable learning experience by creating the conditions for service and introducing the concept of social entrepreneurship.

After a three-week break, teachers began the second semester by talking to students about raising the bar for how to help others. They encouraged students to think beyond selling sugar water one day a year and explained that they were going to be challenged to do better. At first, it was difficult to ask students to slow down and reflect rather than run with their reactions. Teachers walked a fine line of building up their enthusiasm to serve while tempering hasty and short-sighted actions. It was a delicate dance of passionate patience with long-term learning in mind.

Luckily for teachers, once students learned about social entrepreneurialism and were inspired by others’ efforts around the world, it did not take long for students to have unrestrainable motivation at the prospects of starting their own businesses. They now were about to become social entrepreneurs.

The class reflected together on optimal numbers for members in a business to achieve peak collaborative efficiency. Students put themselves into nine teams, with group sizes ranging from one to five members. Within ten minutes of the teams forming, the majority of the groups had already decided what products they were going to make. It should come as no surprise that their ideas were limited by what they had seen others do.

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Teachers challenged students not to be reactive in their decision-making and run wildly with their first thought for a product. They intentionally created a learning pace that took a more measured and slow exposure to conscious decision-making. They asked questions such as: What problem or need might you address and provide a solution for? What innovations or DIY designs already exist in the world that might inspire you to innovate off of? What social cause are you thinking about supporting? What is the alignment between your potential product, your company’s values and the social cause you wish to support? Teachers expected students to engage in a constant process of reflection, refinement and purposeful intentionality rather than being reactively unaware of the reasoning for their business choices.

Once students became more clear and articulate about their decision-making, they began to design a product prototype using many of the hard skills they had developed in the first semester. They continued to visit the Makerspace and were challenged to think about the impact their product might have on the environment. Teachers asked students to think about how could they design in a sustainable manner while still emphasizing aesthetics. Students then presented their prototype idea to their peers and pitched their product to a small panel of teachers, similar to the TV show Dragon’s Den. The feedback they received helped them clarify their thinking and consider next steps for their business.

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Students were then introduced to the social entrepreneurship expectations, which were a set of parameters put in place to reflect an experience as close to real-life as possible. Since all materials have a cost, student social enterprises were responsible for those costs—parents could not buy or gift them anything students needed for their business. With the expectation of financial independence in place, the only alternative for students to start their business was to seek out an investment from someone willing to help them get their social enterprise off the ground. However, to keep in line with working within limitations, there was a financial cap placed on their start-up investment which could not exceed $60 USD. Another agreement was that could not be their homeroom teacher nor a parent of anyone in their business. Students would have to go out and pitch their products to someone they knew might not say ‘yes.’ They were put in a position to ask for a financial investment from someone they were not immediately close to ensure they were accountable. In order for of this to happen, students would need to create a business plan for their investor–which is where the next phase of the student learning experience shifted.

The parameters put in place to require an investor ensured that students earned their business start-up money rather than simply being given it without proving themselves worthy of such entrusted responsibility. In their business plan, students had to think of a catchy business name, design a logo, create a slogan, write a mission statement, explain the problem their product was going to address, highlight the cost and quantity of materials needed to begin producing, identify the social cause they were supporting and consider any potential problems their business might encounter. They also had to calculate how large of a business loan they were going to request from a potential investor and compose an introductory email explaining their business aims.

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Nine social enterprises sent out nine emails to members of staff and the parent body and they received nine positive responses in support of their cause. The social entrepreneurs now had the money they needed to start their businesses. With their investments in hand, student teams began to order and buy the materials they needed to turn their visions into reality.

Over the following weeks, resources started filling the classroom and the entrepreneurial teams began to plan out what to do next. Many social enterprises knew the products they wanted to design, but did not have the skills or knowledge for how to do so. Students had to teach themselves the skills they needed to make the products or reach out to experts in the community to coach them. It was an opportunity for students to self-direct their own learning and not be held back by a lack of skills–but rather be empowered to overcome authentic obstacles with the right mindset.

With only two months remaining, the social entrepreneurship teams began to organize into systems that would enhance mass production. Iterations were refined as teams evaluated their products and collected feedback from their peers. Some groups met with secondary design technology teachers to help apply more complex elements to their products, while others stayed in the classroom to assume individual roles within their business organization. Students began to market their product and create advertisements to expose their company to a wider community. Mathematical thinking was deeply embedded in projecting price-points, repaying their investor and estimating potential profit margins. Students set goals for how much they would be satisfied giving to their social cause and worked to find the balance of how much customers would be willing to pay with how many products they were striving to sell. Coupled with profit allocation, potential reinvestment in their business after the school year and the basics of supply and demand, it became an inquiry into introductory economics and financial management. Students learned about efficiency, accountability, time management and collaborative compromise with a deadline fast approaching on the horizon.

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Finally, after weeks of students using their 20% time to work towards their entrepreneurial goals and creating a minimum of 20 products to sell at the Maker Faire, students were ready. The learning process that ran as an experiential thread throughout the entire school year had finally come to an end and student energy was at its highest point.

Social entrepreneurship—referred to as ‘socent’ by now–had become students’ favorite part of the day. They had blended the lines between learning and play, with several teams asking daily whether they could come in during their free time to work on their socent project. Students organized playdates and sleepovers on weekends to “work” on their social enterprise. And at the end of the year, when students were asked to have a reflective learning conversation on whatever aspect of their learning they wanted to talk about, almost 90% of them chose to talk about socent. When asked why they chose to reflect on this, nearly all of them started the conversation with, “Because it’s fun.”

During the three days students sold their products at the Maker Faire, almost every single one of their products sold out. Students were able to pay back their investor after the first day, and then devoted the rest of their profits to making the world a better place.

  • Coasters For Lives donated 8,183 Thai Baht to SFODA, an orphanage in Cambodia that aims to help children and youth have a better future.
  • Crafty Cacti donated 6,607 Thai Baht to Mushie Mushie, a NIST student-run service group that raises awareness on the complex issue of poaching by supporting sustainable solutions that aim to tackle it.
  • DP Speakers donated 4,722 Thai Baht to Action Against Hunger, a global humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger.
  • Fashion For Care (FFC) donated 3,293 Thai Baht to The Mercy Center, an organization that helps children and communities of the many slums of Bangkok.

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  • Kitty Paws donated 11,230 Thai Baht to PAWS, an organization in Bangkok that aims to create a smaller and healthier street animal population through spay/neuter and low-cost veterinary services.
  • Modelz4Cancer donated 4,840 Thai Baht to UK Cancer Research, a cancer research and awareness charity in the United Kingdom.
  • Lots of Colour donated 5,263 Thai Baht to The Mercy Center, an organization that helps children and communities of the many slums of Bangkok.
  • Power Golf donated 2,579 Thai Baht to The Mercy Center, an organization that helps children and communities of the many slums of Bangkok.
  • T-Wood donated 21,557 Thai Baht to Access Education, an organization that purchases bikes for Cambodian children and adolescents to ride to school in order to access educational opportunities.    

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After adding all the money earned from these young social entrepreneurs, students were able to raise over over 68,000 Thai Baht ($2,000 USD), with 75% coming from entrepreneurial efforts and 25% coming from inspired donors.

In the grand scheme of things, their financial contributions might seem small to adults. But to a ten-year old, they are anything but. Students gave a lot more than just a donation to an organization during this learning experience–they gave a part of themselves.

And perhaps for the next generation, the small seeds that were planted today might grow into something big and fruit-bearing tomorrow.

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It would not be fair for this story to be only told by the teachers involved, so we’ll let some student reflections put a cap on a powerful, 21st century learning experience.

  • I am learning that doing something that is enjoyable for yourself can also help make the Earth enjoyable for other people. I think it’s important to learn that not everyone is born equal in the world and there are some people that need our help. It is important to help make a change since we are sharing this planet and each and every one of us is effecting it. We adore being able to help out people while doing something we love.  -Helly
  • The thought of it (social entrepreneurship) makes me really happy and excited about life. You learn how to make things aesthetically pleasing, donate to other people and help the world. You get to be responsible. We have our own investors, we make our own products and we do the things by ourselves.  -Reiko
  • I love socent because it is an opportunity to learn more about the skills we will need to know for the future. This was only the first day and already I feel like the fun factor can’t go up anymore. This is my letter to my future self to know that this was the most awesome and amazing thing I have ever done in my life span.  -Benny
  • Social entrepreneurship. Wow. This totally changed me as a person. In a good way. To help others, care more, help our social cause, and think about the unfortunate. It improved my communication skills, cooperation skills, and teamwork skills. Being creative leads to designing and that leads to collaboration and that leads to problem solving and that leads to helping others. We (Kitty Paws) faced many challenges and arguments but we got through all of them with everyone happy.  -Shahar
  • Socent is like what makes students like school. It lights up the class. Today, Modelz4Cancer has achieved the best accomplished ever, THE MAKER FAIRE! Modelz4Cancer sold out in 30 minutes, which made us (me and Poom) surprised. I’m really excited. It’s one of the best thing in my life, thanks to our investor.  -Summer
  • I feel like I really changed through this experience! I learned how to work with others and listen to everyone, and I’m pretty sure that I’m gonna use this skill in the future. I feel like it has really helped me become more confident around others, and encourage others to help PAWS. I also learned that things can’t come to you and you have to work for them, and no matter what traffic jam lies ahead, you can always get through it!  -Sara
  • I think other students should try socent because it’s a great learning experience and they get to help a social cause. They get to have the joy of people liking their products and the joy of helping others.  -Billie
  • I think what was most important in socent was that we could educate other students about PAWS, SFODA, Butts on Bikes etc. I also thought helping people and animals who aren’t as lucky as us is very nice and caring.  -Ella
  • I liked socent because you develop new skills that you haven’t developed before that could really help you in the future. I also liked it because after all the hard work you feel proud of yourself because you have done something that lots of other people haven’t done.  -Harry
  • Social entrepreneurship was my favorite period in year five. I think it should be something children all around the world do because it is saving our planet and helping the global goals.  -Marley


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To find out more about how to try something similar in your class, please check out this this website which documents my wonderful colleague Moira Litchfield’s experience as well. A huge thank you to Tosca Killoran for all her guidance, inspiration and vision along the way. Tosca is also responsible for documenting of our pilot for other educators, so a big shout out to her for being so selflessly serving to the greater educational community.

To find out more about the 21st century skills and PYP Attitudes evidenced through this experience, please check out this blog post.

Self-Directed Learning: Action Research

Throughout the 2015-16 school year, I conducted some action research on how self-directed learning (20% time, genius hour, etc.) affects students’ attitudes and dispositions. This website tells the story of the quantitative and qualitative data that emerged from the research, identifies improvements and reflections based on this experiment, provides student learning examples and explains how to start self-directed learning in your classroom.

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Minecrafting Opportunities

These are two videos I created to document the learning that occurred during out last unit of inquiry, Where We Are in Place and Time. These will be a part of my COETAIL final project.

MinecraftEdu Experience Overview (The Story Behind the Space)

Student Reflections On Their Learning (Evaluating the Learning Tool)

Evolving Library Concepts

School library spaces are changing, as is the language we intentionally use to open these conceptual shifts. Despite the evolution of concepts and vocabulary, the one thing that remains constant is a school library’s focus on optimizing learning. The graphic above does not seek to be mutually exclusive in language, but rather situationally inclusive as we reframe and redefine the potential that can exist within school libraries in the 21st century.

Evolving Library Concepts

 

Evolving Library Concepts (Printable PDF)

How to Use Padlet to Show Action, PYP Attitudes and Learner Profile Traits

The Essential Elements in the PYP consist of knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action. In Making the PYP Happen, it states that a balance is sought between them through delivery of the written curriculum. I’m not sure if the Essential Elements were arranged in that order intentionally (knowledge, concepts, skills, attitudes and action) or if they just happen to be naturally prioritized that way in most classrooms. But casual inspection of Essential Element preference in most PYP schools would indicate that there is a gap between the first three (knowledge, concepts and skills) and the second two (attitudes and action).

Photo Credit: Dhammika Heenpella / Images of Sri Lanka via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Dhammika Heenpella / Images of Sri Lanka via Compfight cc

Although walk-through observations of many PYP classrooms would exhibit frequent teacher references to attitudes and action, there is often a lack of visible celebration of them by students. Generally, they operate as invisible forces working through students, either mentally and emotionally in the form of attitudes, or physically in the form of actions. When they could be detected, attitudes and action often (and positively) occur outside our field of vision.

Through no fault of their own, most teachers are faced with making evaluative decisions in an attempt to find balance in an overloaded curriculum with the time constraints they have. Due to this, the Essential Element wedge is opened and most teachers choose to focus on the first three Essential Elements (knowledge, concepts and skills) while putting the last two (attitudes and action) on the backburner. Teachers place an emphasis on knowledge, concepts and skills, and therefore, so do their students. The problem with this is that it again leaves attitudes and actions often standing on the sideline watching the other Essential Elements get more play time. Despite our best efforts to directly instruct attitudes and action, take advantage of teachable moments to reflect upon them or simply model and allow mirror neurons to do their thing, it’s still not enough. We need to get students more actively involved and empowered with the PYP attitudes and the action cycle.

Enter Padlet, a very simple-to-use and free website that provides an opportunity for students to create and take ownership of their own “walls” to showcase evidence, understanding and transference of these attitudes and actions. Here is how it works:

In our class, students have created three Padlet walls within their account: PYP attitudes, Action Wall and Learner Profile traits. Since the Learner Profile (LP) traits are the foundation of all IB programmes, we included a wall for them as well, as they are referenced just as much as the attitudes are in our class.

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We have linked these Padlet walls to the student blogs, which also act as an online portfolio for their learning. With one click from their personal blogs, students are taken to the Padlet wall they wish to post on. The beautiful thing about Padlet is that, so often, the LP traits, PYP attitudes and especially action take place outside of school hours. Padlet can be accessed from any computer in the world, as long as the students know how to find their personal blogs off our class page.

What this means is that students and parents can easily contribute a photo or video that demonstrates their engagement of these holistic practices at any time from anywhere in the world. All they need is their mobile device. Is your son taking a risk while on vacation? Post a photo of it. Is your daughter serving others at an orphanage on the weekends? Post a video of it. Are your children finally appreciating each other’s company? Celebrate it! And post it. Many elementary students now have their own mobile devices where they can initiate the posting when they realize they are acting out LP traits or PYP attitudes in their home lives. The Padlet wall can serve as a digital portfolio for who they are not only as learners, but also as people.

Inside the classroom, we are working on a renewed metacognitive shift of awareness of the PYP attitudes, LP traits and action. Although students are exposed to the attitudes and traits every day, they frequently do not recognize when they might be enacting one unless prompted to reflect. Each morning, upon arriving to school, students select a descriptor I have written for each of the LP traits and PYP attitudes out of a large bucket. They then have to find the LP trait or PYP attitude poster on the wall that the descriptor matches to. This attitude or profile trait becomes their “Word for the Day,” which they then should try to reflect upon and practice when an opportunity arises. This sixty-second welcoming to the classroom each morning not only opens students up to further exposure of the LP traits and PYP attitudes vocabulary, but also expands their limited notion of what those words could mean or entail. This practice provided a foundation for increased referencing and identifying of LP traits and PYP attitudes in class reflections, but student engagement with them still seemed passive and lacked ownership.

Photo Credit: tochis via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: tochis via Compfight cc

In order to try to provide more ownership of metacognitive recognition of their action, attitudes and traits, we are affording more opportunities for students to interact with their Padlet walls. To begin some lessons, I give the students a reminder that if at any time, they recognize they are practicing one of the PYP attitudes, LP traits or taking a form of action, they make take a photo and post it onto their Padlet wall. They start off by giving their iPad to a friend to capture a reenacted photo of them doing the trait, attitude or action that set off that metacognitive realization. Then, students go onto their virtual wall, post the photo, identify the attitude or trait and write a caption that describes how they were showing it. We’ve timed the whole process and it takes less than four minutes. Shortly thereafter, they are back to the independent or collaborative activity they were previously engaged in.

Other lessons, if the students are very focused and we don’t want to break their cognitive momentum, my academic assistant and I will grab their iPads and take photos of them engaged in their learning. Later, we will tell them that they have some photos waiting for them in their camera roll in which they can identify LP traits or PYP attitudes they were practicing during that engagement. If some of the attitudes or traits are too obvious in a learning activity (creativity, communicator, cooperation, respect, caring), I might prohibit identifying them on their walls for that day to encourage acquainting themselves with lesser-known traits and attitudes.

Photo Credit: Michael Matti via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: Michael Matti via Compfight cc

If students take action somewhere around the school and let me know about it, I encourage them to take a classmate with them to that location and reenact the choice they reflected upon. When students bring in learning resources from home they would like to share with the class or have voluntarily extended their understanding outside of school hours and would like to present new data, a classmate takes a photo of them. When they are done speaking to the class, they put the photo up on their action wall as a form of furthering their own (and others’) education.

Although this undertaking is still in its infancy and there are flaws with this approach (like its propensity to serve as extrinsic motivation for some students), we find that its rollout thus far has been successful in celebrating students’ holistic growth and evolution. This Padlet wall endeavor will not bring the PYP attitudes, Learner Profile traits and action cycle onto equitable terms with the heavyweights of knowledge, concepts and skills. However, it has the potential to shift the scales a little more favorably into balance.

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