Finding more time to spend together with their peers might not seem like an earthshattering problem to the rest of the world, but middle school students at Ursuline were able to come up with a solution using a method of problem solving called design thinking.
As part of a new partnership with Manhattanville College in Purchase, every member of our seventh-grade participated in a series of three design thinking workshops led by Manhattanville’s Center for Design Thinking. The workshops offer Ursuline students an exciting set of critical thinking skills.
Dr. Carson, of Manhattanville's Center for Design Thinking, reviews solutions proposed by Ursuline students.
"I was really impressed with the student ideas and how much they had thought about the challenge and potential solutions,’’ said Principal Rosemary Beirne. “One group interviewed me about how we could provide some time, even once a week, to just be with their friends whom they rarely saw outside school during COVID. They had thought through the school’s daily schedule and figured out that if we took just 10 minutes off each class, they could create an activity period in which students could go to the library, the cafeteria, outside on the Commons or to a classroom just to catch up with each other, do homework, or see their advisor. I think it just might work."
Design thinking is a systematic approach to solving problems with the end user in mind. It has gained popularity among business leaders and others because its method uses empathy and observation to come up with innovative solutions to complex issues. Manhattanville College is the only college in Westchester to offer a certificate in the science of design thinking.
Alison Carson, Ph.D., associate provost for academic innovation and design thinking at Manhattanville, collaborated with Ursuline physics teacher and design lab facilitator Kevin Anton to devise the workshop curriculum. The workshop took place in Ursuline’s new Innovation Hub that offers a “makerspace” and collaborative areas with the tools that students need to tinker as well as learn robotics, engineering and computer science. One example of a student hands-on project in the Innovation Hub was the creation of ornaments for a nursing home using the Glow Forge and 3D printers.
The design workshop framework followed the five stages of design thinking – empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test.
Dr. Carson guided teams of enthusiastic students through the process of identifying a problem by putting themselves in someone else’s shoes. They defined the problem with “How Might We” questions. Colorful post-it notes filled large paper canvases as students brainstormed possible solutions. Then they chose a solution and created a digital storyboard, a series of steps displayed as a digital comic strip using the Canva platform. Finally, student teams presented their storyboards to panels of Ursuline faculty and administration. The lively question-and-answer sessions provided useful feedback to the middle schoolers. Several of their solutions are expected to move forward.
These exercises – used by corporations around the world – were developed by The Stanford d.school and the global design company IDEO, the group that trained Manhattanville faculty and staff in the methodology of design thinking.
Ursuline President Colleen Melnyk, Ed.D., said, “Research shows design thinking increases confidence, empathy, and global competency among students. Our partnership with Manhattanville College provides opportunities for The Ursuline School to cultivate the next generation of female STEAM thinkers and practitioners.”
Dr. Melnyk hears from students their possible solution to a stated problem.
Students reported that they enjoyed exploring new ideas in groups and helping solve problems. “I liked the hard thinking and making the project,” said Jessica Nolan. Students also described how this workshop was different from their other classes. “We had to solve a problem rather than research something and present our findings,” shared a seventh-grader.
Dr. Carson directs the Center for Design Thinking at Manhattanville which opened in 2019 and is among the first of its kind on a liberal arts college campus. “Design thinking skills distinguish innovators from others in the workplace,” said Dr. Carson. “It is a useful and marketable skill. It allows Manhattanville students entering the workforce to set themselves apart from the pack. We are excited about being able to introduce this concept to young girls at Ursuline. It’s never too early to start.’’
Design lab facilitator Mr. Anton, Dr. Carson, Dr. Melnyk, 7th grade teacher Mr. Hughes
Michael Geisler, Ph.D., President of Manhattanville College, said that the partnership was a wonderful way for future college students at The Ursuline School to be introduced to the value of design thinking as well as all that Manhattanville has to offer.
“Design thinking fits with the values of the liberal arts and our mission to educate ethical and socially responsible leaders,’’ Geisler said. “This partnership is a great opportunity to introduce these girls to a skill that is in demand in today’s workplace as well as to the value of a liberal arts education.’’