What does it mean to build the courage to imagine and craft solutions to challenges? How can design thinking, systems thinking, data science, computer science, and design engineering be used to address societal issues around social justice and equity? In Design with Impact (DWI), a core course in ninth grade, students engage in projects that help them bridge the skills in these five key areas and design for others.
There are three big projects throughout the year. In the first semester, students worked in teams to create Rube Goldberg machines that integrated skills they learned in class: writing code, creating a circuit, using I-Lab tools, and others. They used these engineering and design skills to bring to life a creative storyboard as a complex chain-reaction machine.
At the start of the second semester, students took on their first challenge of designing for others by creating a puzzle box for a partner. After extensive interviewing, in which students learned about each others’ backgrounds, they created a gift box filled with three items for their partner: a comfort, a hope, and a fortune.
“Through the puzzle box project, my hope was for students to learn how to conduct effective open-ended interviews with users, in order to practice needfinding," said DWI teacher Morgan Snyder. "It was amazing to see new relationships grow between students."
The project was also highly flexible: students who wanted to get very technical could do so, while students who wanted to focus more deeply on the meaningful treasures inside the box could also focus their attention there. One of the goals of DWI is to offer different entry points into the I-Lab.
For their third and final project of the course, students have been using universal design and software design principles to create a solution to their answer to the question, “What is a universal need that certain people have trouble accessing?”
Students Cara W., Josie B., and Maya S. decided to focus on a humanitarian issue they think often gets overlooked: access to bathrooms and showers.
“With San Francisco’s homeless and near-homeless populations increasing over the last few years, we wanted to create something efficient, usable, and realistic for those without access to private hygiene facilities to find public restrooms and showers,” they said.
So, the group set out to create an automated texting tool that end users could use to locate restrooms and showers.
“Automated texting hotlines are simple and reliable, allowing smartphone users with little to no technical literacy to simply navigate their smartphone’s default texting app,” they said. “Our design needed to be as straightforward as possible and, given our resources, coding a texting bot was the most reasonable solution for this issue.
Landon X. and Jackson L. were inspired by the recent Science of Mind drug education unit for their project.
“Our main question was, ‘Why would you prescribe someone a medication to make their life better but cause them even more problems down the road?’” they shared.
After conducting deeper research on the topic, Landon and Jackson decided this issue was where they wanted to focus their attention.
To solve this problem, they closely examined the processes in which a patient gets addicted to a drug. They decided to design a product that would allow a doctor to program a bottle so it only dispenses the right dosage at the right time of the day.
“Through this project we learned about the total lack of attention the general public and the medical community gives to many of these issues, which are not limited to prescription drug addiction,” they shared. “When designing a solution, we learned that the user was not the only perspective we needed to consider; we needed to satisfy the criteria of many different groups.”
This week, students presented their ideas and prototypes to their classmates and exchanged feedback. Students who want to continue to pursue their ideas are encouraged to continue iterating in Invention Studio, a club at Nueva where students design products for social good.
Walking around the room, Morgan marveled at what her students had produced.
“What amazed me was the variety of different problems students chose to address,” she said. “I have been so impressed by the level of empathy and sensitivity that students have approached the research with. They are looking at populations very different from our Nueva community, and the lengths to which many students walked a mile in the shoes of their users—perhaps more than a mile—is commendable.”
As this was the first time students have done this project in DWI, Morgan sees a number of opportunities to iterate and grow it for next year.
“I’m really excited about using projects like this to build long-term community partnerships,” she said. “There is no better learning experience than experiential curriculum and connecting with people who are different from you. My hope is that students realize that we are all human and have universal needs, and perhaps one day they’ll become designers and engineers who can help solve some of these big challenges.”