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Design with Impact Project Examines Students' Well-being
John Feland, I-Lab engineer and Quest co-director

Do you remember life before elbow bumps and walking around with a tape measure to ensure you are six feet from your neighbors? Yes, we all do. Sometimes it’s harder to recall our day-to-day, mundane activities. Were you hungry in the morning three weeks ago? Did you feel supported by your friends on the evening of March 4? As it turns out, we actually have the answers to those questions for most of the ninth grade, thanks to an interdisciplinary project in Design with Impact (DWI) and Science of Mind (SOM).

Through this interdisciplinary project, we launched a well-being survey to help students gather data about themselves for a project that integrates design thinking, data science, and systems thinking. The goal was to help them to hack their own wellness systems by understanding how they feel across multiple dimensions of their lives. But first, we needed data.  

Beginning on March 2, with a few hiccups along the way, the DWI and SOM teachers have been surveying students three to four times a day with a quick, eight-question instrument. The result: We now have a snapshot of student life before and after the shelter-in-place orders. Below is an analysis of our data: 

  • On average, our students reported getting more sleep and being less hungry after moving to remote learning compared to a “regular” school week.
  • Their feelings of support from family, friends, and teachers have increased during the last week.
  • The depths of their emotions have expanded, which is to be expected during these types of situations. 
  • Students are less likely to express their emotions, which adults need to watch.
  • The biggest drop (and the lowest-ranked priority) pertained to physical activity. Students are more likely to answer “What’s a Push-up?” than to say they “just climbed six flights of stairs for fun!”  

Studies show that physical exercise helps with a multitude of aspects of students’ lives. John Rately, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, tells us, “At every level, from the microcellular to the psychological, exercise not only wards off the ill effects of chronic stress; it can also reverse them.” Aerobic activity improves brain function, and yoga reduces stress and increases resilience. Sitting on the couch in front of Netflix leads to more binge watching of Dora the Explorer. We need to help our students help themselves get out from behind their screens and, if possible, out the door. Doing activities as a family also helps. Nothing drives humor and bonding like practicing your downward dog with your family while being attacked with puppy kisses from your real dog! (True story, it happened on Monday!)

We will continue to work with our students to gather data. You can ask them about their data, but don’t expect to see it, as we have not yet completed the project. Our hope is that, over time, you’ll get to see how our freshmen have designed, prototyped, and implemented new well-being systems that will help them thrive in any environment, not just the aberration we are living right now. Thank you for the gift of your children — now go and take a walk together!



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