In addition to teaching Grade 4 and 5 science, Lauren St. John Lopez is the Lower School Design Team Liaison, where she acts as a bridge between specialty classes and homeroom teachers on design thinking projects.
In its simplest form, design thinking is a process—applicable to all walks of life—of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems. “One of the things I love about design thinking at Parker is it doesn’t mean, ‘Okay, now I’m going to science class where we’ll memorize content and watch a demonstration,’” St. John Lopez said. “The curriculum here crosses all of the different specialty subjects and classrooms—so no matter what your strengths are, there is something for you to contribute.” She emphasizes that design thinking allows teachers to reach students all along the spectrum of learning styles. “If you struggle to understand the content with science, we find a way to include art or woodshop into the topic. You’re never pigeon-holed into one area.”
A perfect example of a design thinking project is Grade 3’s investigation of birds that migrate through the Tijuana Estuary. After choosing a species to study, each student moves from class to class, focusing on different physical and biological aspects of their bird. In the library, they begin researching for their presentation. In the design lab, they create specific types of levers to mimic their birds’ beaks. In science, they explore the different mechanisms of eating, and how the shape of their bird’s beak determines what they eat. To cap off the project, the students visit the Tijuana Estuary, and assemble a design showcase where they present their findings.
The interdisciplinary style of learning that happens within these projects is authentic and intentional: “Whenever all of our departments are collaborating on a project, we like to say that we’re ‘all in,’” St. John Lopez said. “Our main focus becomes helping that grade work towards whatever their design showcase will be.”
To St. John Lopez, the important part of design thinking isn’t just the cross-curricular learning students are exposed to, but also the skills they develop in the process. “I think with all of the challenges our world faces today, design thinking is going to be the key to finding solutions,” she said. “Having the open-mindedness and flexibility that comes with being a design thinker is essential to function in a professional environment. And if you have practiced all through adolescence how to creatively look at problems and come up with solutions, you are going to be a far more successful adult in whatever field you go into.”
…If you have practiced all through adolescence how to creatively look at problems and come up with solutions, you are going to be a far more successful adult in whatever field you go into.