Middle School Design-Thinking Intensive: Innovation Nation
Middle School Design-Thinking Intensive: Innovation Nation

"Where all think alike, no one thinks very much." -Walter Lippmann

This past week, the Middle School was transformed into a design thinking machine! For three days, students were challenged to think differently, communicate openly, and innovate relentlessly, in order to come up with the best possible solution to a posed problem using design thinking.

Design thinking is an approach to innovation and creative problem solving that enlists and promotes 21st century skills, including collaboration, critical thinking, iteration, communication, empathy, digital literacy, and presentation, an approach championed by tech powerhouses like Apple and Google, where failure to innovate is tantamount to failure to thrive.

Though at Lincoln, our students are already engaged in the concept of learning by doing and the importance of experimentation, Innovation Nation allowed them to get outside the classroom setting and expand their points of view. During the three-day intensive, the Middle School lounge acted as home base and surrounding hallways and outdoor spaces were transformed into paper-lined design thinking stations peppered with post it notes.

The program was expertly led by Allison Butler '96, Ph.D., Lincoln School Alumnae Association president, and associate professor and educational psychologist at Bryant University, who encouraged students to "fail early to succeed sooner." Allison co-teaches an advanced Design Thinking course and serves on the leadership team of the award-winning IDEA (Innovation and Design Experience for All) program, now in its fifth year. Professor Mike Roberto, one of the driving forces behind the IDEA program, presented to the girls on the first morning.

All incoming Bryant freshmen take place in a three-day bootcamp very similar to the one in which Lincoln Middle Schoolers participated, and our students benefitted from their expertise—five Bryant students, hand selected from 5,000, joined as group leaders, mentors, and all around nice people.

Broken up into cohorts (bigger groups working on the same issue) then into smaller teams of four to five students, girls were challenged to come up with innovative solutions to common real-world problem. After mastering the basics of design thinking, they broke out to conduct field research, debrief, brainstorm, ask How Might We? questions, storyboard, pitch ideas, receive feedback, revise their thinking, prototype, and finally present their projects.

Questions, which ranged from how to improve the supermarket shopping experience for parents with young children" and "how toy stores might combat gender stereotyping in the toy industry", the process helped them to realize that in the real world, there often is no one right answer, just good thinking.

Judges asked questions, listened to reason, and saw the results of three days of hard work before selecting a winning team.

The overall workshop winner was Cohort 1, Team B, made up of Samantha Bennett '22, Isabel D'Hondt-Gorbea '21, Abbie Klein '22, Courtney Boghosian '23, and Judy Liu '22, who used exemplary design thinking when envisioning a better Lincoln library space.

Because they received feedback that it was hard to find books by Dewey decimal, they arranged by genre instead. They realized people were mentally stimulated by bright colors, so they added those in, then refined them to include more Lincoln green and white. No doubt looking forward to more design thinking, they designed a separate collaboration space for group work.

"We started by having these wild brainstorms, trying out different things, tossing out all kinds of ideas," said Abbie. "It was really fun taking that and making it concrete."

"I loved the ideas," said Isabel, "but I really loved physically laying it out and building up these structures."

"We all enjoyed the whole process," said Samantha. "But my favorite was going out to see and interview people. We really picked their brains and it joined our whole team together."

It was that team spirit that motivated and ultimately surprised them.

"In the beginning we thought we couldn't get this done, and definitely not in three days," said Courtney. "But I really enjoyed getting to know these girls."

"It was all about teamwork," said Judy. "I love art, but I can't do everything. Each of us brought something unique, and that's why being a part of a team was so important. I liked every part of the process, but I loved working together."

During closing ceremonies it was evident that all who participated had learned, achieved, and imagined beyond expectation.

"Congratulations to the winners and to all the students. You dug right into something new without hesitation. The truth is, you did what college students struggle with," said Allison at the end of the program. "Being a Lincoln girl myself, I had no doubt you'd rise to the occasion and blow it out of the water. But you did more than that. It's amazing what you all accomplished."