Curriculum by design

A number of local schools are adding a dash of problem solving to their upcoming school year

By: Elizabeth Scussel, Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 1, 2015

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BEVERLY HILLS/BIRMINGHAM/BLOOMFIELD HILLS — As part of progressive educational advancements, some schools are turning their focus to creative problem solving.

According to Marcia Wilkinson, director of community relations for Birmingham Public Schools, students learn best when their work is based on inquiry, problems and projects.

She said one example of a problem-based learning concept would be a classroom working on the environmental impact of yard chemicals on the Rouge River. 

“We are moving forward with new, innovative classroom teaching and learning. We are taking the best practices of what has worked well in the past and enhancing it with the latest in instructional design and delivery,” Wilkinson said, explaining that the new concepts are based on the latest research in teaching and learning.

This year, students at Detroit Country Day Middle School will be introduced to the concept of design thinking — a process focused on fostering innovation, original thought and creativity.

Middle School Director Julie Bianchi said design thinking aims to tackle an issue with vigorous creativity and empathy. DT also leads to innovation, she said.

“It’s asking yourself, ‘What could be made better?’ Then it’s creating something to make your life easier,” she said. “Innovation is really creating things we don’t know we need.”

DT activities are based on open-ended concepts. At one DT workshop, the student team was tasked with creating a better item to carry things — anything from a purse to a dump truck. The team discovered that with a more flexible initial challenge, their solutions and outcomes became more creative.

Bianchi said she’s excited to expose the teachers and students to the new concepts and see how each individual embraces the process.

The process, she said, fires up students’ interest and engagement.

“It’s so energized, kids gravitate towards it. They have the freedom to create and collaborate,” she said. “It’s kind of amazing what they can do.”

This fall, the middle school will debut new mobile and customizable classrooms for learning to create a physical link to the DT themes of creativity and innovative thinking.

According to Bianchi, this will offer flexibility and connectivity.

“Education is being forced to change,” said Bianchi, who has served in the field of education for more than two decades.

Today’s students, she said, need to be nimble and flexible, and schools are adapting to the changing world.

“So many of the jobs that exist right now will not exist when today’s middle schoolers graduate from college. Schools are beginning to accept that they need to enrich their students with a hybrid of traditional education. It’s a unique step for us — this hybrid model — but it’s appropriate for our students.”

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