Learning by Design: How Design Tech High School Uses Research – Digital Promise

Learning by Design: How Design Tech High School Uses Research

October 19, 2017 | By

According to Ken Montgomery, Executive Director of Design Tech High School (“d.tech”), a charter school in Northern California, “The world is going to change quickly and unpredictably, so the best thing that we can do for kids is give them a mindset and skillset that whatever the world is like, they can succeed and find their path.”

To meet this goal, Montgomery and his team created a design thinking curriculum, where students learn how to first understand a problem and end-user, then brainstorm solutions, create prototypes, analyze data, and finally, engage in multiple design iterations to solve a problem.

Staff at d.tech are also working to incorporate the science of learning into this design thinking process to make decisions and address their own challenges. For example, before the 2016-2017 school year, they invited researcher Melina Uncapher, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco, and CEO of the Institute for Applied Neuroscience, to share research that would help them better understand their “end users”: students. She presented research findings on how students learn, and then assisted educators as they developed ways to implement these findings in their classrooms.

After a year-long partnership with Uncapher and opportunities to test their designs, d.tech educators now view themselves as learning engineers – capable of applying research to improve student learning. They are seeing positive results and encourage other schools, no matter the structure or curricular focus, to experiment with using the learning sciences.

Below we share their recommendations for other schools interested in implementing new evidence-based practices. You can also watch the video and download the case study.

Follow d.tech’s lead: Recommendations for Other Schools

  • Integrate research into existing culture/practices: Find easy ways to integrate research into existing practices that align with your institution’s mission and structure. This will help you maintain the new practices over time.
  • Provide training/support: Partner with a researcher to identify vetted research principles that can be useful for your school community. As a next step, consider forming an ongoing partnership for help assessing the effectiveness of new practices.
  • Give educators freedom to experiment: Give educators time to experiment and iterate (and fail). Further, offer options for engagement, from small tweaks to big curricular changes. This improves overall participation, and allows evidence-based practices to spread more quickly.
  • Emphasize the long-term value: Emphasize the long-term benefits of implementing research-based practices for both educators and students. Educators will be more effective, and students’ knowledge about how they learn best can help them excel in school and beyond.
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