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Design Your Own Path

Real-world inclusion for an innovative high school means tackling a project with feedback from professionals in the field using a human-centered process.

Pin Points

  • Take learned concepts and apply them to real-world situations.

  • Real-world learning requires students to create a path of their own design.

  • Working with local companies and organizations, students will engage in a design challenge or create a product or customer experience.

  • The benefits of real-world inclusion are numerous and build their confidence, optimism, and kindness.

When we began envisioning the New England Innovation Academy curriculum, one of the elements core to our requirements was real-world inclusion. Put simply, this ensures that the students at our school are able to take the concepts they’re learning and apply them in real-world situations, whether that is at businesses, nonprofit organizations, or within their communities in other ways.

Real-world inclusion is not uncommon at the university level. You see it all the time–internships or co-ops, for example. At MIT’s Integrated Design & Management (MITidm) master’s program, which inspired NEIA’s curriculum, real-world inclusion is an integral part of the learning process. The faculty and staff of the program spend a lot of time thinking about how we can give students the experience of partnering with companies, organizations, or individuals that will give them true, non-academic feedback. In order to achieve a true human-centered design curriculum, we knew it was essential to provide a similar experience for our middle and high school students, though their younger ages present a different set of challenges.

Creating A Path 

Students in middle and high school, and even college, often have a path to follow. Complete specific tasks, check the boxes and achieve success. This approach isn’t an option in the real world, especially if you’re an innovator. On most of the things innovators work on in life, there is no clear path. They need to create that path.

It’s challenging, and it’s nearly impossible to replicate in a controlled environment like a school or a university. We could give students a project and tell them to execute it as if they were in the real world. But without true stressors and elements, they’d almost always be able to figure out a solution. Students must continuously adjust.

How It Works

Real-world inclusion for an innovative high school means tackling a project with feedback from professionals in the field using a human-centered process. A local company or organization provides NEIA with a design challenge for a product or a customer experience.

For example, imagine a local Boys & Girls Club sought better enrollment in its after-school program. NEIA students would tackle that challenge using human-centered design, innovation, and entrepreneurship. They would talk to the likely customers of the program–both students and parents–and other stakeholders like program managers and teachers, to learn what they’re currently doing and what they’d like to see. Human-centered design requires a deeper connection: students will dig into their subjects’ needs, wants, and nuances of their lives.

Students would present the findings to both management at the club and their class and then generate concepts and ideas to address the issues they uncovered. In a design review, the organization would join to review the concepts and give feedback. This is where a company can provide a reality check on some of the ideas and where that real-world element comes into play.

The important piece about real-world inclusion at an innovation school is the fact that it is not a club or an extracurricular. It’s integrated into the way that students learn every day.

Allowing students the opportunity to test their ideas with others outside of the school is an important part of building their character and skills. It provides exposure to new people and challenges them to work with many different types of people in the process. It allows them the satisfaction and validation of an outside voice. It teaches them important skills and transfers knowledge that likely couldn’t be gained at school. And through all this exposure, students build empathy and understanding through the experience of other people.

Benefits to Students

The benefits to students can’t be overstated. Real-world inclusion expands student’s perspectives by introducing them to new people who are not necessarily just like them to develop their confidence, optimism, compassion, and kindness. They receive advice that cannot be replicated in a classroom by interacting with professionals who have deep expertise in a particular subject and learn from them. Students build resilience and learn how to handle different types of feedback. In addition, real-world projects outside of the classroom may generate direct feedback that could be more direct than the classroom experience. By engaging in the community, students establishing relationships that could result in mentorship over time.

PURSUE YOUR DREAMS AND SHAPE A BETTER WORLD

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