Teens Run Design Challenge for Teachers and Administrators at PS 92 in Harlem

Sebastian Martin, Social Innovation Program Lead


Seeing my Design 4 Impact (D4i) students lead a design thinking challenge with New York City teachers was one of the highlights of my career as a social innovation educator. I believe young people will transform the 21st century, and if we empower them to “teach the teachers” and co-design their educational experience, they can develop the collaborative and creative survival skills they need for a world and economy that adults could never predict.

On January 30, a dozen teen social entrepreneurs from the Design 4 Impact (D4i) team ran a workshop for teachers and administrators from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, and New Jersey. The room was a diverse representation of geographic school districts, racial identity, public, charter, and private schools, and age - as 15-18-year-olds ran a professional development session for seasoned Department of Education (DOE) educators.

As a student-led startup, D4i’s mission is to spread design thinking to students and teachers everywhere to transform K-12 education while empowering people to become change-makers in their own communities. Design thinking is a process used to generate creative solutions for real-world problems. During this workshop, students and teachers worked together as intergenerational teams to tackle real challenges and needs they face in their schools every day. Through activities involving interviewing, brainstorming, and prototyping, participants designed new products and proposals that were presented for feedback and continuous improvement.

D4i’s goal is to democratize and scale this model of problem-solving and experiential education across the US’ public school system. This means partnering with teachers, administrators, policymakers and students that want to champion this movement in their own schools. On January 30th, the team of student innovators truly practiced what they preached: testing out their educational toolkits and approach with their primary users - the teachers themselves. They learned more about the challenges of actually implementing design thinking in real public school classrooms, including the pressure to constantly adhere to standards, and the lack of time and bandwidth for DOE teachers. 

I learned that our movement for universal access to transformative education has endorsement, and I was humbled and encouraged by the enthusiasm and support of veteran teachers to learn from the next generation, and to innovate upon their craft. I learned that teaching at its best is an intergenerational partnership centered around student talent, voice, and empowerment to craft their own agency, future, and world. 

Special thanks to PS 92 for welcoming us into their community and classrooms, and to District-Charter Partnerships (@NYCSchoolsDCP) for making this happen.

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