So June has come and gone and we are three weeks into our Project Development and Design Thinking Charla Series! Students from all of the three degrees have been participating in the charlas and the activities during our 1 hour long sessions. I have been impressed by their ways of tackling certain problems and the observations that they have made during the charlas. As we move into the group phase I am excited to see how they develop their problems they selected to solve and what their solutions will be.
Week 1 served as an introduction to the charla series/design competition as a whole as well as the main points we would be exploring throughout the 10 weeks of charlas and activities. We began the hour with the Tower activity where they were not able to talk nor gesticulate as they built a jenga tower to the specifications of individual mission cards that each member of their 6 person group had. No one was able to successfully build the tower to the specifications of the individual mission cards but the students did take key insights from the activity. They recognized that although when working in a group with individual goals, those individual goals may work toward the common goal of the team. They expressed their frustration with the lack of communication and acknowledged the importance of communication when working in a group as well as trying to find other more creative means of communication when necessary. We talked about innovation and what it means to them and they had a good idea of what it was expressing that it is something new that changes the way things are. When we reached the Design Thinking ideology it was something completely new to them and I knew then that this charla series would be beneficial to their critical thinking and project development skills. The Design Thinking ideology is an intuitive and intelligent way to tackle any sort of problem be it professional, personal, or social.
Week 2 was our first real dive into the material. We talked about the process of Design Thinking: Empathize, Define, Generate Ideas, Prototype, and Evaluate. I touched on the importance of thinking analytically as well as creatively when designing a solution to a problem. Our activity was the Party Planner. With a partner the students were to come up with the best party they could imagine. For the first minute they were to use the phrase “Yes, but…” when responding to their partner’s ideas. For the second minute they were to use “Yes, and…” when responding to their partner’s ideas. The students commented that when using “Yes, and…” it felt like a more inclusive conversation and more ideas were generated and built upon. When using “Yes, but…” the students felt pushback and slight rejection to their ideas and there was a certain refinement to the ideas being proposed. From these observations I pointed out to them that that is precisely the difference between analytical and creative thinking. Analytical thinking evaluates and tries to improve the ideas proposed where creative thinking is simply going crazy and thinking of all possible ideas without prejudice, regardless of how outrageous they may be. The students enjoyed the activity and were able to see the how much effect a simple change in phrasing, in this case a single word, can have on one’s mindset.
Week 3 was the week we finally formed our community groups, the groups that the kids are going to be working with from now until the end of the charla series. We began the charla talking about empathy and what it is. I explained to them how important empathy is in any project you do when trying to solve a problem. It was the number one lesson I learned while in Peace Corps; it is essentially what makes Peace Corps so unique and impactful, taking empathy to the extreme of dropping a volunteer into the community to live among those whose problems they wish to solve. Empathy allows you to see the problem not from without, but from within. This is crucial to understanding the problem in a more meaningful way. From there the students separated into their groups and were to have a brainstorming session, not generating ideas but problems that they face or see in their communities, districts, province, school, etc.; whatever geographical area they wished to focus on. After their brainstorm they had to choose one problem that they wished to solve, that problem they would develop in the weeks to come and eventually come up with some kind of solution to present to a panel of judges for the 11th week of the charla series. There were many problems that were repeated among the groups but each settled on a problem that resonated with them. Problems chosen were trash contamination, lack of a secure potable water system, and the lack of a community common area (park, sport court, or a communal house). It will be exciting to see the students take these problems and run with them. I can only hope that this might be the beginning of real change in these communities through the ideas of their youth. We will see how things develop in July with weeks 4,5, and 6.
On another note, the dam line experienced extensive damage to the tubes due to a really bad flood that caused the stream to grow to the point that it flooded the houses and the school below. Since the emergency line was down as well as the main Portobelo system, the director was going to close the school for an indefinite amount of time due to lack of water in the school until Wilfredo and a group of students took it upon themselves to fix the broken tubes and replace those that were too badly damaged. Thanks to their efforts the school remained open and the dam source has become the main source of potable water for the students and staff. To this day the dam source has become the main water source for the school. There are some tweaks and improvements that we wish to make to the infrastructure as well as creating some sort of initiative within the school for maintaining the source. These are problems we will tackle as we move ahead.