sketches. Students offered poems,
drawings, photographs, game ideas,
schoolwork, and more. Sketchbook
sharing became a platform for
creative expression and personal
reflection, which we suspect that
students may have lacked in their
During each class, we encouraged our students to sketch, to
collaborate on ideas, to be curious,
and to not fear failure. Students
were rewarded with buttons each
time they demonstrated one of the
habits. Since design principles and
methods often seem abstract, we
reinforced lessons with a physical representation of the things
they learned. The buttons were the
perfect reward for high school students, who proudly displayed them
on their bookbags and clothing.
we discovered that their idea of
community was much smaller than
we had anticipated. They had trouble relating to the big city since, as
teens, they didn’t feel any ownership of the city.
In response to their needs, we
shifted the focus of our second-year program to a hyperlocal community project. Students worked
with their school’s after-school
nonprofit to design a website, all
while employing principles of interaction design and the “habits of
good designers” in their work.
Adding a service-oriented curriculum was a success. From the first
class, students were engaged and
invested in the class’s outcome, as
it was so closely related to their
experiences as students.
Successes and Failures
We approached each class as a prototype, with the expectation that
we could iterate on our curriculum
over time as the students interacted with our plans.
Our curriculum was most successful when our students were
allowed and encouraged to demonstrate their creative ideas through
sketchbooks, rapid brainstorming,
and even group work, where they
could showcase their best strengths
When we created our curriculum, we thought the students
would find it easy to connect to
their broader New York City community. After a few weeks in class,
A Framework for Learning
As our classes progressed, we
began to formulate a framework
for how students acquire complexity in thought and abilities by
learning interaction design. We
imagined the learning process as a
progressive cycle focused around
risk taking as a form of learning.
A student is exposed to something
new each time she takes a risk
through hands-on design activities and projects. Everything she
learns from this new experience is
reinforced through self-reflection
and awareness as concepts are
absorbed. At the end of the cycle,
the student is able to demonstrate
what she’s learned. The teacher’s
role is to challenge the student
Week 1: What Is Design? What is interaction? Our first class
centered around defining the concepts of design and interaction. From iPods to MetroCards, we discussed how design
affects everything we touch and experience every day. We were
pleasantly surprised to discover that the girls had a pretty good
understanding of the idea of interaction. They could name all of
the feedback mechanisms on an NYC MTA turnstile and quickly
grasped the action-reaction feedback loop.
Week 2: Brainstorming and Sketching Looking for a fun way
to brainstorm, we decided to adapt a game called Graphic
Jam from the book Gamestorming: A Playbook for Innovators,
Rulebreakers, and Changemakers by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown,
and James Macanufo. The game challenges participants to
visualize words that often seem too abstract to imagine in a
tangible way. Participants have two minutes to sketch as many
ideas as they can to represent the chosen word.
Week 3: Field Research The focus of week 3 was observation. We wanted to teach our students the difference between
their memory of a place and how it actually exists. We started a
conversation about the street outside the school, asking them
what kinds of things they see there each day. They shouted out
the answers we expected: “Trees! Buildings! Crazy people!”
We led them downstairs to the street, armed with a set of open-ended questions to guide their observations.
Week 4: Field Trip! We left the classroom and entered the
design studio. Thirteen students from Project: Interaction visited
R/GA to learn about what it is like to work on design projects outside of school. We heard from five amazing and inspiring women
interaction designers, copywriters, and visual designers.
Week 5: Mobile Technology How would you have learned
about the delicate art of egg boiling in 1990? Called your mom?
Looked in a cookbook? (Gasp!) And what about 20 years from
now? How will our ability to find information change in just two
decades? This week was about the impact of mobile technology on the ways we find people and information. Students acted
out a series of scenarios in each of three different technological points in history: 1990, 2010, and 2030.
Week 6: Solving Big Problems By week 6, we focused on
future thinking and the dissection of big ideas. We wanted to
encourage the students to think bigger than themselves and
address tough problems that at first appear too big to solve. We
took on transportation, challenging the girls to create solutions
to tackle boredom while waiting for a bus or train.
Week 7: Interviewing and Storytelling During the beginning
weeks of Project: Interaction, we experimented with ways for
the girls to get to know one another. Since we had a mix of ninth
and tenth graders, it was likely the girls did not have classes
together throughout the day. We randomly paired the girls
up and asked them to interview each other using a set of five
questions: If you had a million dollars, what would you do with
it? What’s the most embarrassing thing that happened to you
at school? What do you want to study in college? If you had a
superhero power, what would it be? Name your most recent act
of kindness. We then asked them to choose the most interesting response and tell a story about it. We encouraged them to
tell stories in different ways, and they met our challenge! One
student performed a skit, a few drew a comic strip about their
story, and one student wrote her story.
Week 8: A Visit from Transportation Alternatives We welcomed Julia de Martini Day from New York City advocacy group
Transportation Alternatives to give a presentation about safe
streets and what it means to engage in healthy living in an urban
area. Students reimagined what a nearby city street would be
like with more bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and more greenery.
Weeks 9 and 10: Design Challenge In our final two classes, students tackled the Classroom of the Future. We led them through a
rapid design process to identify problems that exist in the classroom and challenged them to develop creative solutions to make
the learning experience better for both teachers and students.
March + April 2012