Innovation case study: Avenues School Social Innovation program

 Students in D4i at Avenues (NYC) plot out the experience they want to design for participants in their workshop at SXSWedu

Students in D4i at Avenues (NYC) plot out the experience they want to design for participants in their workshop at SXSWedu

If you were a high school student, how would you feel about teaching the essentials of design thinking to your peers?

What if it were a group of teachers?

What if it were a group of teachers at the largest educational conference?

That's what students in Ivan Cestero's Design For Impact (D4i) class at Avenues NYC did yesterday at SXSWedu.

Project-based learning is predicated on the idea that students learn best by tackling authentic problems for authentic audiences. And it doesn't get more authentic than students teaching the teachers--at SXSWedu no less!--about how to use design thinking to create social impact solutions.

I visited Avenues' D4i class a couple of weeks ago after connecting with Ivan Cestero (@zoltero on Twitter). We were introduced by one of the sages of innovation in indepedent schools, Bo Adams at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School / Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation.

Ivan is one of the drivers of an internal culture and systems shift at Avenues.

He founded Avenue's Social Innovation program (SI), whose mission is to be "a powerful lens for student-led, integrated projects and real-world problem solving." SI consists of five offerings, which cut across academic disciplines. 

Perhaps not coincidentally, Ivan is also one of the designers of the Mastery program at Avenues, which allows students to do deep dives (for upwards of 4 hours at a time!) on personalized projects instead of going to typical classes.

When I visited D4i, I was struck by the students' commitment to their big picture goal, their understanding of roles and responsibilities for a complex project, their genuine teamwork, and their independence from the teacher.

The only real sign of learning is a student's ability to transfer her learning from the classroom to a new situation. When students are expected to facilitate workshops (and they don't have to be at the scale or prominence of SXSWedu), and when students have the opportunity to spend hours building a project that demonstrates deep, integrated learning, you know that innovative learning is taking root.


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