I ‘ve been talking with more people about design thinking (DT) lately, and the question about how to do DT within classes consistently resurfaces. It’s a great question, and, to be honest, I myself have been thinking for quite some time now about how to incorporate DT into our Latin program. Below, I’m going to take a circuitous route outlining my ideas for an answer.
I’m sure most educators have some familiarity with the STEAM movement that now occupies the center stage at many schools. And I’m sure most are also familiar with a number of the attempts to twist the STEAM acronym to include other subject areas within an interdisciplinary framework (cf. the evolution of STEM to STEAM and another interesting idea that adds SEL elements in the equation). I deeply value cross-discipline thinking and the project-based approach; but while the inclusion of these other disciplines is often thoughtful, it’s also forced and ultimately uninspiring, as I see it.
Since I’ve been paying attention to the development of STEAM, I’ve been keen to see when language study will finally find itself a part of the acronym; but to date, I’ve yet to see a single argument in favor of including our field. As a Latin teacher and an advocate of language study, I’m disappointed, if not not too surprised, by the relative neglect of language study beside more alluring subjects like math and science. The failure to include language study echoes our nationwide attitudes toward language learning.
As we’ve been rethinking our approach to pedagogy at our school and in our own World Languages department, we’ve had to work to justify why language study plays a valuable role within education. Fortunately, I think the justification is easy: language study is most valuable when it involves a high degree of cultural fluency in complement to linguistic fluency. That is, the best and most effective language programs focus on people, rather than the just language itself. That sounds a lot like DT to me, and I’m of the opinion that this is the direction that language study needs to take in order to stay relevant in the next generation.
To return to how we might use DT within our classrooms, I use DT in Latin to help me build discovery skills with my students. We focus on this one phase of the process and we learn to do it as best we can, now that I have come to understand how language study plays the role of discovery within the process of innovation. Language study teaches us how to communicate with people and, namely, how to value and learn from differences through divergent thinking, which is a critical component of problem solving. This is what discovery is all about, and since discovery is arguably the most important phase of DT, I think that language study is more relevant than ever.
So, I don’t take students through the entire DT process in my Latin classes. Instead, we focus on the process of discovery by learning about the people who used Latin communicated. We work to build fluency of Roman culture, alongside the Latin language, through the documentation that they left behind, and by doing so we develop a number of critical non-cognitive skills like effective collaboration and listening to hear (rather than listening to reply), we test our creativity, and we build empathy for people who lived rather far away from us in both time and space.
With this in mind, I want to rethink the STEAM as the sole solution to interdisciplinary work, in that it’s too narrow in scope with respect to the kinds of collaboration and thinking that the world’s problems need. In other words, STEAM and all the other acronyms offered for it too often seem to be attempts at pulling content together, rather than combining the skills necessary for creative and innovative problem solving.
Instead, following on an idea proposed by Mary Cantwell in her post on building d.Teams, I’m now more interested in considering an interdisciplinary study model through the DEEPdt framework, in which the skills that each subject area teach, not just their content, drive our collective interdisciplinary approach. These skills can then be woven together by members of given d.Team to offer a more realistic vision for interdisciplinary work that can help us to attack real problems more successfully.
In these d.Teams, with a grounding in the DEEPdt model, our work begins with the skills that we use to learn from and about people. Since our language programs teach precisely these skills, problem discovery can begin in our language courses. Our work can be then passed along to those areas that move into the next phase of the DT process, hopefully encouraging the various subject areas to work together within it. I like this model because it favors skills over content, it brings people into the equation through the social impact that Mary stresses.
That said, I have more questions than answers for how DEEP interdisciplinary work could work in schools (I’ll call it “DEEPid” for now). I’ve sketched out some tentative ideas for it, and I’m eager to think through them with everyone in our #dtk12chat community. We’ll have a discussion on building d.Teams on Wed., 10/22 at 6pm PST, and in the meantime, I love to hear how others think that DT can be used to bridge our traditional subject divisions. What skills are most valuable in the traditional content areas? How can they fit into the DT framework? How might a DEEPid program get started? I’m looking forward to our discussion!