SCH students work on prototypes at school’s Design Thinking Workshop.

by Paula M. Riley

A drive down West Willow Grove Avenue will answer the question “What’s new at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy?” Phase I of the Campus Master Plan is fully underway with the addition of new turf fields, landscaping and a lighted walkway. Amidst piles of dirt, trenches for the water system and countless construction vehicles are plans to connect the Academy’s 62-acre campus. What’s happening inside SCH, however, is perhaps even more exciting.

The academy welcomed its first coed class – the current ninth grade – following its merger with Springside in the summer of 2011. These students all came together last Friday for a daylong Design Thinking Workshop. Upper School physics teacher and workshop trainer Ellen Kruger explained Design Thinking:
“This is a great methodology to help students learn concepts by means of a human-centered point of view,” she said.

Empathy is the first of five steps in this systematic design process, focused on meeting the needs of the target audience. Breaking up into their single sex advisory groups, the ninth graders met with another advisory group to listen and observe. Rather than a collect a detailed list of product requirements (the product for this exercise was an advisory group crest), the designing group got to know their customer (another advisory group), listened to their discussions and created “empathy maps.”

The “ideate” step is a critical component of design thinking. Students are challenged to brainstorm a myriad of ideas and to suspend judgment. Ideating is all about free thinking, creativity and fun. Students generate a numerous ideas in a single session – ideally they become savvy risk takers, wishful thinkers and dreamers of possibilities.

Next, the designers define a point of view and then they create a prototype.

“We think we did a good job,” Haley Gelberg said, explaining that her process involved asking the customer group individual questions and questions of the group as a whole.

Holding up the prototype crest, which features a lion’s head made of tissue paper and other detail, including a soccer ball, drum stick and football, she added, “We are supposed to unveil our prototype, not explain it. Then the boys give us feedback so we can refine the process until it is a perfect match to the needs of their group.”

Kruger is thrilled that the ninth grade class is receiving this training and she, along with other Upper School teachers, plans to incorporate the methodology into the classroom.

“When I teach forces in physics I will absolutely use design thinking,” she said. “I will have students use the physics concepts they’ve learned to design something that will help someone else.”

Ultimately what design thinking does, Kruger said, “is remove the question so many high school students ask, ‘How does this lesson apply to real life?'”

Jennifer Vermillion, director of innovative teaching, sees many benefits of this methodology.

“It helps produce creative confidence, offers a great approach to problem solving and, most importantly, helps students take risks and learn to view failure as an opportunity to learn.”

She added g that design thinking demands that the designer understand his or her audience and gain empathy for them through this process.

SCH’s ninth grade dean Matt Norcini sums it up: “This is just another set of tools that apply to real work situations. This gives our students another skill that will help prepare them to meet the many challenges that lie ahead.”

J.S. Jenks
At Jenks the new school year brought a set of changes and challenges that were ultimately solved by the dedicated Jenks parents and faculty. With the budget cuts and other uncertainty with the Philadelphia School District there was some concerns over whether school programs would continue.

Students returning to Jenks this year were pleased to learn that despite budget cuts the school’s wonderful music programs remain in place. Both of the school’s two music teachers have returned to Jenks, as have two instrumental music teachers that are at the school twice a week.

Because the art teacher was cut from the budget, Jenks staff and parents needed to get creative in replacing the formal art program. Andrew Leland, one of the music teachers, has volunteered to be the art program coordinator at the school and is working with the Friends of J.S. Jenks Art Programming Committee to develop visual art programming for the students.

One such program features the RSVP Program, run through the Klein JCC, which will bring senior citizen volunteers into Jenks to participate in art projects. In addition, the Friends of J. S. Jenks Art Programming Committee is facilitating student participation in art classes at local museums, such as the Barnes.

Friends of J. S. Jenks is an independent fundraising organization consisting of parents, teachers, administrators and community members dedicated to supporting programmatic and infrastructure developed at Jenks School.

Programming Committee members plan to identify volunteers to regularly come into the classroom to work with teachers and weave art through the curriculum.
The Jenks’ music program continues to offer interesting events and opportunities for students. This year, Jenks will be a Partner School with Live Connections at World Cafe Live. This will allow “Jenks Art and Music Students” to attend three “Bridge Sessions”, an interactive session with music artists from the Philadelphia Orchestra that are held at World Cafe Live.

The Jenks Art and Music Students are a group of about 75 middle-school students who receive extra art and music instruction; these children are selected for the program based on academic performance and interest. Friends of J.S. Jenks will cover the transportation costs so that students can attend.

The school’s beautification committee has been active all summer clearing, weeding and planting along the Southampton side of the school.

“The ‘greening’ of Jenks will be a top priority this year,” said Havina Goldman, one of the founders of Friends of J. S Jenks.
“We have plans in the works to involve students in the garden work and create spaces that extend the classroom outdoors,” she said.