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School Stories

Creating Future Gates Students and Lifelong Problem Solvers

Classroom teachers, specialists, and innovation specialists are constantly collaborating to find ways to use design thinking to deepen the learning throughout the Lower School. When students approach a problem from an empathetic perspective, they can apply what they learn about that population or individual, and find a way to help them. This approach helps make learning more concrete, and allows students to connect deeply and empathetically. 
Lower School students use the Gates lab to practice the six innovation skills with time for reflection on how their learning transfers into their day at school and home. Here are some examples.
Kindergarten Cowfolk 
In addition to learning about life on a ranch or in the rodeo, students use empathy to design items to help ranchers, cattle, or cowfolk. After gaining background information and doing empathy interviews in their classrooms, they work in small groups to brainstorm solutions to a problem, and work in the Gates lab on prototypes of their solutions using recyclables and miscellaneous materials.

Grade 1 Bird Enthusiasts
In their multidisciplinary bird unit, first graders gain a general understanding of birds and some of the survival challenges they face in the wild. Students collaborate in small groups to create something to help birds with one of the challenges. For example, last year they designed window stickers to keep birds from flying into the sky reflection in Graland’s windows.

Grade 2 Biographers 
In lieu of purchasing or creating a prop that merely represents their person of study, second graders design something to help the person overcome a challenge or problem. To scaffold the learning, students first participate in a smaller design project where they build something for a character in the book “Gooney Bird Greene” by Lois Lowry that will help this character be a successful member of their classroom.

Grade 3 Immigration Studies
All design thinking starts with empathy, and third grade is focusing on this trait with a year-long social studies unit on immigration. Through “empathy interviews,” students practice asking questions, digging deeper into someone’s story and making connections with others. They use their listening and questioning skills to interview members of the Graland community and create an art installation in the library to demonstrate their understanding of others’ perspectives and journey.

Grade 4 Neighborhood Buddies
Fourth graders used the design thinking process to modify and create games that met the needs of their buddies. Students practiced the empathy phase through low-risk empathy interviews with classmates about homework and classroom experiences. This prepares them for empathy interviews with their buddy’s teachers and researching the challenges their buddy may face. They use the information they gain to think about what type of game their buddy might want to play and how they could support their buddy’s success.
Every day, our lower school students are practicing innovation skills on campus. As our students become more fluent in demonstrating and reflecting upon these skills, the design thinking process is becoming more familiar to them, and by the time these innovators enter the Gates program in middle school, they are well versed in the six innovation skills. Our hope is that we can continue to keep our students engaged in taking an empathic approach to problem solving, which will support their middle school experience and in the future, both inside and outside the classroom. 

Graland Country Day School

Graland Country Day School is a private school in Denver, Colorado, serving students in preschool, kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. Founded in Denver in 1924, Graland incorporates a rich, experiential learning approach in a traditional classroom setting, emphasizing the development of globally and socially conscious leaders who excel academically.