Wednesday, September 21, 2011

School redesign as a community project-based learning challenge

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
-Albert Einstein 

If you’ve ever complained about the way things are in schools today, now’s your chance to stop talking and start acting by participating in the Reinventing School ChallengeThe challenge is a program that begins with a simple mission: Encourage life-long learning, promote alternative learning environments and equip learners with 21st Century skills. It takes a fresh and different approach to school reform in the following ways.
  1. Inviting the whole community to get involved.
  2. Giving the community a framework to collaborate and fashion solutions for their own school communities.
  3. Providing a platform to present, share and celebrate what's possible and what really works.
The program uses design, collaboration, technology, play and social media to engage and empower young people to effect positive change in their school community. It starts by encouraging participants to reframe problems as opportunities. Ask beautiful questions, spark imagination, provide a framework to research, generate ideas and rapidly prototype and test design solutions. Doing anything less, results in remaining passive observers, making slow progress, losing interest and leaving all the work policy makers and Government. If they fail to deliver, we will simply blame them and much will stay the same.

This new Design Thinking Challenge runs for 8 weeks from now until November 7th and again in March. It uses design, collaboration, technology, play and social media to engage and empower young people effect positive change in their school community. It encourages life-long learning, promotes alternative learning environments and equips participants with 21st Century skills.

Young people become changemakers, learn to problem solve, be playful, work collaboratively and creatively with diverse groups of people. This we hope will carry on throughout their lives and give them the edge they need to succeed and shine bright.

Everyone is welcome: children, parents, teachers, and subject matter experts to start a dialogue, and create and design possibilities to reinvent the school experience. Teams need not be made only of students and teachers. Teams can be from existing groups such as Scouts, Guides, book clubs, sports clubs, Rotary or church groups. For example a team might be made up of a mix of students, parents, local business people and some other classrooms or experts who collaborate remotely online using Skype for Educators.

All good design begins with a series of questions, well formed catalytic questions based on observation of user needs and experiences. We need empathy, insight and a deep understanding of what's going on if we are to facilitate real change in our schools. 

Some questions are bound to push buttons and be quashed by numerous stakeholders. Many questions will be accepted openly as powerful perspective and game changing questions. Thinking and discussion is not enough anymore. These ‘How might we?’ generative questions seek action, and community action is what we need right now.

Some questions to challenge your outlook on education

  • How might schools today learn from the banking industry?    
  • What do commercial product and service designers do every day that can help to shape the future of education?
  • How might we break down the imaginary walls that surround our schools and open them up to become 24/7 community hubs?    
  • Why do we medicate the young and old when they display behaviors we find too challenging to deal with and do we acknowledge the underlying issues? How might we change our attitude to these important age groups?
  • Can education be different? What does an ideal learning environment look like?
  • Why are we under valuing the experiences and wisdom the of seniors in our society? How might we involve local senior communities in our schools?
  • If you took a surgeon from the 18th Century and put them into a surgery today, would they cope? What if you took a teacher out of the 18th Century and transported them into the 21st Century classroom. Would they find things had changed so much they couldn’t cope?   
  • Why has classroom and school design hardly changed in 200 years? Who really benefits by keeping it the same?
  • Higher education is big business right?
  • How might we share the wealth of parents knowledge and experience regularly in our classrooms?
  • Why are school excursions enjoyed so much by many but the exception rather than the rule?
  • If it takes a community to raise a child, then how might we invite the entire community to raise schools up and out of the 18th Century and into the 21st Century?
The Reinventing School Challenge has established a Potentiality Showcase where teams can register and create their own team page to showcase their ideas, solutions and show what already works.

Participants use a project-based enquiry approach, teams are given the tools to identify, research, and recommend solutions to address issues in their local school communities and use “Design Thinking” as a methodology to facilitate this mission.

There is a free self directed online course on to support that challenge and kit of PDF resources available to download. Most of the tasks can be lead by, and completed by students alone, and much of the content can be delivered outside school hours by flipping the classroom.

It takes about 1-2 hours a week commitment, but you can do the challenge as you see fit as long as you present your team's findings online before the Nov 7 closing date.

The Reinventing School judging team are diverse and passionate about reinventing education.
In the future we aim to find funding to provide the most promising ideas/examples with small grants to implement their school community.

Reinventing School is a vital idea; traditional schools cannot offer the diversity, challenges and experiences our children will need to thrive in their future; the future of education will require all of us to use our experiences, our knowledge and our skills to ensure that our children are capable of creating a successful tomorrow! “ Richard Gerver @RichardGerver – Educationalist, speaker, author, and media commentator and member of the Reinventing School judging team.

Form more information on the challenge, visit the website

To really make positive, lasting change in our school communities, are we asking the right questions and are we asking the right people? What do you think?


Brendan O'Keefe is a Dad, a passionate designer, online producer and changemaker. He lives life on purpose. Addicted to creative pursuits, he loves to know why and how, and he is eternally expanding and sharing his knowledge.... Born in Puerto Rico, Brendan is well travelled, loves to read and cook, and lives in Melbourne Australia.

He is an online community manager and member of the Telstra social media team. With a background in audio production, web design and youth work, he's also curates various social innovation projects and collaborates with a team of designers, educators and subject matter experts. Together they host online and offline events, experiential learning experiences and other fun stuff designed to effect positive change.

For example, ideas@play is a program that uses design, technology, social media and play to engage and empower young people effect positive change in their communities.
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