Elon University / Today in Elon / Master of Education Design Thinking students connect Burlington youth to local stories and the power of history


In partnership with the Power and Place Collaboration and Burlington Youth Summer Camps, Elon Master of Education students have connected more than 200 young people in Burlington through thought-provoking workshops on the power of sharing stories and connect to our communities.

Elon students from the Master of Education (M.Ed.) 7460 Design Thinking course have partnered with the African American History and Cultural Arts Center (AACAHC) and the Power and Place Collaborative to facilitate educational activities of Design Thinking for Burlington Youth Summer Camps.

With support from community partners Shineece Sellars, Executive Director of the African American Cultural Arts and History Center, and Leah Podolle, Burlington Youth Program Supervisor, students designed interactive, place-based educational activities to foster creative storytelling for over 200 six-year-olds. at-14.

Prior to the implementation of their lesson plans, M.Ed. students learned the fundamentals of equity-focused design practices. The course was co-taught by Danielle Lake, Director of Design Thinking and Associate Professor; Adam Kanowitz, apprentice teacher and catalyst of Design Thinking; and Dhvani Toprani, instructional technologist.

To support local history and storytelling efforts as well as design intergenerational bridges, the students toured the Center for African American Cultural Arts with Sellars, the center’s executive director. To deepen their knowledge base, students also read and met with design thinking practitioners and researchers from all fields, exploring Jeanne M. Liedtka’s research and methods such as Ela Ben-Ur’s Innovator’s Compass .

Each youth camp session has been designed to support the Power and Place Collaboration’s key principles of equity-centered design and place-based intergenerational storytelling while providing interactive and educational activities for campers. When developing their curriculum and activity plan, each team worked directly with Podolle, youth programming supervisor.

With feedback from local experts, each team took a different approach to involving young campers.

One team worked with Explorers for Teens, a camp designed primarily for middle school kids. Campers were invited to explore a cross section of global and local events, most of which happened in their lifetime. This was then transferred to a large-scale timeline, where students could manipulate events and overlay their own experiences as the activity progressed.

Young people explored what community means to them and the value of individual purpose and place, then viewed the story of a local leader. They then practiced radical listening as a method to share their personal stories and cross-reference them with those of their peers.

Team members who worked with this group summed up the experience, sharing that they were happy that “young people were able to recognize where they have been, where they aspire to be in the future, and how these events interact with the experiences of others in their lives. communities”.

Another team of M.Ed. students led a design session at Grove Park Elementary with more than 50 elementary students. The session, titled “I Am, You Are, We Are,” supported the creation of avatars through age-appropriate hands-on activities for reflection on identity and belonging. The session began by encouraging an embodied exploration of place that extends to the outside world. In the end, the campers shared their avatars with their personal stories.

As a group of international teachers from Chile, Argentina and Colombia, this team noted that they deeply understand how important it is to have a strong sense of “who you are and where you belong. “. They went on to say that they came to the United States to teach Spanish and their culture. “Being outside our places gave us a concrete example of the importance of creating a sense of belonging to a community and how this feeling of belonging and being part of a group develops from the dialogue and art.”

Podolle said: “Children were able to create their own avatars while working in small groups with peers. I found this to be a valuable activity simply because it was interactive for the children and made them reflect on their own identity.

St. Mark’s campers explored their sense of place and history through the “I Have a Story” workshop, designing a custom shoe that explores their sense of self in relation to where they have summer. After exploring the personalized show of local hero and Mayco Bigelow North Park Center director Bobbi Ruffin, students used pictures, words and symbols to describe who they are and where they come from. The purpose of this activity was to have students explore their personal stories through creativity.

The students then ‘stepped into someone else’s shoes’ through a gallery walk and small group dialogue. Through this experience, students were able to learn about local heroes, discover their personal stories, and build community with their peers through conversation by examining and accepting their similarities and differences.

More than 70 Overbrook campers had the opportunity to learn about each other’s life stories through the “Our Special Place in the World” workshop. They explored legacies and personal connections to history and reflected on how this has shaped Burlington’s identity. This activity aimed to connect North Carolina K12 learning standards and local social justice efforts with Design Thinking tools to motivate students to share their stories and places significant to their past, present, and future.

Campers explored images in global and local contexts – such as the Taj Mahal in India, the pyramids in Egypt, the Burlington water reservoir, the Sock Puppets logo and Andy’s ice cream shop. Then, they identified the places close to them, shared their past experiences and explored life projects through these places. Finally, they created flashcards of the areas that have meant the most to them in their lives and presented them to their peers.

Podolle noted that she appreciates the teachers’ commitment and their work in making the program a success for Burlington’s Recreation and Parks summer camps. She looks forward to continuing this partnership with Elon’s Center for Design Thinking.

Sellars also highlighted how ACAHC looks forward to incorporating these activities into the November 9 Intergenerational Storytelling Night event and youth visits to the Center this fall.

To learn more, see https://www.elon.edu/u/elon-by-design/about/power-and-place-collaborative/.

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