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Pushing the Boundaries of Creativity at St. Mary’s Academy  


The Stanford at Stanford University in Palo Alto was founded on the belief that everyone has the capacity to be creative.  Its mission is to be a place where people use design to develop their own creative potential.  Over the summer, St. Mary’s Information Sciences and Social Sciences teacher, Alexa Duda, had the chance to experience the firsthand and is excited to bring what she learned to her St. Mary’s Academy classes.

Duda spent three days at’s K12 Lab for a series of workshops called “Discover Design Thinking” focused on teaching teachers how to integrate design thinking into schools.  Duda explained that “through the integration of design thinking, we can teach students less tangible skills and characteristics like innovation, creative problem solving, resiliency and empathy, all incredibly relevant for real world success.”

In its simplest format, design thinking is broken down into a five step process where students are asked to re-imagine a product, space, experience or system for a specific user.  In the first step, students must build empathy for the user.  Empathetic learning requires students to both understand a user’s world and uncover hidden needs.  In step two, students must define the specific challenge through insights gained about the user.  Next, students are asked to ideate.  They are tasked with re-framing the problem and imagining wild ideas.  The fourth step requires students to build a prototype by creating experiences or building a tangible model.  Finally, students test their prototypes to gain feedback to improve.

“The beauty of this approach,” explained Duda, “is that the process is not linear.  Students are constantly learning, refining and re-thinking.”  Stanford’s calls this process “failing forward” and it specifically teaches resiliency by allowing students to fail repeatedly in a safe environment.

Duda will launch a new course, Principles of Design, this fall at St. Mary’s which will be open to sophomores, juniors, and seniors.  The class will use the framework outlined above to explore real world design challenges.  Their first assignment will be to re-imagine the classroom environment, exploring everything from the physical space to the learning experience.  Duda has also secured local UX companies as partners in this curriculum, offering mentoring and guidance to students as they tackle the latest design challenges. 

The students enrolled in Principles of Design will be required to create and maintain a blog that will allow them to share and reflect on their experiences.  They will also be posting their projects to Instagram @principles_of_design_sma.  

Duda said she is excited to see where the class goes, as she will apply the design process to both the classroom experience and syllabus.  “This will be student-directed learning at its core.  I can’t wait to see the students step out of their comfort zones and come away with new skills and mindsets that they can apply to any discipline.”