Design Thinking: PLP Edition

Over the course of the year, Peoples Academy Middle Level has been actively partnering with the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education (TIIE) around the implementation of PLPs and Proficiency Based Graduation Requirements. Due to this partnership, PAML was invited to participate in a Student Design Thinking Challenge around PLPs in the Middle Level. Collaboration occurred between students from Hazen, Lamoille, Peoples Academy Middle Level, Crossett Brook and Shelburne Community School. Each school took a small group of students from a variety of grade levels to participate in this work.

The purpose of this collaboration was to get students from TIIE partner schools to work together to evaluate and redesign their PLPs to better meet the goals of Act 77 and improve student engagement. This collaboration will be ongoing over the course of next school year and the inaugural meeting was in May at the University of Vermont.

Lori Lisai, a current Rowland Fellow and educator from Lamoille Union Middle/ High School, facilitated the day using the Design Challenge framework to inspire creative problem solving. Lori lead participants through the process by having students first start with a design challenge of identifying how they learned the best individually. Students then collaborated with students from their school, narrowing the ideas to four commonalities among learning styles. The second challenge was to creating a group handshake that exemplified all of the learning styles that we had within our group.

Now that our groups were warmed up and ready to tackle some hard thinking, our students set out to learn more about the design process and how it relates to the PLP. Students started by receiving some education around Act 77 to clarify the purpose of their work. Next, students conducted empathy interviews with students from a variety of schools. The focus of these interviews was to share the current PLP experience at the other schools to get a sense of what the “problem” may be.

Once students had a chance to conduct their empathy interview, they then defined the focus of their design by creating a “problem statement.” This problem statement was structured as: Stakeholder (name) needs a way to (verb that is a need) because (insight). From these problem statements students then went to the ideate stage of the design thinking process where they brainstorm for creative solutions within their school groups.

The students from PAML went into a Post-It note frenzy jotting down all types of ideas around how we could improve out PLP at PAML. Here is a list of the most frequent ideas:

  • Increase Student Motivation
  • Education around Act 77 - how does setting goals, blogging and reflecting all tie into this
  • Freedom around goal setting:
    • Maybe only one goal that you care a lot about
    • Maybe a goal around a hands-on project that you are working on
    • Students working with a group of teachers to plan how the PLP work time should go - the types of activities etc.
    • More work around motivation for goal setting with examples of goals because it is hard to come up with them on demand
    • More freedom on how they set up their portfolio - maybe not just a google site.

From this ideate students went back to their schools to continue thinking about PLPs and will be rejoining at the Middle Grades Institute at Castleton State University in June to create a PLP plan that they will implement next year. These schools will continue their collaborations over the course of the school year and will be presenting their work at the Middle Grades Conference in January as a way to share growth and learn together.