sTeam Incubator 2018

The River East Transcona School Division asked Architects At Play to be a partner in their sTeam Incubator Program. The first of its kind in the City, sTeam (which stands for "Science and Technology, interpreted through Engineering and the Arts, all based in Mathematical elements), was looking to industry professionals to help deliver its unique curriculum. The sTeam program aims at being an interdisciplinary, project based, technology focused, and skill building initiative that connects students to industry. As part of the curriculum, each student is tasked with creating a project that addresses one of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals. A key component of their projects is the development of Design Thinking skills by utilizing the Design Process. The Design Process guides students through the development of their project from understanding (empathize and define), to exploration (ideate and prototype), and finally, materialization (test and implement).

Architects At Play was brought in to introduce the students at Murdoch Mackay Collegiate to Design Thinking and the Design Process. We began with our 5-minute LEGO® Design Challenge. This exercise is a great icebreaker that gives us an opportunity to discuss some of the issues that might be encountered during a project, such as how to deal with tight timelines, how to address limited resources, and how to brainstorm ideas.

Next, we introduced our firm to the students and talked about our experiences in the architectural industry, including how we "play". It was important for them to see how "play" is an essential part of the Design Process and ultimately, innovation. We stressed the importance of creating human-centred design solutions, which lead to our next exercise: The Empathy Design Challenge.

In order for students to learn how to develop empathy, we needed to put them into somebody else's shoes. In this case, we wanted to give the students a taste of what it was like to be a person with a visual impairment. For this exercise, we paired the students up and gave them a blindfold and a clipboard. One student in each pair was challenged to put on the blindfold, navigate their way from the classroom to the library, pick up a newspaper, and make their way back. The second student made observations and made sure the blindfolded student stayed generally safe (there were a couple of injuries, which is a learning experience for both the students and us!). After they had completed the task once, they switched roles to give each student the opportunity to experience the challenge.

Once all the students had finished the task, we gathered them together to get some feedback on what some of the challenges were. This is where empathy gives rise to innovation. By reflecting on what another person might experience, the students were able to spot opportunities for critical thinking, creativity, and design. This lead to a quick brainstorming session where the students threw out ideas of possible solutions. It was great to see the level of divergent thinking displayed on the screen. 

Next the students were asked to prototype one of the solutions, with the goal of addressing one of the challenges they faced while navigating the school blindfolded. Using card, scissors, and tape, they came up with concepts that mainly centred around navigation and protection. Once the prototypes were ready, it was time to test them. The students were once again tasked with navigating blindfolded to the library and back, this time with the mechanism they had just designed. When they finished the challenge, we brought them together to discuss how their designs either succeeded or failed. In either case, the students learned about the importance of Design Thinking and the Design Process.

We truly believe that Design Education is important for all students. This was our first time testing our Empathy Design Challenge, and we definitely saw the value in teaching students how to empathize with others, spot opportunities for design, and implement solutions. We look forward to continuing our partnership with the sTeam Program, and we are grateful to the organizers and teachers for including us in this amazing program!