FABLAB Education Program
Sustainable South Bronx
FABLAB Education Program
Very comprehensive curriculum that includes a compelling local community engagement piece for this after-school program that teaches job and life skills by focusing on sustainability and business basics through the lens of design.
The program’s needs-driven approach (with a target group of inner city youth) shows terrific evidence of the power of design and design thinking to address fundamental life lessons and provide “transferable skills” that can help youth face their future with confidence.
Collaboration, civic action and creative problem solving are celebrated and turned into key motivating factors in the first year of this exciting program.
FABLAB Education Program
TYTHEdesign in collaboration with the non-profit Sustainable South Bronx (SSBx), has developed and piloted an educational after-school program to teach job and life skills by focusing on sustainability and business basics through the lens of design. TYTHEdesign created two curriculums: the Entrepreneurship Lab which engages students in designing, building and marketing their own sustainable products on Etsy.com and the Green Solutions Lab which engages students in solving local environmental problems in the Hunt Point Bronx community through sustainable design. By using design educational principles, students learned valuable transferable skills that can be used in every area of their lives.2. The Brief: Summarize the problem you set out to solve. What was the context for the project, and what was the challenge posed to you?
SSBx is an environmental non-profit organization based in the South Bronx, NY. They work to create change in under-serviced neighborhoods through environmental education, job training and the greening of public space. SSBx approached TYTHEdesign to develop an afterschool program that encompassed job training skills, sustainability, personal accountability and possible support for college applications.
SSBx had previously been running an after-school program focusing on Math, Scienc, English and Technology but felt that it wasn’t resonating with the needs and interests of inner city students. Due to the economic downturn and the local demographics, SSBx realized that many students might not have the opportunity to go to college. Thus focusing the program only on academic skills wasn’t a realistic path for these students. TYTHEdesign was challenged to develop, test and implement a full afterschool program including the application process, a written curriculum and an evaluation process. The goal was to give students valuable transferable skills that could be used daily and help prepare them for the next steps such as finding a job or heading for college.
SSBx wanted the overall theme of the program to appeal to the interests of the student population and draw the support of parents and the larger community. Creating this buy-in would draw more students and support the long-term viability of the program.3. The Intent: What point of view did you bring to the project, and were there additional criteria that you added to the brief?
TYTHEdesign brought a unique perspective to this program, primarily because our multidisciplinary team had a focus on design and experience with entrepreneurship. In addition, members of our team had previously taught design to inner city students and had work experience in the South Bronx.
Due to the complexity of the programs, we felt that it was important to bring in experts from different disciplines to help with the development. We had two high school teachers, one with experience teaching inner city students, to help us design the frame work for lesson plans, reemphasize certain skills currently being taught and ensure the language was appropriate. We had designers help to develop the lesson plans around design principles and supplementary equipment skills for laser cutters and Adobe illustrator. Lastly, we used our experience as small business owners to help develop the elements and focus on entrepreneurship. We understood the basic necessity to develop a product, tell your story and bring it to market.
One of the added criteria for the brief was ensure that the curriculum could be adapted to changing needs. We wanted to build in the flexibility to run the program either as an after-school program or a summer program. We also wanted the flexibility that it could be taught by a non-designer through SSBx wanted the program to have a focus on design and sustainability. By learning the program, the skills and the principles of the program, it could be taught by any teacher.4. The Process: Describe the rigor that informed your project. (Research, ethnography, subject matter experts, materials exploration, technology, iteration, testing, etc., as applicable.) What stakeholder interests did you consider? (Audience, business, organization, labor, manufacturing, distribution, etc., as applicable)
This project was divided up into three phases. The first focused on research, discovery and the development of a full iteration of the programs. The second phase was to pilot the program with students over the summer and finally to take all the successes and failures learned in the pilot program to develop the fully formed application process, student handbooks, curriculums and evaluation forms.
In the first phase we had several collaborative strategic and brainstorming meetings with the executive team and staff of the SSBx team. Drawing on their knowledge working in the South Bronx we came to understand the successes and non-successes of their existing after-school programs. These meetings allowed us to gain knowledge on community demographics, behavior, education and needs prior to starting the development process. Also we meet the director of the existing and successful SSBx Green Job Training Program. We wanted to ensure that many of the transferable skills we were including in our proposal were similar to the Green Job Training Program and to ensure continuity with the existing SSBx programs.
TYTHEdesign then spent several weeks doing research on existing after-school programs in New York and spoke with their program coordinators. We came to understand what made a successful program and what principles or projects were attracting students.
Bringing together our collaborative team of teachers and designers, we developed the initial outline of our lesson plans. Teachers spoke from the perspective of the students and future teachers while our designers and entrepreneurs spoke of the needed skills to be taught during the program. This process included several rounds of iteration and feedback with the SSBx team to ensure our design was compatible with their needs. We then we worked as a team to write up the two curriculum for the pilot summer program.
Over the summer of 2011, we spend 8 weeks piloting both of the curriculums with students from the Bronx community. This process allowed us to evaluate our lesson plans, the specific activities in the plan, the knowledge level of the local students, the interest of the students and the feasibility of the program from the SSBx’s perspective. We learned what worked, what needed to be added, removed or adapted in context of the needs of the students and the teachers. When a lesson wasn’t resonating, it was an opportunity to ideate a new activity and test it with student feedback. In parallel with the teaching, we also tested the application process, the student handbook and the final evaluation.
The final phase involved a detailed evaluation both internally as a team and with SSBx to make sure our final outcome reflected what we learned through the testing stage. We spend the next two months flushing out and finishing the curriculums. The final result was a step by step student application process, a FABLAB rules and regulation student handbook, two curriculums with each having 36 lesson plans that included handouts, tutorials and supplementary materials and an evaluation/knowledge form for the students.5. The Value: How does your project earn its keep in the world? What is its value? What is its impact? (Social, educational, economic, paradigm-shifting, sustainable, environmental, cultural, gladdening, etc.)
The value of this program is to educate and empower the students from New York’s inner city to take the next steps in their future growth. By focusing on job skills, creativity and critical thinking, students are able to increase their professional, academic and social skills. By engaging and motivating students to design processes or products, the program uses this as an entry point to develop a feeling of accomplishment and confidence in the student’s ability to finish school and move on to a career or college. These transferable skills such as public speaking, resume building, budgeting increases the sustainability and economic impact of the students and the Bronx community.
The Green Solutions Lab teaches the student about social engagement, collaboration, civic action and creative problem solving with a lasting sustainable impact on the local Hunts Points Bronx community.
The Entrepreneurship Lab teaches sustainable consumerism that includes the life cycle of the product and their environmental impact. From designing and production to the marketing of the product, the student better understands the cycle of commerce and encourages their engagement in this process.6. Describe the overall philosophy that drove the design brief, research methodologies, tools and outcomes (e.g. self-defined or client-defined briefs, participatory briefs, process outcomes or artifacts outcomes, etc.).
The overall philosophy for this program was to engage, support and especially empower the local inner city youth through the values of sustainability, business and design. Underlying this goal was the desire to teach other transferable skills that supported the original philosophy but could be applied to other aspects of daily living. This was initially a client-defined brief however through a process of co-design the brief was adapted to include elements that TYTHEdesign would be contributing after a detailed community feedback process.
Throughout this development of the programs, we incorporated a traditional ‘design-thinking’ methodology: ensuring each step of the process was user-centered (both from the perspective of the student but also the community and of course, SSBx); collaborative with both the client and students through the pilot phase and iterative. The only way we could ensure a positive outcome was to make sure we tested out each element with the user and gained critical feedback for future development.
The sustainability of the program reflected the need to add flexibility to changing needs of the community and students but also the adaptability to changes in the teaching methodology depending on the skill mix of the teacher.7. How did the project, program or curriculum improve the students’ learning objectives, the institution’s overall learning and teaching and/or beneficial impact to outside community or industry partner?
The aim of these programs is not to make the participating students into designers, environmentalists or entrepreneurs but to use design education to give them valuable transferable skills that can be used in every area of their lives. Through the program the students will learn the following skills:
— Professional Skills: Public Speaking, Time Management, Information Management, Financial Skills, Job Training.
— Social Skills: Problem Solving, Constructive self and peer criticism, Collaboration, Conflict Resolution, Critical Thinking.
— Academic Skills: Creativity, Literacy, Math, Research, Computer Skills.
Through the pilot program’s student application and final evaluation forms, we were able to track the improved knowledge of the students. Each student was able to clearly communicate the basic of sustainability, understanding of business basics (especially budgets) and several sold products on Etsy.com. Additionally each student was clearly able to identify what they aspired to do after graduating from high school, therefore showing engagement in the important next steps after school.
Due to the program only being in its first year, it is hard to tract the large impact. However due to the large number of applications for the 2012 spring application program, it is evident that the larger Bronx community is understanding how this program will have a positive impact on the community.