U of L collaborates on developing new Grade 9 options course

A new options course developed at Kate Andrews High School gives students the chance to think outside the brick, the Lego brick that is.

When Lindsey Hagen, vice-principal, wanted to develop an additional Career and Technology Foundations (CTF) course in Entrepreneurship/Design Thinking for Grade 9 students, she turned to the Faculty of Education at the University of Lethbridge.

Grade 9 students at Kate Andrews High School in Coaldale tackle a team task during the Lego Serious Play session.

“Currently in its optional year of implementation, CTF is designed for students to explore personal interests and related career possibilities and occupational areas,” says Leonard Sproule, an instructor in the U of L Faculty of Education. “At its core, CTF aspires to provide students with authentic learning experiences that make explicit connections between school-based learning and that of the working world.”

Sproule and Tyler Heaton, manager of AGILITY (the U of L’s innovation hub), met with Hagen to help with curriculum planning for the course. They included a session with Heaton as a guest speaker and with Dr. Stephen Dann, a visiting professor from Australia National University and a trained facilitator with Lego Serious Play, a method developed by Lego in the 1990s to stimulate creative thinking in people.

“This is a very different course than what students are typically exposed to because it is very much a problem solving, project-based, collaborative course,” says Hagen. “In the beginning, we noticed some students were hesitant to get started; they are more comfortable answering prescribed questions than generating their own ideas and responses to a challenge or problem. With the supports of the guest speakers, Tyler and Stephen, they grew in confidence.”

Heaton visited the classroom to lead sessions on problem identification and solving, prototyping and pitching ideas. The theme for the course was transportation and students were tasked with coming up with a solution to a transportation problem.

“It’s important to find a user’s perspective when you’re solving a problem,” says Heaton. “A design-thinking approach requires empathizing and understanding the problems a community might have and finding solutions that are the right fit for that user or that community.”

Dr. Stephen Dann, an Australia National University professor and trained Lego Serious Play facilitator, speaks to students in the Entrepreneurship/Design Thinking class.
In the Lego Serious Play sessions, Dann facilitated a process that involved asking the students to build a Lego model in response to a question. Each participant has the chance to explain how their model answers the question in as much detail as they are comfortable providing. Other participants can ask open-ended questions but not comment or remark upon someone’s model.

“Any group of people that you bring together in a meeting, when you get them to create something that’s theirs and that they can tell their story around, you open up a different line of thinking,” says Dann. “The first one is the hand-mind coordination. Because you’re using your hands in the process of preparing an answer, you unlock different pieces of memory and thinking. And the second one is, because it’s a metaphor and story-telling device, you can extrapolate thoughts and ideas you hadn’t necessarily considered when you were putting the pieces together.”

Dann says the students were enthusiastic participants in the Lego Serious Play sessions. Many commented about the fun they had working in a group and how they learned they could make complicated things from a few Lego bricks.

Hagen says the students also learned to work as a team and to respect the ideas and contributions of others. They saw the value of their ideas and opinions and learned more about solving problems creatively and using metaphor to express meaning.

“Getting the high schools and the universities that are doing new and interesting things together is a really great thing,” says Dann. “When the opportunity came up, I was immediately in because this is something that isn’t happening as much back home. I’m genuinely honoured that I got a chance to go out and work with everyone involved.”

“I am very grateful for the supports that I have received from partners at the U of L. Although we are in the beginning stages, we are encouraged by student response and feedback, and are looking forward to continuing to provide this course in design thinking,” says Hagen.