Creating accessible pathways to engage at-risk students in environmental challenges can potentially solidify their involvement in current and future environmental movements, which are in need of diverse voices.
2016 Urban Fellow
Research Topic: Design and the Built Environment
Faculty Advisor: Amity Doolittle
Youth Taking the Reins: Empowering At-Risk Students to Shape Environmental Challenges with Design
Design thinking is a creative teaching and learning approach that prioritizes observation, problem framing and hands-on prototyping. When compared to more direct methods of classroom instruction, design thinking has been shown to boost students’ comprehension of real world, complex domains; yet, few studies have examined the potential of this approach to engage at-risk students in analyzing the complex environmental challenges disproportionately impacting their lives and neighborhoods, such as urban water depletion. This study evaluates the potential and limitations of design thinking for equipping at-risk students with an ability to understand and propose solutions to the water challenges facing drought-ridden Los Angeles, CA. Over the course of three months, groups of high-school-age at-risk students participated in design thinking workshops, proposing solutions to curb heavy water consumption and replenish groundwater in Los Angeles. Drawing exercises and questionnaires were used to compare participants’ comprehension and values surrounding urban water usage before and after participating in design thinking workshops. Finally, semi-structured interviews were conducted to evaluate the thought processes guiding participants’ design decisions during workshops, as well as their attitudes toward design thinking as a teaching methodology and learning approach.