“Design Thinking and Making” class at Claremont Middle School encourages students to think outside of the box

A "Design Thinking and Making" class at Claremont Middle School in Oakland encourages students to redesign their school.

A middle school hallway with its long, lonely corridors often serves as the typical wandering place for a troubled kid. At Claremont Middle School in North Oakland, students are fed up with the perception of hallways in their school. Through a ‘Design Thinking and Making’ class that was implemented this fall, students in grades 6-8 are actively attempting to change the space they study in five days a week.

To make the school more welcoming, students have discussed strategies for brightening the building and making classrooms more colorful. “We want to paint the doors and add colorful signs and art and hopefully splatter-paint the lockers,” says Skyler Stenson, a seventh-grade student in the ‘Design Thinking and Making’ class.

They’ve also talked about revamping the school’s hallways, which are currently dull gray, with no signs or posters to distinguish one classroom door from another. Instead of seeing the space as somewhere to escape, or as the place you go when you’re bad, Barloga hopes that the students can redesign the corridors to make them more interesting and lively. “If the hallways become an extension of the classroom, there’s activity everywhere so you can’t just roam around, hiding” says Barloga.

Barloga, usually a sixth-grade science teacher, was asked to teach the ‘Design Thinking and Making’ elective after the school’s art program was cut. “The focus of this class is the agency component; so by engaging and persisting through something, hopefully students will be empowered and see that they have a lot of valid ideas and opinions and can make change,” says Barloga.

Barloga began the class by discussing the use of color and how to better use space.

Classroom 18, the site of the ‘Design Thinking and Making’ class, has already been transformed from a disheveled art room to a colorful design workspace. In redesigning the classroom, Barloga hoped to create an environment that felt less like a classroom and provided the students with the confidence to fully engage in the subject of design. To do so, Maite cut large circles out of colored poster board and hung them on strings to cover the entrance of the storage space in the back of the classroom. The students also made a large, colorful mural out of their thumbprints that reads ‘Claremont Middle School’ and is hanging in the front of the classroom.

A parent came up with the idea for a design class from a research project started by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which observes different ways to teach design. The class doesn’t include tests or homework, but instead aims to teach students how to be resourceful, and creatively address common problems in their school.

So far the students have created logos for the different classrooms that used varying colors and images to indicate grade, subject and the teacher directing the class.  During the opening of the Bay Bridge they looked at the changes between the old bridge and the new one. Students created their own model of the bridges using toothpicks and Elmer’s glue. Currently the students are creating blue prints of Claremont Middle School that they plan on turning into 3-D models so that they can redesign the school to make it more functional, inviting and colorful.

Many of the students said that the class was their favorite because it allowed them to look at objects with a designer’s mindset. “We actually get to think outside of the box—instead of academically we can think about what we’re actually interested in and how it can change the school and other things…” said Railey Stern-Yen, a seventh-grader from Oakland.

The class has given the kids such confidence that some have even begun proposing more ambitious reforms, like  better plumbing and more efficient water fountains – though they admit that’s probably not something they’ll be able to accomplish on their own.

Many students also say that they have begun to incorporate the course’s  ‘see, think and wonder’ philosophy into their daily life. Or as sixth-grade student Miles Hicky put it: “We’re able to relate to an issue in a place, and then we’re able to fix that issue and create new questions.”

2 Comments

  1. So inspiring! Good on you for inspiring kids to think about different creative mediums!

  2. Ray Hickey

    This is the best idea I have seen that inspires the students, and allows them to take part in redesigning the school. I hope that other schools throughout the country follow this example.

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