Disclosure :: McGehee sponsored this post.
Why Design Thinking Matters For Girls
I grew up in New Orleans in the 1970’s. I was a happy kid, terrible teenager, good student, and a voracious reader with a standing deal to read one classic novel for every “trash book” my mother funded from the Doubleday Bookstore in Lakeside Mall, home today to the Sephora beauty emporium (or thereabouts).
While I read, transporting my consciousness to other times and foreign places, my two brothers set about doing what boys have always done – tearing things apart … and sometimes even putting them back together. They were tinkering, i.e. imagining new possibilities through the process of invention, and surely benefiting long term from the unstructured, hands-on, solution-oriented experiences fort building on a massive scale brings.
I came of age believing (and reading) that I could do and be anything; however, in the dinosaur days of computing and global connectivity, careers, much less “play” in the realms of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) were neither emphasized nor expected, especially for girls. Simply look to the dearth of leading women in Silicon Valley or to only two Nobel Prize winning women for physics and four for chemistry since 1901 as evidence (Marie Curie taking both prizes but of course).
STEAM professions (the “A” is for arts), drive innovation by generating new ideas, new companies and new industries, and the prerequisite skills required (critical thinking, creativity, communication and cooperation) must be instilled and cultivated early on. This is why “design thinking” (a set of tools, methods, and processes by which we develop new answers for big and little challenges) and dedicated maker’s spaces, like the Louise S. McGehee School’s Tinker Lab, should matter urgently to parents.
McGehee’s commitment to STEAM
McGehee’s commitment to STEAM for girls starts early and spirals throughout their schooling, often culminating in opportunities like yearlong senior mentorships. Twelfth-grader Amelie Lagarde is working with McGehee Science Educator Annie Tete researching the negative effects of antibiotics, and her classmate Sofia Cabrera is working with Upper School Science Department Chair Jennifer Zitt on “Vaccines and Vaccine Controversies.” Mentorship girls present their findings to the faculty and student body in May.
The path to confidence in tackling such open-ended challenges begins at McGehee in the school’s Tinker Lab where starting in Pre-K, students gain a sense of mastery and pride in their abilities to analyze, design, build and test their own solutions.
Employing design thinking around circuitry, 3-D construction, chain reactions, wind exploration, deconstructing stuffed animals and yes, even sewing, McGehee students are empowered to know at a very young age that their ideas are important, and with persistence, collaboration and hard work they can make positive change in the world via the creativity of their ideas.
Kimber Ashman from McGehee’s Class of 2009, an outstanding McGehee alum and recent graduate of Johns Hopkins, recently won a design competition with her team’s Ebola Protective Gear. Imagine the teamwork and innovation that went into contributing to this complex, and sadly, very real global issue.
Each of the above McGehee-educated young women are role models with the confidence, abilities and choices I wish for my own twin daughters, McGehee kindergarteners (Shout out to K-A and K-C!) who are following in the footsteps of their great-grandmother Charlotte Carter Smith who graduated from McGehee as Student Body President in 1936.
Last Mardi Gras, “Charmére’s” great-granddaughter Vivienne found a waning light-up toy trinket on our sidewalk and immediately announced her intention to take it to the Tinker Lab to take it apart and see how it worked. Vivienne had only just turned five. Vivienne’s curiosity and confidence in her ability to make it work were perfectly correlated with the values and vision of McGehee’s Tinker Lab and design thinking curriculum.
Not to be outdone, just six days into this school year, my daughter Lesley’s class set a kindergarten height record for tower building. The tower, made mostly of Magna Tiles and some paper, measured 7 ft. 3 in. tall. The whole class worked together to problem solve the difficulties that come with building a tower taller than their teachers and innovating solutions for issues with stability, supply shortage and how to reach 3 ft. over their heads.
The more I’ve read about the benefits of design thinking, the more its integration into school curriculum is a non-negotiable for me as a parent, professional and 21st century woman.
If my girls choose to professionally create illuminated, temperature controlled, beautifully appointed forts (far surpassing those of their uncles’) for a living, I know they will have a solid foundation from which to build, thanks to the critical thinking skills and confidence that come with a McGehee education. I can only hope they remember to incorporate a comfortable reading nook for Mom.
Charlee Williamson is a McGehee Kindergarten parent and the Executive Vice President of the Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group.