Friday, June 27, 2014

The pursuit of dreams

Bring a wicked problem to work on at Fuse14, my colleague Scot Hoffman and I were told.  The most wicked problem we could come up with was contained in our school's mission statement:
We inspire all of our students to continuous inquiry, empowering them with the skills, courage, optimism, and integrity to pursue their dreams and enhance the lives of others.
What does it mean to pursue dreams, we asked ourselves, and how can this be evaluated? By the end of the first day we had come up with an interesting theory:  that dreams are a making activity, and we asked ourselves if a school is a MakerSpace for the dreams of students, what happens in that space and what does it look like?  We decided we needed to design and build a toolkit that can be used to facilitate students' pursuit of dreams.

An early stage of design thinking is empathy.  We needed to interview people, both students and adults, to find out their thoughts about dreams.  These were the questions we asked:

  • What dreams do you have for your life?
  • What does it look like when you are pursuing your dreams?
  • What gets in the way of your dreams?
  • Do you talk with anyone about your dreams?
Having interviewed a variety of people we started to look at the common threads - and some that were not common.  For example we noticed that we don't all mean the same thing when we talk about dreams.  Some of us have big dreams and some of us have small ones, and the time frame that they are spread out over can be very large.  We were surprised to find out that most of those we interviewed said they didn't talk to other people about their dreams (some of them found it hard to talk to us about their dreams too!)  Dreams are personal and tied closely to identity, but eventually we found that after a shaky start for some, people did like being asked about their dreams.

Another thing that we came to understand from our interviews was that dreams can morph.  Most of the adults we interviewed did not have the same dreams that they’d had as teenagers - the dreams of adults were more about a meaningful life and making an impact, whereas the students’ dreams were more about doing/achieving something. We also discovered that the ability to change dreams was dependent on the skills that had been developed in pursuit of dreams.

Our dreamers talked a lot about networking - it was a theme that cropped up again and again as they realized that their dreams require other people to come to fruition. We also noticed that when we asked about how they were pursuing their dreams, the people we interviewed all talked about building skills. This seemed to be an interesting observation because while we realized it was hard to evaluate dreams, we believe that it is possible to evaluate the skills that people are building on the journey towards their dreams. We had a long talk about whether skills were more important than passions in this journey.

At the end of the first day of design thinking we realized the following things about our mission statement:

  • Dreams are a Making Activity
  • There is a need to make dreams understandable, more concrete and buildable.
  • We can evaluate if someone has a dream.
  • We can evaluate if they are pursuing that dream.
  • We can evaluate how talking about dreams affects the prevalence of having them. 
  • More students might have more dreams if they had more conversations about their dreams.
Today, in Day 2, we started to consider a "Futurecasting" framework and we talked about Dream Fairs. I'll be writing about this part of our design thinking deep dive in the next blog post.

Photo Credit: Photosightfaces via Compfight cc

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