Sharing Design and Innovation Successes

By Dan Lenzen, director of design and innovation

When I arrived on the LJCDS campus seven years ago, the Design and Innovation Lab was a mostly-empty room with bare white walls—indicating both the possibilities and the amount of work ahead of us. These days, our spaces are bustling with students working on a variety of projects. I see how dedicated our students are to our program and how far we have come. In Upper School alone, we have grown from 22 students in 2015 to 115 this year. 

The LJCDS Design and Innovation program is a model for schools looking to start their own programs. When I present at conferences and consult with schools, here are some of the lessons I share: 

Student relationships

At our K–12 school, everything starts with positive student-educator relationships. We are lucky to have educators who work productively with students through both the most exciting learning opportunities and the inevitable developmental challenges. At a school like ours, we get to know students beyond the classrooms through camping on experiential education trips, coaching them on the lacrosse field, or supervising the Flex Time they are passionate about. The trust built during these experiences is the foundation for great work to come.

Modeling curiosity and collaboration

Students of all ages are incredibly observant and see how adults act and think about their work. A culture of exploration is the only way to have students create unique projects, and that only comes if they can see that exploration is not only allowed but encouraged from the top down. Faculty are emboldened to try new projects to generate skills and ideas for the classroom. This stimulates a curriculum that is constantly evolving and keeping the interest of both students and faculty.

Opening doors for real-world learning

Some of the greatest learning experiences can come from setting students up with opportunities and getting out of the way. Whether we are building devices for patients at Rady Children’s Hospital or laboratory equipment for the La Jolla Institute for Immunology, connecting students with meaningful projects from external connections can enable them to engage in real-world experiences that can profoundly impact their education

Traditional education often takes the approach of laying out the steps for students to take on a project. While this is useful for understanding the basics, external projects expand on those rudimentary skills. They require creativity and present unforeseen challenges that build students’ problem-solving skills.

Alumni from our program have started entering the workforce, and it is thrilling to see the directions they have gone in—from Fortune 500 companies to nonprofits to starting their own businesses. When they attribute their success to the Design and Innovation program, it shows us how impactful these lessons can be.

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