Middle school program engages students on an entirely new level

Parrish Middle School students present their design thinking project in the state capital

Parrish Middle School students present their design thinking project in the state capital

My name is Tracy Carbajal and I’m an 8th grade math teacher at Parrish Middle School in the Salem-Keizer School District. During the 2018-2019 school year, we were honored to have the opportunity to participate in the pilot phase of the In4All design thinking program for middle school students. I feel our experience is important to share because it highlights the important work In4All is undertaking in our communities.

Teaching in a low socio-economic school can be a struggle. The majority of my students are below grade level and really struggle academically. To say they come to class with fixed mindsets about math would be an understatement, many simply believe they cannot do math and they never will be “good” at it.

The In4All design-thinking program completely changed their perspectives. Once a week, I got to be a bystander and watch as volunteers interacted with my students. I cannot tell you how amazing it was to get to watch my students work with professionals from the community and witness high levels of engagement from the class. Even on the days when we worked on the challenge without the volunteers being present the students were highly engaged and excited about what they were doing.

Students who absolutely refused to do work in class were working, smiling, collaborating with others, and taking risks. One student who usually does the bare minimum and struggles with attendance even ask me “Mrs. Carbajal, can I take this home and finish this? I really love this kind of math.” Both his attendance and work habits increased, and he was actively involved in his group. I attribute this to the fact that he was passionate about solve the problem he and his group identified as a need in the community. He was just one of thirty plus students that found relevancy and passion in their classroom learning, and therefore, contributed to the work. This speaks volumes to the impact this project has on students and the community in which they live!

The design-thinking curriculum created by In4All introduces a growth mindset and has the students continually reflect on their mindset as they progress in the challenge. This made a huge impact on my students’ willingness to try. They now see the benefit to having more of a growth mindset because they know that “failing forward” is not only an option, but it’s highly encouraged in order to refine their solutions and make improvements. The students know they will have to try something several times before they come up with something that works. They are supportive with one another through this trial and error process and welcome feedback in order to make growth.

Lastly, I truly believe the students find relevancy in this project because they feel they are making an impact in the community in which they live. Their ideas were generated from empathy interviews they conducted in the community at the very beginning of the challenge. These are real-life problems they see and feel on a daily basis, and now they have the opportunity to showcase their solutions in order to make our community a better place to live. It was heartwarming to experience middle schoolers become passionate problem solvers, grow in their critical thinking skills, collaborate with others, have healthy conflict, take risks, make mistakes, and exhibit growth mindset (when most would normally give up).

I wholeheartedly thank In4All for giving our eighth graders this opportunity to participate in the new middle school program. And I hope that my perspective as a teacher gives you some insight into the difference In4All is making in our communities.

Tracy Carbajal