Kate Andrews students get entrepreneurial bug

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Kate Andrews students show off the results of their Lego Serious Play session.

COALDALE – If any of these Kate Andrews High School students end up being tomorrow’s innovators, they may be able to attribute some of that success to playing with an iconic toy from their youth.

Students in the Entrepreneurship/Design Thinking course – an option offered to Grade 9 students for the first time this semester – have been learning hands-on, problem-solving skills, with Lego among the innovative tools they were introduced to.

Lego Serious Play is a group, problem-solving process in which participants build a 3D model.  Stephen Dann says the important thing is not the model, but the story told by putting the model together.

“Because you’ve used your hands to create something, you do think differently,” says the certified Lego Serious Play facilitator. “And you do find yourself, as you are telling a story, going, ‘hey, here’s an idea I hadn’t thought of. Here’s some knowledge that was locked away somewhere in my head.’ ”

Playing with Lego might still be a relatively fresh experience for high school students, but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have an advantage over their corporate boardroom counterparts. Dann says children often build Lego from kits, where they carefully follow the instructions.

“Here I hand them a pile of Lego and say, ‘tell me your story.’ Their voice becomes important and they’re off-script. They’re off-structure,” says the management professor, who is visiting the University of Lethbridge from Australia.

Lindsey Hagen, Kate Andrews vice-principal and course teacher, approached the U of L for guidance in putting together the curriculum. The high school course borrows heavily from the university’s AGILITY program, which is designed to nurture and support innovation and entrepreneurship.

The KAHS option falls under the Career and Technology Foundations curriculum and consists of 14 classes of 90 minutes each. Those enrolled were split into three groups, each running consecutively.

Whether it’s the high school course or the university offering, Tyler Heaton says it’s all about learning to become better problem solvers. Entrepreneurs are people who took a problem and turned it into an opportunity, says the manager of the AGILITY program.

He hopes the students see that design thinking and problem solving start with people.

“It starts with a user. Or customers. Or community.  And it goes from there, rather than starting with the solution and trying to find a user that solution fits,” says Heaton, who has provided ongoing support to the students. “We are starting with empathy and understanding the perspective of someone else.”

After learning problem-solving skills, the Entrepreneurship/Design Thinking students worked in teams to tackle a project. Each was tasked with improving transportation.

Rocket boots were the solution Kalen Haney’s group came up with.

“It helps you in high traffic areas and when you are trying to get somewhere really quick,” says Haney, who was among students who have already completed the course. “I think my favourite part was just using your imagination, and I liked the teamwork.”

Dylan Lang’s group came up with the idea of magnetic cars, which would travel in packs and repel others  moving in the opposite direction. He enjoyed his earlier experience with Lego Serious Play.

“It was a good opportunity to create whatever we wanted. I can see using it to stay more focused and to collaborate with teammates,” he says.

Hagen says students not only learned about problem solving, but also how to think critically, how to work with a group, and how to work with a group where one member isn’t pulling their weight.

It was great to see the high school students gaining more confidence in creating new ideas, says Heaton  Despite the difference in years, he sees both high school and university students having to overcome similar challenges at the start.

“New ideas for people are difficult. And having the opportunity to go after something that is your own idea, rather than summarizing someone else’s materials or commenting on someone else’s idea,” is new.