How 8th Graders Used Design Thinking to Imagine an Award-Winning App

Every year, people forward me an email announcing the Verizon Innovative Learning App Challenge. As chair of the Computer Science Department at GPS, people know that encouraging girls to code is a driving force in my teaching.

This year, I decided to build the App Challenge contest into my 8th grade classes’ coursework. We followed the Design Thinking process to develop submissions for the contest.

In Design Thinking, first one must diverge and problematize. In our classes, this looked like groups of girls with pads of Post-It notes scrawling down every idea that came to mind when it came to problems they perceived in their community that an app could help solve.

Then, the ideas were read aloud with no judgment. Every idea was considered fair game and worthy of being categorized. From there, the groups narrowed down which direction they’d like to explore and within that category, which one problem they’d like to address.

After identifying the problem, they continued to the ideation phase of the Design Thinking process. They diverged to solve the problem and listed as many solutions as they could see that an app would be able to accomplish. Then they converged and combined ideas to land on one cohesive way to fix the community problem with an app.

When one group’s app concept, Ripple, won best in state, we were all so excited. I thought the idea of a mental health app for young people was unique and timely. We are all rallying around the Ripple app concept to earn national recognition. But even if they do not advance further than Best in State, I am proud of each girl who participated.

The most amazing thing to me is that each girl in the class embraced every step of the process. Despite their initial reluctance to work in a large group, each student found her place in the process and was able to make great contributions.

Jill Pieritz is Chair of the Computer Science Department at Girls Preparatory School in Chattanooga, TN.

Does your school do something similar?

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