New course of study slated to begin next school year incorporates design thinking and Project Invent, an educational concept focused on developing products that directly affect the lives of those in the community with real-world needs. NDPMA will be the first in the U.S. to incorporate Project Invent into curriculum.

The new Engineering and Empathy class will be taught in Notre Dame’s robotics center.

Sam Seidel, who is director of K12 Strategy + Research at the Stanford D.School, known formally as the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University, is charged with rethinking primary and secondary education in the U.S. In an article published last month in Forbes magazine, Seidel said a big part of that "rethinking" is what he and the D.School call design thinking.

"The D.School is best known for teaching design thinking and helping build creative confidence in all kinds of different fields," he said. "While design thinking has been applied to products, including everything from the Apple mouse to better toothbrushes, it can also be used to rethink schools and social systems."

Seidel went on to say that success in life requires being able to collaboratively solve problems and what better time to begin that process is when children are in school. He says he's intensely focused on figuring out what skills "students need to be successful in the 21st century."

Notre Dame also is addressing those 21st-century skills, most recently with its stunning new science, art and technology wing, which opened in the fall of 2018 and currently is giving NDPMA students the tools they need to help learn those skills.

Now, beginning next school year, Notre Dame is offering a new course as part of its high school science curriculum called Engineering and Empathy, which will feature the pedagogy of Project Invent, a nonprofit organization founded in 2016 to empower high school students to go out into their communities and invent technologies that make a difference. 

"Initially, we will offer this class in the fall in the upper division for 11th and 12th grade as a science elective," said Jocelynn Yaroch, the upper division's science department co-chair. "We also will be offering an abbreviated version as an elective for 8th grade and it will be called STEM. Louise Palardy, Notre Dame's STEM specialist and manager of the school's robotics center, will be teaching both classes."

According to Palardy, the new class involves creating an impactful technological invention, a business plan and marketing strategy. 

"Each invention has to be created as a result of an individual's need," she said. "We will partner with one or more nonprofits in the area and visit them to get an understanding of the problems they are facing. Once we fully understand the problem, we can brainstorm solutions and go through the prototyping phase."

Palardy said the course will follow the design cycle — with empathy added — as the invention created is driven by problems that deeply impact a person's life in the local community. 
"This fits perfectly within our Christian and community service mission, which emphasizes in part that when we know who we are working for, we will go the extra mile," she said.

Notre Dame initially became aware of Project Invent when ISACS held its annual conference in Detroit.  

"Among many other presentations, Louise and I attended the Project Invent session at the conference at Cobo Center in November," Yaroch said. "We met Connie Liu, founder and executive director of Project Invent, and we both came away very excited about what this curriculum could mean for our students and how it allows students with design interests beyond robotics to explore those interests. Louise basically took the reins of this initiative and has been communicating regularly with Connie to secure our space as a mentor school."

Palardy said currently there are only 12 schools across the U.S. using Project Invent, all as an after-school option. She said NDPMA will be the first school to use the program as an integral part of its in-class curriculum.

Palardy, who along with Yaroch has been certified as official mentors to teach Project Invent, said there is a minimal annual cost to the school to teach the program. "But included in that cost are one-on-one and cohort support for mentors throughout the year by experts from Stanford, MIT and others along with four days of intensive design thinking, making, and entrepreneurship training," she said. "It also will give our students the opportunity to present to top investors and tech leaders in Silicon Valley and be part of a community of educators who believe that real-world problem-solving means better learning." 

Yaroch noted that solving real-world problems means exactly what it says. 

"Louise has already met with Della Lawrence of our school's campus ministry department to get ideas on community partnerships that we may already have," Yaroch said. "And after talking to her, it appears that we will have many opportunities in the community for our students to design and make products that will directly address those needs."

Students in a Project Invent class in San Mateo, Calif., prototype electronics for a smart belt to help prevent blind people from dangerous veering when crossing the street.

Previous Project Invent exercises included designing a smart wallet for the visually impaired to detect bill denominations.

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