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Mercedes Ugarte


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Oakland, U.S.A

Live Curious, Go Beyond the Four Walls


I have always had a curiosity for learning and this has led me to go beyond my four walls.  The four walls are a metaphor of not only my immediate physical location, but also my own perspective, experiences, and comfort level.  By pushing myself to move outside my "four walls", I have consistently been motivated to travel around the world, meet new and interesting people, and put myself in situations that will help me grow personally and professionally.  As a teacher, I learn new strategies that will allow my students to access knowledge, present them with new perspectives, and provide opportunities for new experiences outside of their four walls.  In the classroom, I am also learning alongside my students.  My students understand that I am not their only source of knowledge, but one who will facilitate their learning and support them in living curiously so they will find their passions and develop them to their fullest potential.  


Areas of expertise: Social Justice Curriculum Development, Best Practices for English Language 

Learners, Document Based Questioning Assessments, PBL,

     Twitter Handle: @maestra_ugarte

              Website:


My Discoveries Using Design Thinking for Community Service Projects

posted May 5, 2016, 8:07 AM by Mercedes Ugarte   [ updated May 5, 2016, 9:00 AM by Brian Hamm ]

Last week, I asked Brian Hamm and Cory Austen to facilitate a “Design Thinking Crash Course” for my 7th and 8th grade students who are beginning to go through the process of developing their community service projects for Leadership class. My purpose is to take a different approach to the way community service has been traditionally implemented, which is for the student to choose a service they are interested in, student comes up with a plan, and then takes action. Instead, I wanted students to guide their projects based on the needs of their community.  This means they have to learn and understand what those needs are rather than making assumptions of what the needs could be.  This is where design methods helps create steps to achieve that: discovery or empathy as the first step.  


Cory and Brian did an amazing job going through the steps of design thinking, explaining the philosophy and how it can be applied to just about anything in life.  This helped spark a lot of interest in the students as they each felt this could apply to any of their interests. The two-day workshop took place in the Tech Room.  I absolutely love this room and wonder why I have not used this space with my students more often.   It is a room filled with cool gadgets for kids and teachers to tinker with, books on creativity and innovation, white walls to write on, medicine balls to sit on , bean bags to lay on, and in general, a place where you are encouraged and supported to use your creativity, personal expression, and learning by discovery.  This alone gives the students a different “feel” in how the class is handled and what is expected of them.


After attending several sessions on design thinking at the Live Curious, Go Beyond Conference here at ASFM, I realized that so much of the work that we have our students do a) has no real scaffolding process for creativity, b) students are usually motivated only by a teacher created rubric, c) allows for very little opportunity for re-creating or redoing work that may not have been as successful as it can be.  Thanks to many of the facilitators at the conference I am beginning to understand how design thinking can solve many of the questions that I constantly struggle with as a teacher.


  • How can I make them care more about the process of learning rather than their grade?  

  • How can our students become more independent creative risk takers who are invested in their learning?  

  • How can students truly feel like they are invested in their work?  To feel as though they are actually making a difference?


I read an interesting article from Education Week, “Student Engagement: Is it Authentic or Compliant?” where the author outlined the differences and explained how it is easy to confuse compliant behavior with serious engagement.  I have always pondered on and reflected on these issues for many years and, still after over a decade of teaching experience, I’m still learning some important lessons. The design method, or however you want to call it, is a way to solve these engagement issues and helping in make education and "school" relevant for our students. I’m happy that I’m learning how to approach education differently and strongly argue that education should focus on the skills that will empower our students to become 21st century thinkers by inspiring them to become architects of their future, and giving them the confidence to transform their communities.

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