Toward Making Change: Beyond #BlackLivesMatter (Three: Using Design-Thinking, Collaboration & Hip Hop Culture to Plan Activities)


by Susan Klimczak -

This is the third of a series of posts documenting the progression of a collaborative project at the South End Technology Center @ Tent City supported by the Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean's Equity Project.  The goal was to create a safe and creative space for high school and college youth to explore their identities and the issues that have come up for them with the #BlackLivesMatter movement through activities based on Hip Hop Culture.  Then, using the design engineering process, the youth will imagine a better and more just future, creating a participatory art and technology activity that will engage other youth during the Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn program.  

It’s like falling in love when you first imagine an big idea for a new maker activity.  There are those same highs of excitement, energy and the transforming power of the idea!  You find yourself wanting to share your idea with EVERYONE!

However, If you are an experienced maker educator, a second feeling of being overwhelmed often follows. You have vivid memories of how much work it is to plan, pilot and often the worst and most tedious process of all, documenting your new beloved activity.  

One way to both share your idea and really refine a plan for the activity is to use a participatory design and the ideation step from design thinking.  Participatory design can involve gathering together your favorite colleagues and students to help with planning.  Ideation is a part of the planning process where you concentrate on generating ideas. As the folks at the Stanford D-School suggest in their excellent design thinking resource, “It’s not about coming up with the ‘right’ idea, it’s about generating the broadest range of possibilities.”

To plan Beyond #BlackLivesMatter and Toward #MakingLiberation, Adia and I gathered makers and colleagues from our support network to imagine what we could do with youth and generate ideas for the activities.  Not all of these people we loved could participate as facilitators in the activity, but they were excited to come and “think with us.” Our goal was to create a mind map that could help guide and plan the 6-week after school workshop.  

All our friends had busy lives, so we designed this planning session to meet after everyone’s work and do the planning while “breaking bread” together.  Adia Wallace (a Technology and Innovation in Education Graduate Student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education at the time) and I ordered take-out from a small local ethnic family business in the neighborhood of the South End Technology Center @ Tent City.  

After sharing our exciting big, ambitious and slightly fuzzy idea for #MakingLiberation, we gave each of them a pen and a stack of sticky notes.  As we ate and talked, many ideas emerged.  Using ideation techniques from design thinking, we asked them to write all their ideas on sticky notes.  Then we arranged the sticky notes into categories on a whiteboard --- and worked and worked --- until an activity plan emerged!  We celebrated by taking some silly photos:


Organizing the ideas imagined on sticky notes into a map helped us create a clear goal that we often referred to while planning the activities:


This lead to define what the youth would do:

  • use hip-hop expression, such as cyphers, graffiti, spoken word,  to engage in authentic conversations regarding identity and bigotry

  • expose youth to hip hop maker culture and its techno-innovations

  • build knowledge together through constructionism, a theory of learning through making developed by Seymour Papert

  • use technology as both the medium and the message