Finding Social Justice in Archbishop Mitty High School Science Classes

Finding Social Justice in Archbishop Mitty High School Science Classes

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In January, Archbishop Mitty High School opened the John A. and Susan Sobrato Science and Student Life Center, which provides spaces for students to study physics, chemistry, computer science, and robotics. This is the final story in a three-part series, which highlights how science courses in the new facility explore social justice.

The large cardboard boats flopped into the pool and floated briefly before students hopped in and began to paddle. While one vessel crossed the pool, others filled with water. In Mr. Paul Sampson’s class, even the sinking boats weren’t belly-flops since the exercise provided a chance for students to practice design thinking.

Mr. Sampson’s Introduction to Design Thinking class is a senior elective that allows students to explore multiple perspectives and use empathy to develop creative solutions to real world problems. The course provides students with a rigorous curriculum that prepares them for college while teaching them to be community leaders who promote service, peace, and justice in a global society, a central component of the school’s mission. During the semester-long course, students in Mr. Sampson’s class build boats, design wallets, and create tall structures that can support tennis balls. The class also touches upon Catholic social teaching by helping students develop the active listening skills they need to solve real world problems and create a more just world, with an equal distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges.
“One of the most important parts of design thinking is empathy,” wrote Julia Lohman, in her final exam for the class.

“Understanding a person on a deep level, not just knowing what they want in a product, allows a designer to create a product better suited to that person.”

As part of the class, students recognized that design thinking begins with studying the values of their audience. The class turned to StoryCorps, a non-profit organization that makes audio recordings of interviews between people, to practice listening to different perspectives. In one of the stories, students heard from a social worker who was robbed of his wallet by a young man, then turned around to offer his jacket and a warm meal, as well.

When it came time to pay the bill for dinner, the social worker offered to cover the costs, but said he could only do that if he got his billfold back. The story ends with the social worker getting his wallet, then paying the young man to put down the knife he used for the initial robbery. The story explores the beautiful exchanges that can occur when strangers take the time to share their voices and perspectives.

“Those are the kinds of stories that all of the sudden invigorate your heart,” said Mr. Sampson. “These stories trigger emotions, and they make kids really recognize that there is so much to learn from moments of authentic kinship.”

The skills students learn in this course apply outside the classroom to workplaces, diplomacy, and anywhere people work together. Design thinking calls students to entertain ideas that aren’t their own, allowing them to find new, creative ways to solve existing problems in the world.