Northwestern Design Opportunity for CPS Diverse Learning Educators with Learning Gardens
What do cans, garden beds, contact lenses and workout gear all have in common?

Each of these commonplace objects poses a design challenge for users with varied physical capabilities. Through an ongoing dialogue with our friends at Adaptive Design Association (ADA), in New York City, we were introduced to Jake Pollock and Bruce Ankenman at Northwestern University’s Segal Design Institute.

Design-Thinking-Communication (DTC) is a course that works to address these design challenges in partnership with real-life agencies that propose them. DTC has presented The Kitchen Community (TKC) Chicago community, with a particular emphasis on Diverse Learning teachers, with the opportunity to partner on a design project that could support their student’s abilities to use their Learning Gardens more effectively.

CPS Diverse Learning Teachers with a Learning Garden may submit a DTC Project Proposal, focusing on projects that support Diverse Learning students working in the Learning Garden. The proposal must be user-centered, independent of fixed solutions and feasible for Northwestern students to complete within a two-month timeframe. Prospective partners can expect the following from Northwestern students. The project partner must be available to meet once early in the quarter, twice during the quarter to provide feedback, and once more by attending the final presentation on campus. The prototype and report will be turned over at the final presentation! Wall Street Journal has a lot of good to say about the course!

Project History

The relationship with ADA began through a collaboration with the garden stars on Chicago’s Courtenay Language Arts Center Diverse Learning team. The NYC ADA team came to two TKC Chicago Learning Garden schools in Spring 2016 to work with students out in the Learning Garden. Over some garden snacks prepared and served by the Courtenay students, they assessed needs and discussed strategies to design custom adaptations to better support them. The visit, and teachings that came from it, took root, and in 2017 the Courtenay team will begin working with students to introduce these critical thinking design skills and produce adaptations for student use.

Inspired by the Spring visit, TKC Chicago Garden Educator, Whitney, stopped by ADA in NYC for a day-long workshop to create iterations for a common ADA design, a custom kneeler, meant for use by a student with low core functioning out in a Learning Garden. The kneeler was structured to provide abdominal support and allow the student to work in the entire raised bed garden surface without difficulty over a sustained period of time.

The design thinking and adaptive build strategies offered by this partnership have already resulted in greater support of a network of Chicago Learning Garden students. We hope to increase this impact by connecting more Diverse Learning teachers to opportunities like this, that allow for more students to experience the physical, emotional and academic growth afforded by working in the Learning Garden.

Although, DTC is not affiliated with ADA, The DTC courses at Northwestern do apply similar ideas of design and service to support our communities. The Kitchen Community is grateful to the team at the Segal Design Institute and we’re thrilled to be able to share this opportunity with Learning Garden Teachers.

Originally published at on December 15, 2016.