Oregon Breaker 2019 Summer Challenge

The Future of Health and Wellness 

How Might We: Reduce the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes




Written by Rivu Dasgupta

An unfinished retail space on Portland’s Central-East side proved to be something a bit more special this past week: a student-driven classroom and curiosity hub for Construct’s 6th annual Project Breaker Student Design Challenge, a 2-week program that charges 14 High Schoolers to develop real solutions to high level problems. Looking around the room, with its exposed stone floors and crane-facing windows, one gets the feeling there’s work to be done – and this past week, the ‘Breakers’ have been hard at work. 

Design and its tenets are not commonly taught in American high schools, which makes the first day of ‘Breaker’ especially interesting from an education programmer’s perspective. It’s easy to wonder what motivates so many eager young people to participate in a Design Challenge, and having worked with some of our students before in a more traditional school setting, I asked them that very question. Ramon, a rising Senior at David Douglas High School, said whilst fighting a yawn “I’m not really sure, but I think I’m excited!” Oscar Nguyen, another rising Senior from Parkrose High School, said nearly the same thing while fiddling with a Rubik’s cube in his hand, sparing it the occasional glance in our conversation as he moved toward a personal record; “I’m interested in Design but I don’t really know what it is.”

This year’s program consists of students from David Douglas, Parkrose, Centennial, and Reynolds High Schools. Their challenge is The Future of Health and Wellness: How do we reduce Type 2 Diabetes in our community and beyond?

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Students were first introduced to the 5-step Design philosophy with a “Rapid Design Cycle,” where they engage a sample problem (in this case: how do we fix school seating?), conduct empathy interviews, and develop a tangible prototype, all in less than  an hour. Ramon, embodying the energy of a post-finals summer morning, made a gauntlet ‘wearable’ with rubber-band fixtures to encourage the user to stay awake. Mia, a rising Senior at Centennial High School, designed a miniature throne fashioned from pipe-cleaners, torn HEPA filters, and silver glitter construction paper to serve as Air Conditioning, for good measure.  

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The first step of the design-process is ‘Empathy.’ Students were quick to offer an ear when Kathy Schwab from Providence Health gave a high-level overview of Type 2 Diabetes and what exists – and doesn’t exist -- in the healthcare landscape to inform, support, and reduce incidence rates. Breakers learned that we’re approaching a near global epidemic (1 in 3 Americans have Pre-Diabetes!), and were similarly informed of both benefits and barriers when considering tech / Application-based software as part of their solutions. 

Kathy is one of many “Thought Leaders” fundamental to the “Empathy” and “Define” steps of Design -- persons who are content experts across a wide variety of disciplines who have received both successes and challenges in their work as entrepreneurs, scientists, and social engineers. Another Thought Leader, Sada Naegelin of De Las Mías, co-founded a company delivering the specific health needs of Latina women via an increasingly well-received Mobile App. Breakers were able to take notice of Sada’s product both as an example of a specific user profile with particular needs, and also as an example of the demand for culturally responsive and literate solutions to modern problems. This year’s Breakers will be the first to tell you that the existing healthcare marketplace predominantly serves older, white Americans, a disconnect from the fact that communities of color and young people are increasingly, if not predominantly, at risk for Type 2 Diabetes. 

Other thought leaders included Tara Timothy from Providence Base Camp, a free community wellness resource centering themselves in preventative care; Amy Van Denburgh of the Oregon Food Bank, who is forwarding the shift from a “charity model” of food banking to an “education model” (how do we teach people to cook and shop better?); and Jessamyn Sajko, a Naturopath and Holistic Nutritionist who was able to provide immersive client profiles. Not to limit themselves to Q&A’s, Breakers also practiced “immersive empathy” when exercising together at data-centric Orange Theory, and also while touring ‘Basics,’ a hyper-local and community driven grocery store offering free cooking and nutrition classes to the public. 

Wrapping up the ‘Empathy’ and ‘Define’ stages of the Design Challenge were several intercept interviews, where initially nervous Breakers set out to ask the broader Portland public about their own experiences with health, wellness, and Diabetes, in the hopes of learning more about their future users. Their preliminary anxiousness gradually turned into something else, though; namely, excitement at the prospect of designing something for persons both similar and dissimilar to the ones our students were talking to. 

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 Over the course of the week, the would-be retail space serving as Breaker’s home base transformed into something quite special. A student-built causal map for Type 2 Diabetes covers the entirety of a west-facing window. Interview debriefs and synthesis work fill a wall towards the end of the storefront, under the copy ‘For People and Planet’ bespoke in large type, a vestige of a previous or future business. Jars filled with a random assortment of jellybeans are half-emptied on every desk, next to piles of used post-it’s and uncapped Sharpies, pens, and open Moleskins. More transformed, perhaps, are some of the students. I’ve personally worked with some of them for nearly a year as their College Possible Coach, having taught a wide albeit inflexible variety of material (think ACT and other standardized test prep), and I’ve seen curiosity wane and die as an otherwise eager group of young people are taught to “play the game” of higher education. Nearly all of the students in Breaker are College Possible students, and it’s personally revealing what a student-driven education looks like for them; they’re excited to ask questions, they approach difficult situations (like interviewing strangers off the street) with purpose, and they’ve gone out of their way to collaborate with one another on projects. Perhaps Ramon has the words to wrap up Week 1 the best: “When do we get to make something?!” On to Week 2!  

Join Us For : Pitch Day Celebration


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Today, Construct and Innovate Oregonannounced they are joining efforts to support educators in expanding education innovation across Oregon and the region.

To help lead the expansion, Construct hired Jami Fluke, most recently principal of Dayton middle and high schools.  Under Jami’s leadership, Dayton was the first community and school district to participate in the Innovate Oregon program and undertook Construct’s Breakaway training as well, both in 2016. Her innovative efforts helped Dayton graduation rates soar to 96.8% in 2018.

Together, Construct and Innovate Oregon will focus on empowering and supporting students, teachers, and principals to transform learning environments in a way that empowers young people to engage in deeper learning, build their creative confidence, and experience design challenges that address real world problems.

Construct was recently named a model 3 partner of School Retool, a Stanford d.School K12 Lab initiative.  Now in its sixth year, Construct has already engaged an estimated 60 principals, 330 teachers and 2,300 young people across Oregon through School Retool, Breakaway Teacher workshops, and Breaker Student design challenges.


“Our education system is designed to deliver the very outcomes we are currently seeing. The school leaders we engage through  School Retool first develop an Aspiration for Equity and Inclusionacross their campus and then use design-thinking to realize entirely new outcomes” said Construct founder, Gina Condon.

Edu-innovator and former Dayton principal, Jami Fluke joined Construct because, ‘I’m excited for the opportunity to work alongside school leaders who are passionate about changing education. It brings me great joy to know that there are many educators who believe that something needs to change for our students and they have the courage to step into the work. My previous work with Construct was pivotal in the path of transformation that took place in Dayton and I am looking forward to being a part of a team of leaders who are committed to continuing this journey with educators across the state."

Coming up this summer, Construct is facilitating another four student design challenges, and launching Hacktivation Station with the K12 Lab for Principal Fellows and their teams. Registration is currently open for School Retool and Breakaway workshops scheduled for fall 2019. 


The Shadow a Student Challenge Begins!

We are inspired by efforts to close the gap between, how we prepare our young people in school today AND what the world expects of them tomorrow. At Construct, we use the tools of design to inspire curious, creative, and confident change-makers in education. Since 2014, we have been working with students, teachers, school leaders, community, and industry partners to catalyze an eco-system ready to re-imagine and re-design student-centered learning experiences. Our mission is to ensure all young people have the skills they need to thrive today and tomorrow.

Make sure students are at the center of the conversation abut school improvement!
Take the challenge, spend a day walking in the shoes of an Oregon public school student. 

The Shadow a Student Challenge happens across the country each year. Organized by the School Retool team, part of the K12 Lab at Stanford's d.school, this national event begins tomorrow, February 25.

All of the Oregon School Retool Fellows will participate. We thought it would be fun to spread even wider and across educational stakeholders!

Please see below for details:


Will you take the Challenge this year?

The Shadow a Student Challenge is a journey that starts with seeing school through a student's eyes, identifying meaningful opportunities to improve the experience for your students, and taking action to create change at your school, for your students and community.

Sign up now for the Shadow a Student Challenge


Beginning on February 25th, educators from around the world will spend a day immersing themselves into the lives of students to deeply understand what school is like for young people today.

It's hands-on.
This is not an observation. This is not a fly-on-the-wall experience. This is an opportunity to really get a sense of what school is like through eyes of a students by becoming a student again. Your student is going to PE class? Get your gym clothes on. Taking a test in math class? You’re taking it too! You’ll walk away from the day with a newfound understanding of your school, and your students.

It's about the student.
By taking this Challenge, you are committing to experiencing your Shadow Day as a student. You will receive tools and materials to support you in selecting the student you want to shadow, setting a learning goal for your Shadow Day, and tips from previous Shadowers on how to really immerse yourself into the student experience – it's harder than you think to step out of our teacher shoes!

It's also about action.
Shadowing can lead to deeper insight into your school; you'll likely surface some challenges and obstacles facing your school and students, and you will also have a new sense of the amazing things your school is already doing. This challenge is designed to help you figure out what's important, and how to take immediate action to address the insights you'll gather gathered during your experience. You'll receive tools, resources, and ideas for ways you can take action at your school based on your Shadow Day experience. The Shadow is just the beginning!


But enough from us. Check out this great PBS Video Featurethis Podcast on the Innovation Playlist, read some of the great stories, media, and blogs from teachers and school leaders who have taken the Challenge in the past, or check the #shadowastudent hashtag on Twitter

We are thrilled to kick off 2019 focused on what's important – our students.

Sign up to join the movement today!

Ready to challenge someone to #shadowastudent? Want to make school better for all students? #shadowastudent helps us take important steps towards equity in schools shadowastudent.org 

Take an empathy deep-dive with #shadowastudent and see what school is really like for your students shadowastudent.org 

Not a Tweeter? Like our new Facebook Page to connect with other Shadowers and share your stories!

Construct Helps Newberg Teachers "Breakaway" into the 21st Century

On February 23rd and March 5th, 2018, Construct is pleased to bring the "Breakaway" service to the Newberg School District. 20 teachers and staff from Newberg High School and surrounding middle schools completed the Breakaway workshop -- two days of intensive professional development, learning a design-driven method for curriculum creation that builds a culture of innovation in their schools.


Breakaway builds on the first phase of Innovate Newberg: a day-long Make-A-Thon on January
27th. The Make-A-Thon introduced students, educators and community members to coding, engineering, design, and prototype creation. Newberg principals and assistant principals also completed a School Retool training in 2017.

“This is an exciting manifestation of what we all learned last year and agreed as a team was
best for Newberg students,” said Karen Pugsley, principal at Chehalem Valley Middle School.
“If we’re going to create a new norm, we need staff to experience for themselves how to
teach from learner and facilitator perspectives.”

Phase 2: Teacher Breakaway 

Construct Foundation has intentionally structured the Breakaway team training to link the
middle schools’ curriculum to the high school, and to directly lead into implementation of
student-led design challenges during the 2017-2018 school year. This will complete the second phase of Innovate Newberg.

During the two-day workshops, teachers and staff develop their own practice as design
innovators. Together they will build and co-facilitate student-centered, real-world design
challenges that add relevancy and immediacy to learning. Afterwards, coaches continue
working with a team of teachers from each of the schools. This shift from passive to active
learning supports 21st Century teaching and learning via Newberg School District’s 5Cs for
student success: Critical thinking, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and


Next Up? Agile Learning

In the third and final phase, Newberg High School will build out the Agile Learning
Laboratory, adding to the Integrated Design Studio and providing capacity for students in
content area classes to undertake real-world design and build challenges. These challenges often benefit the entire community.

“Breakaway learning prepares students for today’s workforce. These teachers, supported
by their administration, are leading the way to accelerate culture shift in their schools so
that more students find their way to success and thrive after graduation,” said Gina Condon,
founder of Construct Foundation. “Whether they stay in Newberg or leave, go to a college or
go to a good job, this new way of learning will prepare them with the skills they need to
succeed in whatever life path they choose.”

Innovate Newberg & Construct in Oregon

Innovate Newberg is funded by a $50,000 grant from the Oregon Community Foundation
on behalf of the Austin Family Foundation, as well as other public-private partnerships, and
is one of several communities participating in a daring challenge as an outcome of Innovate
Oregon’s initiatives in the testbed of Innovate Yamhill County.

Construct Foundation and Innovate Oregon, alongside courageous teachers, school
administrators, students and community partners, developed the three-phase Innovate
toolkit to support under-resourced communities, both rural and urban, to
modernize educational models to keep pace with the networked, global economy and to
build resilience in their local community. To find out how to bring Innovate to your community, contact us. 

Construct Continues School Retool, Teaching Oregon Principals How To Hack Their Schools for Deeper Learning

On January 25, 2018, 20 Central Oregon public school administrators--selected as the next set of School Retool Fellows--will learn techniques to “hack” new ideas and solutions for their schools. The middle- and high school principals and vice principals, represented in this second Oregon cohort of the School Retool program hail from four unique school districts across the region: Culver, Redmond, Crook County, and Bend/LaPine.


Thanks to the leadership of the High Desert Education Service District (HDESD), this new cohort quickly filled to capacity with 20 total participants. HDESD CTE director Angie Mason-Smith, elaborates, “Many of our schools have started to do work around design thinking, this program will give them the tool kit they need to start working toward their goals and push for deeper learning in their schools. The region is excited about this opportunity, not only for the professional development but creating cohorts or collaboration groups to continue this work moving forward.” 

Designed in partnership by Stanford University’s d. School K12 Lab and design firm IDEO, and based on research by the Hewlett Foundation, School Retool is a three-month professional development fellowship that helps school leaders to redesign their school cultures to foster innovation in teaching and learning. It addresses challenges principals face modernizing educational models to keep pace with the demands of a rapidly changing world. Principals and school leaders engage in a collaborative series of workshops and “hack” cycles within their schools that create and celebrate opportunities for Deeper Learning -- a set of six research-supported competencies that directly benefit students by putting them at the center of the work. School Retool cohorts are active in Chicago, Colorado, Dallas, Idaho, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oakland, Ohio, Oregon, Puget Sound, Rhode Island, San Diego, San Francisco, Sonoma County, Virginia, Washington, D.C., and Western Pennsylvania.    




School Retool is a critical building block in Construct's piece of Innovate Initiatives, a series of integrated programs, building one on the other, that expand the capacity for creativity and innovation in schools. Allowing educators and school leaders to practice new mindsets and behaviors, working across regions and creating supportive new peer groups--these steps are helping Oregon school communities to realize a tangible path toward 21st-century success for all our students." said Gina Condon, founder of Construct Foundation.

Construct Foundation, participating school districts, and the HDESD combined resources to bring School Retool to serve these education leaders in Oregon, with Construct subsidizing participation costs. Both HDESD and  Innovate Oregon helped ignite interest in potential Central Oregon administrators and schools. 

Construct is part of a three-year onboarding program offered by Stanford, for local partners who are looking to convene School Retool in their state.  Stanford will be engaged throughout this onboarding process, ensuring ongoing training and fidelity measures are being met or exceeded.

The Future of Learning - Breaker 2017 Summer Design Challenge

Construct Foundation and its’ partners—Concordia University, Oregon Community Foundation, and Ken and Marta Thrasher, along with our thought leader, the Oregon Business Council—are pleased to present The Future of Learning. As always, we are grateful for the opportunity to work with College Possible in support of recruiting diverse students.

This short film provides a look at Construct’s Breaker summer 2017 design challenge where we tasked high school students with answering the question:

“How might we build bridges between school and work by re-imagining where and how we learn?”

After two weeks working alongside experts, mentors, and with the generous contributions of members of the unique learning eco-system assembled for this challenge, these amazing students dazzled industry and education leaders with smart, thoughtful, and innovative solutions to this complex real-world problem.  Click here for details on the 10 day challenge and the final product solutions.

Construct is following-up this impressive effort with an intentional, new, next step in the process—a Phase II opportunity where our high-schoolers will be moving one of their creative design solutions for the Future of Learning from prototype to product.  

Thanks to all our supporters and partners, Construct has had a tremendously busy 2017.  Besides the Breaker summer high-school challenge: we launched our first in-school Breaker effort for elementary students; hosted a social justice challenge at Concordia University; facilitated a pilot cohort of School Retool--a change framework program from Stanford’s d.school K-12 lab--for Oregon principals from the mid-valley and metro regions; and we brought Breaker teacher training to Yamhill County.  

The James F. and Marion L. Miller Foundation, Ford Family Foundation, and Oregon Community Foundation provided invaluable guidance, support, and resources to our work this year.

Next year will bring even greater outcomes.  We’re hiring a Director of Programs; expanding our partnership with Innovate Oregon with whom we are presenting at an innovation summit for the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators for an anticipated 500 school leaders; our second School Retool effort will launch in Central Oregon; and we’re continuing deeper learning programming work in Newberg, Willamina, and at Centennial High School.

Stay tuned for the next chapter of Construct.  It’s gonna be a doozy!

Teenagers Model Business, Achieve Ugly Success

Who says teenagers are too young to learn entrepreneurship basics?

Here in Portland Oregon, a group of high school students used business modeling to achieve what can only be described as an ugly success.

The teens participated in a “Future of Food” design challenge sponsored by Portland education incubator Construct Foundation.

Their task: 1) research food-related business ideas, 2) test their findings through interviews with farmers, producers, distributors, and food entrepreneurs, 3) build and verify prototypes, then 4) pitch the resulting business models to an audience of food industry experts, entrepreneurs, and investors. 

Breaker Design Challenge: The Future of Livable Cities - Week 1 Recap

Monday, August 8th, launched our third consecutive student design challenge with Project Breaker: The Future of Livable Cities. Gathering students from David Douglas,  Franklin, James Madison and Gresham high schools, were welcomed to their home base at Portland State University’s Center for Professional and Executive Education. Breaker Facilitators, Amy Lauren Botula and Stephanie Nudelman, led ice-breakers to introduce students to each other and delivered the question central to the challenge:

How might we plan for and design eco-friendly neighborhoods to maximize the quality of life for Portland residents of varying cultures and income levels?