Remaking Middle School Design Lab

Redesigning the middle grades experience for young adolescents 

The Remaking Middle School (RMS) Design Lab seeks to rethink approaches to middle-level education. RMS Design Lab works alongside educators to reimagine how they can design school structures that both meet students’ developmental needs and build on their assets to promote thriving.

Schools learn about current developmental science from prominent adolescent development researchers and engage with expert design facilitators to facilitate their design process, including idea generation, implementation, and testing. Additionally, schools benefit from the RMS Design Lab cohort of schools and are provided with research-based tools, resources, practices, and models aligned to their individual needs. The RMS Design Lab is centered at the intersection of equitable education and design thinking, guided by Liberatory Design.

As part of the Design Lab, each school team determines their “design challenge.” For example, teams might ask:

  • How might we promote instruction that is developmentally-aligned, exploratory, and challenging?
  • How might we elevate youth voice and agency in our school community? 
  • How might we build stronger and more trusting relationships between adults and students?

The Design Lab Experience

The RMS Design Lab launched in 2021-22. We have captured the experience of four schools that participated in the Design Lab in a report with four case studies. The full report includes an overview of the RMS experience and associated outcomes for each of the schools. Each case study provides real examples of middle schools engaged in developmentally focused redesign efforts. While redesign work is complex and requires schoolwide support and committed leadership, efforts of this sort have the potential to significantly improve student and educator experiences in schools. 

Design Lab Report

Case Studies

These case studies are designed to support reflection, planning, and engagement in design efforts within your own educational communities and settings.

The first case study explores teaming dynamics that foster redesign work. Key takeaways from this case study include:

  • The school redesign team members should be diverse, committed, and have the capacity to regularly engage in the redesign work; and
  • It is important for teams to have 1) a strong leader; 2) a democratic process for decision making; and 3) a culture of collaboration, communication, and innovation. 

Case Study 1

The second case study discusses the importance of specific key practices in facilitating redesign work. These key practices include both school- and partner-related practices such as: 

  • Content-focused Learning sessions and a Summer Accelerator which helped schools to develop a knowledge of middle-level adolescent development and equity practices; 
  • Coaching sessions provided a space for school educators to reflect and share ideas; and
  • Site visits and empathy work that shifted the thinking of educators and allowed them to better understand the experiences and perspectives of students. 

Case Study 2

The third case study in the report discusses the challenges that the redesign teams faced as they worked to reimagine their educational environments. These challenges include but are not limited to:

  • Difficulties with time and scheduling RMS efforts given the already intense demands of the school day; 
  • Difficulties with cultivating school-wide buy-in of redesign efforts; and
  • Challenges with balancing student voice and agency with pre-existing educator mindsets and established school structures. 

Case Study 3

Finally, the last case study addresses sustainability efforts. In this case study, we discuss key strategies to support the sustainability of redesign efforts, such as

  • Ensuring strong leadership with a clear vision for moving the work forward;
  • Building accountability structures that hold design team members accountable to reflection and forward progress; and
  • Fostering an open-minded school climate/culture that promotes changes for the betterment of students. 

Case Study 4

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