emPOWER Cubes: Helping to connect the community to the classroom through design thinking learning resources.

Allow students to define a societal challenge that is meaningful to them and the opportunity to work w/community partners to make an IMPACT.

Photo of Lori Corcoran
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Overview: emPOWER Cubes

Create empathy driven project based learning opportunities in which students identify a meaningful societal challenge and work collaboratively to make a positive impact

Potential For Impact:

Support continued professional, academic, and personal growth

How Did We Get Started? 

Using the steps and with the help of community partners, we implemented IMPACT projects in the 2015-2016 school year addressing the topic of homelessness (see video).

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How you can get started:

Housed in emPOWER cubes and/or on the emPOWER Cube website are tools and resources to help any teacher get started, including lesson plans, visual, helpful hints, and access to other educators who will share their experience and project details through a teachers forum.

Mary and I suggest that teachers take the following steps to begin to implement the projects:

Using the emPOWER cube and TG (1 hour) Intro to Design Thinking Wallet Activity, introduce students to DT principles,  kick off workshop 

Once students are familiar with DT, help them to identify civic challenges in their communities that they feel connected to/compelled to make a positive impact. This can be done through discussions, brainstorm, and or a survey

After a civic challenge is identified, teachers can reach out to community organizations/partners or experts in the field(if possible, students can help make those connections.

Once the partnerships are created, students can conduct face to face or remote empathy interviews using technologies like Google Hang Outs and Zoom online meeting app. Empathy interviews being done by teams in groups of 4 to 5 students is ideal. If that is not possible, whole group interviews can suffice, but we recommend breaking into teams to debrief/unpack what the students hear/observe from the interviews.

To create more empathy, teachers can show different videos related to the civic challenge and have students conduct DO/SAY/THINK/FEEL activities ( details will be located online/emPOWER cube)

  • Set measurable/practical goals. These can include but are not limited to :
  • 21 st century learning
  • ISTE Standards
  • Curriculum Integration

Create a Point of View. Using the information from the empathy interviews, students will identify a group/person for which they would like to help solve a civic challenge ( details will be located online/emPOWER cube)

Ideation will happen after the point of view is created and student will work in their group to brainstorm/"brainwrite" ideas that they may have to help address the unmet need of the person/group from the point of view( details will be located online/emPOWER cube).

Prototyping possible solutions happen after ideation. Students build a low-res 3D representation of their solutions and share with their peers and ideally community partners/experts.

Pivot or Progress- students are given the opportunity, once feedback is received to pivot or progress. That is, they may choose to stick to their original plans or change based off of feedback. 

If possible to put the plans into actions, teachers can consider hosting a midyear and final project plan review. In which community partners, parents/ faculty and staff can come to view presentations about successes and challenges



  • Reflections
  • Daily Progress
  • Project Plan Review Evaluation
  • Final Project Plan Review Evaluation

Confidence Surveys

Test Scores

Feedback from community partners ie.) email, letter, word of mouth

Writing samples

Math samples

Prototype Idea- (would love feedback)

Prototype : Online Learning Modules and emPower Cubes (kits with all materials needed to conduct empathy driven IMPACT projects)

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Questions and considerations:

One card for each phase?

Create a small deck of handheld cards

List the materials needed for each phase on the cards

Provide prompts and best practices

Color code?

Teacher vs. Student sets

How to keep organized

Different shapes/sizes?

Example Activities:


  • Do, Say, Feel, Why activity
  • Watch video pertaining to civic issue
  • Develop a set of questions that draw info to help develop a point of vie
  • Persona Activity


  • 2 minute drill
  • Students "brain-write" on sticky notes, listing all possible ways to help solve          the civic issue
  • Teacher model tips and prompts
  • Sketches, students group ideas then create a sketch


  • Mini Maker kit, list of supplies to include
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Puff balls
  • Ribbon
  • Popsicle sticks
  • Other arts and crafts supplies
  • Play-do


  •  Pointers on how to set up testing opps
  • How to invite community partners, f2f or remote
  • Midpoint Project Plan Review
  • Read Outs


  • Pivot or progress

A few for each phase??

Clever name for the card?

  • Tic Toc Box
  • emPOWER Deck
  • Stack Pack
  • MA-Kits
  • Persona Poster

Prototype Kits (Mobile Mini Makerspace-tool kits)

emPOWER Cubes

Running Notes:

11/6 Update: Provide teachers with support for IMPACT ( exploring changing this to EmPower Projects- Empathy driven projects that engage , inspire and empower students to use their civic voice to make anew impact in their communities

Online- modules

Online forum connecting classrooms , teacher supporting one another and students connecting and sharing

Deck of Cards w/ How To 's/ Best Practices / Activity Prompts for each stage

Minimaker Kits 

 Could this all be housed in a cube with       the DT stages on each side 



WORK IN PROGRESS  (Will revisit and add to post by Saturday 11/5)

11/4 Update

Could we create a toolbox for teachers to use online and hard copy or printable version?

Modules linked to Google Docs?

Set of cards with activities/ guide questions/ pointers/ best practices/ visuals to help a teacher implement- something that they can carry/ distribute to students for ease of use?

Create different sets based on previous projects - could we have a general set of cards applicable to any topic and other sets that would provide guidance for particular community issues- ie.) building community partnerships-ie.) homeless shelters/ service providers, teen anti-violence groups, Children's Hospital/ organizations that help children who have cancer or other ?

Using design thinking to give students choice and voice in their learning.

CHOICE: Utilizing the design thinking process, students assess needs and identify a challenge within their cities/towns that is meaningful to them and work towards creating solutions that make a positive impact. 

VOICE: Working in collaborative groups, students empathize with community members, define a challenge and develop solutions that will make a positive impact within their cities/towns. Providing an authentic learning opportunity raises student engagement and helps them to see that their ideas and actions can make an actual difference in the world around them.

IMPACT Philly projects were set into place last year and 10th and 11th grade business students identified the challenge of homelessness, raising awareness for fair trade products, and raising funds and awareness for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia programs.

Students were required to present their ideas and prototypes of solutions at a midyear review. Community partners, local businesses and corporations donated time, talent, or funds that helped the students meet their goals.  They also provided feedback and helped the students evaluate their solutions. 

When given choice and voice in their learning and held accountable by real world community partners, students demonstrated higher levels of engagement, ability to retain and apply career and academic skills. They also expressed beliefs of being empowered in seeing their ideas come to fruition.

#connectthem2thecause #community2classroom #impactphilly #emPowercube

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Join the conversation:

Photo of Lee-Jung Kim

Lori and Mary, what a great progress you have made on this project! Do you think it is also possible for some volunteers who have gone through tough times(based on the topic) to share their stories some how? I was at a function last night and was sharing this particular project with him and he told me that he came from very poor background. He was involved in a gang, but he overcame those things and now is an engineer at a very well-known engineering firm. He told me he would love to share his stories if that could help the students who are going through the same experience.... I also wonder if there is a way we can somehow the efforts of these students to wider audience... Just throwing a lot of random ideas here....
Story book of students' civic engagements?
Follow up on their projects? 
Love the emPower Cube!!!

Photo of Lori Corcoran


Great idea! We are hoping to help teachers build those relationships with community partners!

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