The Wang Family Excellence Award

doreen nelson receives the wang awardDoreen Nelson has been named one of five 2006 recipients of the prestigious California State University Wang Family Excellence Award. She received a $20,000 award at the May 2006 CSU Trustees' meeting.

A professor of education at Cal Poly Pomona, Doreen Nelson pioneered the field of design thinking in education. She developed the nation's first Master of Arts degree program in education with an emphasis on Design and Creativity: Applying Technology, where students of any age learn to design and construct a city of the future in their classrooms. The methodology demonstrates how design and creativity enhance and extend the teaching of math, sciences, language arts and social studies. It has been practiced world-wide in public schools, museums and universities.

Professor Nelson received her master's in Educational Administration with Distinction from California State University, Northridge and her bachelor's in Arts and Humanities from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The Wang award was established in fall 1998 when then-Trustee Stanley T. Wang provided $1 million to reward outstanding faculty and administrators. The award is designed to "celebrate those CSU faculty and administrators who, through extraordinary commitment and dedication, have distinguished themselves by exemplary contributions and achievements in their academic disciplines and areas of assignment." Annually, during a 10 year-period, four faculty and one administrator throughout the CSU system will receive $20,000 awards. This is the eighth year the awards have been given.

"Great professors and leaders such as these sow the seeds for the next generation of leaders. All of these individuals have a strong passion for helping students learn and providing them with the best education possible," says Wang. "My own professors taught me to be who I am today. The faculty recognition award is a way to demonstrate the great respect and deep appreciation I feel for them as a former trustee and student. I am a strong believer that faculty are the key to a high-quality education, which is the door to success and happiness in life."

The Wang Family Excellence Award is administered through the CSU Foundation. Each campus president annually may nominate one faculty member from each of the four discipline categories. Each president also may nominate one administrator annually.

The Golden Bell Award

Winner of the California School Boards Association’s 2006 Golden Bell Award

Golden Bell Award  2006 winner in the area of Curriculum and Instruction.

Golden Bell Award 2006 winner in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. Collaboration Partners: Cal Poly Pomona, Walnut Valley Unified School District at Chaparral Middle School, and Art Center College of Design, Pasadena

Description of Activiites

Design-Based Learning engages all students in an interactive learning environment that develops higher-level thinking, creativity, problem solving and reasoning skills.  In teams, students design and build societies which provide the context for learning.  The goal of Design-Based Learning (DBL) is to meet the needs of all types of learners while maintaining a rigorous and relevant curriculum by tapping into the innate curiosity of students.  DBL was developed to provide an alternative learning environment for students who thrive in a decentralized classroom where students are empowered to become the architects of their own learning.  In addition, DBL is future oriented, recognizing that students need to develop a broad familiarity with a wide variety of ideas in both science and culture.  In DBL, students learn to retrieve and apply knowledge as opposed to memorizing and repeating.  DBL’s innovative approach is being replicated in other school districts throughout the state because it represents learning beyond the J-curve where information is growing at an unprecedented rate, meeting student needs to effectively navigate the world around them today and in the future.

Three portable bungalows at the back of the Chaparral Middle School campus in Walnut Valley Unified School District (WVUSD) have the words Design-Based Learning across the front door to signify a school-within-a-school.  The lead teacher in this program, Leslie Stoltz, is a Cal Poly graduate of the CEIS MA in Education emphasizing Design-Based Learning.  She was named CEIS outstanding alumnus and now serves as a lecturer in the MA degree program where she guides 18 MA students through our program, including four currently enrolled from the WVUSD, three of whom teach in the Chaparral program.  The school serves as a model for Cal Poly’s MA Program and for the Art Center College of Design’s year-round professional-development programs for K-12 educators, receiving over 150 visitations per year. 

An on-going Japan-USA Educational Exchange Program started in 1994, introduced Design-Based Learning into the Japanese national curriculum and continues with regular video conferencing

The success of the DBL program has been due in part to the support and advocacy of the community.

Detailed Description

Four groups of eighteen 6th graders kneel on the floor, huddled around four separate models of never-before-seen ancient civilizations.  Students build societies as they engage in discussions and debates throughout the school year on how to best solve problems ranging from identifying and protecting natural resources, to dividing the labor, or establishing a decision-making process for recovering from natural disaster.  In the rooms next door, ten groups of seven or eight 7th graders form coteries to establish a way of life in small territories. Starting with identifying problems at the component and product levels and then progressing to the systems level, students focus on functions of the territory elements as they attempt to maintain self sufficiency; that is until a mysterious, unknown entity threatens their existence.  Futuristic outposts in space populate the 8th grade science room, where students discover elements available and strive to survive in space as they establish businesses and an economy that increases exports and decreases imports and reliance on Earth.  And that doesn’t even begin to address the moral issues and challenges of interacting with the native inhabitants who live in the environment. 
The 21st Century requires students to become productive adults who know how to reason, think critically, and problem-solve in effective teams as they adapt to a rapidly changing world.  225 students enrolled in the Design-Based Learning (DBL) program at Chaparral Middle School practice and use these higher level thinking skills every day in simulations that provide rigorous, relevant curriculum linked to the CA Content Area Standards for Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Math. 


In each simulation, design is the catalyst for learning.  As problems arise, students must design innovative solutions to resolve issues.  But creativity without some form of organization can result in chaos.  Therefore, a structure to problem-solving and critical thinking is given to students by borrowing a step-by-step process from the design profession.  Upon encountering a problem, students view it as a challenge to be overcome.  The next crucial step is to set criteria, a list of don’t wants and needs necessary for success.  Students then begin to formulate, create, and build never-before-seen answers to the challenge.  In doing so, research is necessary and contacting outside experts is helpful.  Once a solution is complete, proposals are presented for critique.  Receiving feedback from peers and experts allows students to evaluate, make modifications, and justify their ideas.  Later, this design process is easily transferred to problem-solving in any discipline and in any aspect of life. 
Herb Kohl, author of I Won’t Learn from You, observed upon visiting the program that one reason DBL is exemplary is that there are multiple representations of the concepts learned.  The open-ended challenges promote differentiated instruction and incorporation of Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences.  He also remarked that concepts are presented and then revisited in different contexts throughout the year, allowing for transfer of learning. 
With the implementation of a three-year looping program, a mentor/protégé program has been established.  6th grade students are matched with an 8th grade mentor who helps with the transition to middle school as well as tutors and offers guidance and knowledgeable feedback in the step-by step process of design.

Success/Making a Difference

The success of the Design-Based Learning program at Chaparral Middle School began in the 1995-96 school year involving 75 6th grade Humanities students with one teacher who was developing a curriculum for a Masters Degree project in Curriculum and Instruction.  The following year, a math/science teacher joined to form a team that would deliver the core curriculum of Language Arts, Social Studies, Math, and Science.  By the 2000-2001 school year, both student and parent surveys requested that the program expand into the 7th grade.  Two additional teachers were hired and the original team split to form two new teams that could service 150 students in a two year looping program.  The 2005-2006 school year saw the implementation of an 8th grade program and the addition of a fifth teacher to service a total of 225 students across three grade levels.  The 2006-2007 school year will add a sixth teacher to the team.  Parent requests for placement into the program far outnumber the spots available for fall of 2006.  Additions of connected classroom portables have established a DBL wing of the school.
2005 STAR testing results reported for the individual Language Arts and Math teachers in the DBL program reveal scores above the district average which are the highest in the San Gabriel Valley.  Chaparral Middle School earns an API rating of 878 with a statewide rank of 9.  All student subgroups report scores above 800.


The DBL program is not affected by budget cuts or fiscal uncertainties.  In fact, the requirements or cost of implementing the program is the enthusiasm, dedication, and commitment of the teachers and stakeholders involved. Chaparral teachers do not lack in that area, but are fueled by the support of the administration at both the school and district levels.  But the true motivation comes with the engagement and evidence of creative thinking of students and their outcomes that not only meet, but exceed expectations.
A partnership with Cal Poly Pomona, the local university, also sustains the DBL program.  The university’s Master of Arts (MA) in Education Program for Design-Based Learning was recently recognized with the prestigious Wang Family Excellence Award for Education by the CSU Board of Trustees.  The lead teacher in the Chaparral DBL program is a Cal Poly lecturer, guiding 18 MA students through a two year program, including four currently enrolled from the Walnut Valley Unified District (WVUSD), three of whom teach in the Chaparral program. 


As the only site in the state with a middle school continuum for DBL, Chaparral serves as a model for Cal Poly’s MA Program and for the Art Center College of Design’s year-round professional-development programs for K-12 educators, receiving over 150 visitations per year.  During these visitations, class proceeds normally as students conduct tours of the History Wall, a classroom timeline of events, and distribute student-designed business cards and brochures.  Additional professional development has been offered at the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, CA, at the Cooper Hewitt Design Museum in New York City, and the Stephen S. Wise School in Brentwood.  Currently, the Director of the Charter School Alliance has invited students from Chaparral to work with the Art Center College of Design on the development of a charter DBL high school in Pasadena scheduled to be opened in the fall of 2007. 

District Vision/Commitment to all students

Walnut Valley Unified School District prides itself in its vision statement as a place where kids come first every day.  The district has a commitment to provide all students the academic foundation to access higher-level classes.  The DBL program exemplifies this value by tapping into the innate curiosity of students while maintaining a rigorous and relevant curriculum to meet the needs of all types of learners, whether that means consideration of all of the multiple intelligences and levels as achievement as well.  Last year, 14 8th grade students were accepted in to the International Baccalaureate Program at the high school.  In addition, 4 students who were included on the At Risk list at the end of 7th grade joined the DBL program as 8th graders and successfully promoted from middle school.  Chaparral’s ELL teacher reported that she entered her classroom one day to find students clustered around a table where two of her students were excitedly describing, in English, a model that had been built in answer to a design challenge.


The success of the DBL program has been due in part to the support and advocacy of the community.  Despite the fact that events such as an annual video-conference with students in Japan and the building of primitive shelters out of natural resources have been covered in the district newsletter and the local newspaper as well, parents of students enrolled in the program have provided the best public relations.  Weekly Life Folders sent home for parent signatures provide a consistent method of communication.  A monthly update is included which clarifies design challenges and follow up lessons that are being taught and that link to the content area standards.  Parents are welcome in the classroom at any time and many participate in field trips; others volunteer on a regular basis.  Family Nights are one of the most effective ways of demonstrating the learning environment to the community.  Families go back to school five times throughout the year.  The evening is participatory, an extension of the school day, with students acting as facilitators in the learning.