North Rowan High School is on the move and has shown that being a part of North Carolina’s pilot ‘Renewal School System’ gives them the opportunity to think “outside of the box”, offering a challenge-based learning class, which uses design thinking and entrepreneurship. This three-hour class not only allows students to earn two academic credits at the end of the year, but also gives them a chance to take what they learn in their core classes and apply them to a real-world challenge. The good news is catching some fire. Just recently the OFS Publication recently featured an entire article about North Rowans design thinking and student-centered educational focus.

North Rowan High students learning computer skills


Celebrating Failure and Igniting Creativity

Alexis Greer, Career Management Instructor, indicated that the Design Lab idea originated from North Rowan High School’s Principal, Meredith Williams. As part of the planning, Mrs. Williams had the entire staff do a lot of work and research around the concepts of design thinking and challenge-based learning. She was innovative enough to not only ask herself what these paired concepts would look like as a class, but to also write the course and get it approved as a LCO (Local Course Offering), making North Rowan High School the only school in the state of North Carolina that offers Design Thinking as a class. Ms. Greer is also on the teacher led Design Team at North Rowan High School and has learned to celebrate failure and not focus on getting the task done perfectly the first time.

Design Lab at North Rowan High School

Design Lab at North Rowan High School


The Design classes are part of a larger picture for North Rowan High School. There is a Lower School (9th-10th) and Upper School (11th-12th). The Lower School is designed to expose the students to a wide variety of experiences. This is largely done through the Design Labs. The Upper School is designed to explore and experience their passions that have been discovered through Lower School experiences. This largely takes place by taking advantage of the very strong relationship that North Rowan has with Rowan-Cabarrus Community College.

The main purposes of this class are to help reignite creativity and critical thinking in students. Challenges are not graded on results but instead, the journey. Students are expected to show evidence of essential skills that are called “The 4C’s: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration” by journaling their process through digital portfolios and reflection videos.

North Rowan High School students learning entrepreneurship


Authenticity Equals Engagement

When students have the opportunity to quickly apply the knowledge that they have learned, then they are more likely to retain the information. We’ve also learned that they do their best work when they have an authentic audience. This is where the community comes into play. We are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to bring authenticity to our challenges. That can look like a trip to the Candy Shoppe on Main to glean from the owners 45 years of experience in the candy industry to bringing in professional t-shirt makers to mentor our students through a marketing plan and allow them to produce prototypes of t-shirt designs.

Greer indicated, “One of the most effective examples includes partnering with Food Lion to bring a tractor trailer to the school parking lot for a month for the ‘shipping container challenge’.  The ability for these students to actually stand inside of a shipping container brings authenticity as to what it will actually take to meet the needs of the challenge. We knew that we had them engaged when we put them all in the trailer and then asked them “What would we need to change to turn this into a school?” and the overwhelming student response was “everything”, at which point we responded “Good, let’s talk about it.”

Shipping Container Challenge

Shipping Container Challenge


North Rowan High students think how to turn a shipping container into a classroom.

North Rowan High students think how to turn a shipping container into a classroom.


There are currently four Design teachers – two for 9th grade and two for 10th grade. The only criteria is to be a 9th or 10th grade student. Every freshmen and sophomore take the Design classes.

Tiana Turner, a rising 11th grade student who took Design Lab, stated, “My team worked on a homeless care package project. The group collected non-perishable donations from the students and staff at North Rowan High School and created packages from those donations. As a result of the donations collected, 30 packages were created and taken to Rowan Helping Ministries.”

When asked how she felt about working on the project, Tiana responded by saying, “This project was challenging at times. The teacher gave us the challenge and my group had to develop the plan and then put the plan into action. We had to think critically because we wanted our plan to work. We also had to learn to work together and hold each other accountable for doing each person’s part. The group was pleased with the results,” said Tiana.

The students in Tiana’s group volunteered at Rowan Helping Ministries prior to completing their challenge. This was a phenomenal way for the students to get a real-life experience and help the people in their community at the same time.

The Design Classes at North Rowan High are taught by four educators: Alexis Greer and Benjamin Butchart in 9th grade and Miranda File and Brian Whitson in 10th. These teams lead the challenge-based learning classes and design thinking approaches at North Rowan High.