Category: Design-Based Learning

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

A Journey into Design Thinking to Tackle Classroom Challenges

Design thinking isn’t a subject, topic or class. It’s more of a way of solving problems that encourage positive risk-taking and creativity.

-From LAUNCH by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani-

I am not proud to say this but I am really struggling with our school’s initiative to tear down classroom walls and combine classes to increase collaboration. I’m usually keen to try out new ideas but it’s made me question so many things about what is trending in education and has really made me “sharpen my stone” when it comes to classroom management.  But here’s the thing, I don’t want to ‘manage’ the students, I want to empower them. So I wonder what I am missing –how can I use this structure and type of learning to fulfill the needs of our 21st-century learners? How will this better prepare them for their future?  George Curous says “Change is an opportunity to do something amazing“. So I’ve taken on my innovator’s mindset and have begun to apply design-thinking to build a better functioning learning environment.

In Design Thinking, initially, you seek to understand your “audience” or the “user” and define the problems that they may have.  Currently, we have two perspectives to consider: our students and our team of teachers. Collectively we are a community of learners, but it’s important to put the needs of the children first–they are the reason why we are here anyway, right?!  But as teachers, we are the facilitators of this change, so I think our focus will ultimately be on the big WE, and cannot carve ourselves out of the equation when developing a flourishing community of learning.

user experience.jpg
The journey begins! What does our community of learners need? Why? How does it make them feel?!

Because this is the research and discovery phase, I am really digging into books and articles to find ways to make this work–not that we survive but to thrive in such an environment, and turn this challenge into an opportunity.

So I’ve begun to approach our situation through the lens of curiosity and ask questions about the challenges that are most immediate and pressing. As teachers, we have three main areas of concern: time for learning, the organization of the learning space, and conducting effective and engaging classroom discussion (in the large group and in small groups with our noisy space). Here is a list of just some of the questions I have begun to formulate about our collaborating Grade 1 classes:

  1. How can we structure our timetable to ensure that we have enough stand-alone literacy, maths and then transdisciplinary unit time?
  2. Of those transdisciplinary subject areas, how best do we need to develop the knowledge and skills in that areas?-in the “large group” (both classes combined) or in “split groups” (separated grade 1 classes) or through a carousel of activities.
  3. How do individual voices get heard in all the “noise”? What tools and strategies do we need to employ to make sure that there is a diversity of ideas being shared, especially our English Language Learners?
  4. How can we use our space to design areas, not just for literacy and maths, but for genuine collaboration, creativity, and quiet?
  5. What gets the kids not just “doing stuff” but actually thinking and reflecting?
  6. And how do we develop strong relationships with our students, knowing about who they are and how they learn best? What feedback systems can we create to help them go from learning passively to actively engaging and ultimately being empowered?

Although I know that we have already begun a rough “prototype” with how we tackle these challenge areas, I recognize that we need more time to understand our learners, our constraints and what the research says about developing more collaborative learning environments, which some have dubbed as Modern Learning Environments (MLE). 

desing evolved
From the wonderful website: http://corbercreative.com/the-ux-process/

So as I layer the designer mindset to frame our challenges, I recognize that we will need to actually get more data. If I am to rewind and start again, then our discovery phase requires a deeper analysis into the complexities of our learners and the needs of our community. Other than our co-planning meetings and daily reflections, I have 2 other ideas for mining some data:

  1. Student survey: we need to find other ways to include their student ideas so they are co-designers of our learning community. In the book, The Space: A Guide for Educators  , the authors encourage including student voice to create a purpose for the learning spaces and cultivate behaviors that support their emotional and mental growth. I am thinking of using the formative assessment app Plickers for a general climate survey and then work on interviewing students either individually or in small groups to get their feedback and input on how we can improve the learning.
  2. Fly on the Wall-I would like to ask some staff members, including administrators, to just pop in and make objective observations. I am thinking about making a questionnaire as a framework for their drop-ins, but I’m also really curious about them just capturing some conversations that they hear–what is the “talk” in the classroom?

As I begin to dive into our data, I will be sure to share some of the results. Truthfully, I’ve always thought about design thinking as something that you introduce when doing project-based learning and never thought to use it in this context, so I’m exploring new territory.  I am really keen to hear other people’s stories and ideas about how I can go deeper. What am I missing? What suggestions do you have?

The 14 Gifts of Design Thinking

The 14 Gifts of Design Thinking

Last month I finished up the MITX Design Thinking for Leading and Learning course, and I’m still assimilating the profundity of these ideas and the impact they can have in classrooms. It’s actually really hard for me to articulate since I’m in the midst of a paradigm shift as ideas are colliding between developing empathy, creativity, and critical thinking in students. It’s been a “perfect storm” in my mind and I’m still trying to erase my former notions about design as a cycle instead of it as a creative process–which was probably my key take away. When I learned about how schools of poverty and underachievement are transformed by using it, I was impressed, to say mildly.  And I have been chewing on how this is possible when it occurred to me that it wasn’t all the great knowledge that was gained, it was the mindset that was cultivated. In particular, it made me think about the work of Brene Brown and her research on shame and vulnerability.

The REVOLUTION will not be televised. It will be in your classroom! You are working on the hardest edges of love.

Do not ever question the power you have with the people you teach!

Learning is inherently vulnerable and it’s like you got a classroom full of turtles without shells.  The minute they put their shells back on, they are protected–from their peers, from their teachers, from whoever–no learning can come in…so we really have to develop ‘shame resilent’ classrooms.

-Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly

I agree with Brene Brown about developing “shame resilience” and have found the usual tug of war between with teaching and mistake making diminishes when we introduce students to a mindset in which they appreciate the importance of recognizing our errors and strive for constant improvement. When I think about design thinking, I believe it could beinnovation a powerful way for students to experience their vulnerability and develop perspective taking, all the while creating real cool stuff–whether it is a piece of writing, a t-shirt, a rollercoaster, an app or, in my Early Year’s classroom, a garden. They learn how to fail forward and create another prototype. This design sprint is not a destructive but constructive element because, although they spent a lot of time developing their idea, the focus shifts from the product itself to the user–who will reap the benefits of this redesign. It gets the kids to detach from what they are making to who they are making it for. This nuance has a relatively big impact on the process of improvement.

So, it’s been in the midst of implementing it at a deeper level, that I had a moment of clarity in which I connected Brown’s ideas to that of design-thinking. Design-based learning creates a space in your classroom in which different “gifts” from the students’ learning can emerge:

  1. Love Of Ideas
  2. Belonging (in their collaborative groups)
  3. The Joy of creating something and learning new ideas.
  4. Courage to try new things
  5. Problem-finding by thinking future forward and considering what the possible issues might be with their design.
  6. Innovation by using different strategies and materials to solve a challenge.
  7. Ethical decision making by considering the different perspectives and considering if their solutions will be harmful to the environment or hurtful to others.
  8. Trust in each other and themselves
  9. Empathy for the users.
  10. Accountability to finish the job
  11. Flexibility with our time table and dealing with challenges.
  12. Creativity in designing.
  13. Listening to Feedback from others
  14. Hard conversations with each other

As my class is still in the midst of this design-based unit, I continue to be fascinated by their growth as the process reveals another level of their thinking and feeling about issues and ideas related to our current unit. I’m enjoying observing this process and love how it fits so well with the inquiry-based learning model of the Primary Years Programme (PYP). I definitely look forward to implementing this approach in future.

I’m wondering if others who have more experience with design thinking would agree with the “gifts” and/or add different ones to the list. Please share. I’m genuinely interested in your perspective.

3 Things Teachers Have to Know About Using Design Thinking In The Classroom

3 Things Teachers Have to Know About Using Design Thinking In The Classroom

Design in all around us. From our coffee mugs to our shoes to tissue paper, those things were all once thoughts inside someone’s head whose ideas escaped the confines of their brains and were put into form. Most importantly, those ideas were meant to solve a problem, either a physical problem or a problem related to a system, like as in transportation. For example,  in this Ted Talk with Elon Musk, he surprises you with his antidote to car congestion for commuters in Los Angeles. I thought it was going to be flying cars (Musk is the owner of Tesla, an electric car manufacturer) but it was creating tunnels that essentially launch you to your destination.

This is merely one of many examples of how someone can approach everyday challenges with a creative solution to them. This, in essence, is what design is and I believe it should be an integral part of how we approach our curriculum.The power of design thinking is the perspective in which we seek these creative solutions. It is a way of unlocking our imagination in an effort to produce viable options to things that trouble individuals.

So what makes up the components of design? What is design thinking in a nutshell?

  1. It is a process

I’ve seen all sorts of versions of design cycles, and I think teachers and schools have to think about how they are gong to use it in the learning, while not getting caught up with the language. The point is that it is a process that students can walk through easily when looking at examining an issue or challenge.

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For example, in my current Sharing the Planet unit (Central idea: We grow and use plants in many ways), students are going to design gardens that address the needs of a user–butterflies/bees or humans –so I am not going to use the MYP Design Cycle with them. They are 3-5 years olds after all!

2. It is a way of learning.

It is a way of inquiring and researching a topic that connects so many subject areas. As an PYP educator, it definitely is transdisciplanary, because one never knows when one discipline ends and the next begins, with Math, Science, Language, Art all happening simultaneously. But I what I love most about design-based learning is that it helps students to redefine what is failure so that they can appreciate that failing often leads to sooner success–taking the lessons of those failures and applying them is the learning!

3. It focuses on a user in mind.

They say art is creating something that satisfies the need of the artist, while design is creating something to satisfy the needs of others. Big challenges and their simple solutions often go through cycles of iteration as they look through the eyes of the user. This requires empathy and it is a skill that is really critical today as we start to consider the perspective and needs of others.

chairs
Image from Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

I think this is the biggest distinction between project-based learning (PBL), and the hallmark of creating something that matters to someone. You really have to dig deep into understanding the nuances of each user, which is obvious in the examples above, right? In my current unit, I outlined the process in this design thinking post and I’ve had to shift from looking at creating a “product”–a garden–and have the kids consider what is important to the “user”, which in this case are the butterflies and humans. When we went to the farm, we had to discuss how and why the farmers created raised beds, which was got the children thinking about this subtlety and how it might be applied to the garden they want to create.

As I work through design-based learning approach in my own classroom, I can tell you that the depth of thinking definitely changes when you combine the experience of gaining knowledge + skills + perspective.

Now that you know more about design-thinking, perhaps you might give it a shot in your class–how could you flip your “project” into a design challenge?

 

 

 

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Judy Imamudeen

Judy Imamudeen

Developing learners as leaders is my joy! As a highly qualified International Baccaluearate (IB) teacher and educational leader, I am committed and passionate about executing its framework and empowering students in creating a future world that works for everyone.

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