Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Design thinking in the classroom

When I first saw this image for design thinking I had a flashback to Gane-Sarson and DFDs or data flow diagrams. I spent a few minutes remembering conversations with a former manager when I worked as an engineer at Harris Government Communications and she consistently reinforced the importance of planning. A variation of the 80/20 rule is that 80% of the time you spend on any project should be in various stages of planning so you will need only 20% for implementation. Those ruminations led me to thinking about the processes I've practiced over the years for finding out what a customer really wants (a variation of 20 Questions. . .which makes me realize how often the number "20" shows up and wander down a rabbit trail for a few seconds about the significance of that). So often someone would ask for a particular outcome for a project but after patient questioning and review of the data flow and the general functional requirements, we'd come up with something else entirely which meant we hadn't wasted a lot of time on a prototype. Sure, we might spend hours or even days asking those questions and working through those answers, but we knew what we needed to know ahead of time and eliminated all sorts of potential problems early on.

All of that often got us through what this design thinking format calls "empathize" and "define" though we probably wandered in and out of "ideate" territory along the way. But what we knew what it was as well as what it wasn't, ideation to prototyping to test was so much easier. And faster.

So what does design thinking have to do with teaching or learning? I am SO glad you asked.

Without looking at what anyone else has to say, think about this. Educators are being asked to incorporate STEM/STEAM, PBL, and makerpsace. . .at the very least. On top of thinking about their state curriculum and standards. On top of thinking, often worrying, about their district's initiatives that are on top of and sometimes conflicting with school initiatives.

Stop. Just stop. Take a deep breath.

Okay, so look at the design thinking diagram again and think about it in context of your planning, preparation, and instruction/facilitation of learning. Think about how you want STEM/STEAM to flow organically (read "easily") from PBL and optimize whatever technology tools and resources and makerspacing you have. Think about how you want to implement personalized learning but that just feels like an abyss right now.

Let's just say you have a grade-level appropriate version of that diagram, or the one below by Design Thinking for Educators. And let's say you have a grade-level appropriate design thinking rubric for your students to check their work as they proceed through their task or project. And maybe you offer a choice board occasionally so students have some guidance in making a decision about how to proceed with their tasks or project. (I'm working on grade-level documents/resources, so let me know if you're interested.)

In my mind the following are good guidelines for how students might engage in design thinking. I'll break these down some of these a bit more.

DISCOVERY: What do I need to do?
  • What's the best way to get started?
  • What do I already know?
  • What do I need to know?
INTERPRETATION: What did I learn?

  • What did I learn about math, science, reading, writing, or social studies? (Teachers can pick the appropriate subject areas, though it could be interesting to leave the choices to students depending on their grade.)
  • What did I learn about learning?
What else do I want to learn? What else could I learn about. . . ?

I wonder. . . ? What if. . . ?

What’s next?

My favorite question is "What did I learn about learning?" I'm not overly confident that many students will think of this question because of the way they think about learning. I'm sure I never would have considered this question when I was in middle school or high school. It wasn't until much later that I started to think about what it meant to learn about learning.

In that case, I'd be pretty delirious if students spent any time thinking about the question: "What else do I want to learn?" or "What else could I learn about. . . ?"

But if we want our students to experience this kind of thinking and if we want our students to ask these kinds of questions, we have to give them permission and invite them to think beyond the curriculum.

Let's talk about origami. The folks at BYU have been doing some really interesting things based on their work and thinking through origami.
As you look at the fundamentals of origami, even this very complex model of a solar array, you can see basic geometric shapes. Huh. Basic geometric shapes.

Even 1st graders are learning about basic geometric shapes. There are so many activities students can do with geometric shapes, of course, so why not offer origami as a station or as a choice on a choice board? There is considerable potential for learning to understand how design learning works through a simple origami project.

If students create the origami butterfly, it can be part of a science lesson as well as a math lesson. As students start learning about the role of the butterfly, they might discover there are other questions they have about habitat, about plants and flowers, and more. That could lead to so many possibilities.

Now I know what you're thinking. You're thinking you don't have time.


Watch this video, please. After you watch this video (the link is a bit further down), sit back and take a moment to acknowledge that you are a designer. You design every day.

Every single day. And more than once a day.

You ask yourself how to get started. You ask yourself what you know and what you need to learn to design a lesson or a project. You might not ask yourself what you've learned about learning, but you do reflect on what your students might learn and reflect on what you'll do differently should you try that lesson again.

As you look at that design process, you should how you often work without even realizing that's how you work.

Now for the video.

I know there is still a voice nagging at you. You're worried about classroom management. You're worried about all of the questions your students will have. You're worried about time and benchmarks and state tests.

That's why I think you need a wonder wall. But not just a wall in your classroom. I'd love to see a grade-level wonder wall or a wonder wall for the primary grades, intermediate grades, etc. Yes, it will have to be monitored because there will be those kids but even those kids might change if they see how others respond to it.

The wonder wall invites students to pose questions based on learning.

Resist the temptation to make this a fancy bulletin board with cool lettering and edging. This is for the kids. I'd put some brown butcher or wrapping paper up on the wall. When my students have a question that stems from some of our in-class work and we don't have time to explore it, I'd give them some markers and tell them to go write their questions on the wonder wall because someone else might have the same question or questions. I'd invite students who like to draw to illustrate the questions based on their own imaginations, so we'd get the graffiti issue out of the way. I'd invite my colleagues to share the wall and have their students write supporting questions or additional questions.

And periodically--maybe once a month--we'd find something on the wonder wall to explore. Students would know they would have to make connections to what we'd already studied and what we were currently studying. They would know we would be using the design thinking framework to get started, what the work or project would be, how many teams we'd have, who would have what roles, etc.

For the very first project, I would pick three or four questions from the wonder wall from which the class would choose and I'd give them parameters based on my own thinking about how they might approach the project(s). But I would give them latitude to make adjustments provided they could explain why.

Think that's too hard for elementary school students? Hmm. Check this out: First CubeSat Built by an Elementary School Deployed into Space.  Prekindergarten through 8th grade.

They can do so much more than we imagine if we let them, if we believe in them, if we let them believe in themselves. Design thinking can be a gateway to some amazing learning experiences, for you and your students.

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