Thinking Space - Design Thinking School

On February 13th 2012 we were fortunate to attend a workshop led by Ewan Mcintosh. There were teachers and administrators from three similar districts. Below are some notes, questions, connections, and resources for us to consider as we move forward in our classrooms and schools. They are colored by our experiences prior to the workshop with Challenge Based Learning, Lifelong Kindergarten, Big 6, dschool, and more. Some of the participants had attended an earlier workshop with Ewan this past summer too.

For Ewan's take on all this a better pair of starting points might be his blog and this description of the Design Thinking School and process .

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Design Thinking Process

  • Immersion
  • Sythesis
  • Ideation
  • Prototyping
  • Refining

Further reading on elements mentioned during our day, from Ewan's blog


  • Real problems - I understand the value in real problems. No argument the focus should be there. What about theoretical/hypothetical problems? What if it is more of a challenge than a problem? An interesting question? A hypothesis? What about rich topics or tools that they want to explore?
  • "It's a creative place where responsibility for making learning choice start and end with the student." Completely open? So a teacher's role is only persuasive? What about setting up what the choices are sometimes? What about a balance of student directed and teacher directed activities?

    The responsibility STARTS and ENDS with the student, but the teacher's role in between is crucial, and it's beyond simply persuasion. What do we know about choice? That the optimum number of choices is somewhere above three, but under 20 (Iyengaar and Lepper). In practice, this means that the teacher is making an initial choice of which exploratory area the class will explore: it's like a designer's brief where the client (the teacher, the curriculum) has an idea of what they want achieved/assessed, but the means of getting there are "open to tender", open to the choices of students.

    That choice is facilitated with an initial set of content and resources (Empathy / Observation of the initial immersion). I'd suggest that these resources are not taught in a sequential way by the teacher, but placed at the students' disposition to attack in the order and way that they wish. You might want to use Six Thinking Hats to again offer some structure to their thinking, or teach them to recognise where their thinking is at with the SOLO taxonomy, for example. All these taxonomies become helpful within the frame of students perceiving their choice as being greater than if the teacher is deciding the questions for them to answer.

    Synthesis involves the students finding the questions they wish to solve, not the teacher. In a class of 30 you might end up with about six or seven big questions that pass the students' peer-to-peer (and with teacher) "scrutiny" test: does it pass the "so what?" test of a 14 year old, and does it pass the teachers' understanding of what likely curricular areas will be 'covered'? If not, take it back to the drawing board with some two stars and a wish, for example.

  • Does this process work the same way if we replace student with teacher and curriculum with professional development?
    Absolutely. There is a difference between action research (where someone from on high gives you the topic to research) and practitioner research (where the practitioner chooses his or her area of development). The same with students, there is a risk that the teacher chooses a weak question to explore, and is 'done' within two sessions. Teachers, too, need a peer-to-peer scrutiny option.

  • Overall process - How recursive do you find this? How do you develop that understanding in students?
    Bit by bit. It's a circular process, perhaps, rather than linear, and every time teacher and student undertake it, they get better. That's why feedback from groups such as yourself is so important for us. We've "only" be working on this with teachers for about two years, so we need to get formative feedback to help us on our journey, too.

  • Socialized? - "The process also involves the physical space of school as the place where ideas are socialised for the first time, often with people from outside the class, or even outside the school, through a project corner."
  • Are these problems typically tackled individually, in small group, as a whole class or all of them? - "Design thinking, by its highly personalised nature means that the teacher can offer fairly generalist structures for developing ideas and still be assured of a highly individualised experience for each learner."

    Great collaborative work also needs plenty of time alone to reflect, consider one's own contributions and where one wants to go next. Likewise, the complexity of the problems mean that more than one brain will be needed to make sense of it. Again, how the teacher forms groups - or helps students understand how to better group themselves - is vital. The goal here is not necessarily putting together students with precisely the same problem to solve. It's putting together students with different outlooks and skills to offer the group. This is why cross-age coaching is so powerful - if you can mix up age and stage you get an even more powerful collaborative effect but, again, individual space is required to make sense of what has been achieved, and what needs to be worked on harder.

  • Do we think through this the same way if we are considering a project, class, program (Engage), or the whole school?
    I think so. It gets increasingly complex, and maybe the easiest way to start thinking this way is to move from one to the other. Don't take on the world at once, as it were.Is one more likely to be coopted by the status quo than another? Might the bigger jump be more difficult but possibly necessary to make enough of a break?

  • What's the balance between discovery based learning, workshop like with mini lessons as needed, and more teacher directed projects?
    I think teacher-directed projects lasting weeks will never engage in the same way as a project the student perceives as being in charge of, taking responsibility for. We know that great learning happens when students are actually taking responsibility for their learning, have respect given to their way of learning (and aren't 'saved' too quickly by the teacher when it looks like it's going wrong). The mini-lessons are likely to happen very often - learning just in time, as several students find a blockage that they need a demo or some specific help on. Your class becomes more like a professional lab or studio, with teacher as coach ready to provide mini-lectures and demos as required. Teacher on call, not teacher on duty…

Connections to Other Ideas

  • creativethinkingspiral.jpg
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    Mitch Resnick - any connections with Resnick's creative thinking spiral?
  • dschool
    • dschool K12 wiki
    • Crash Course(80 min video)
      • 2:25 - Overview of Design Process
        • "Think about it a little bit more as a set of mindfullnesses. We teach it in a linear way, but as you finish we'll talk a little bit more about how to use it in a non-linear way."
        • What questions did participants ask during the time they had to work to clarify what they were doing?
      • 34:00 - Problem Statement - "Short, Specific, and Sexy. If it takes more than 1 breath to articulate your problem statement, it may not be short enough."
      • 42:00 - Test/Feedback - "Seek learning not validation."
      • Final 5 minutes
        • bias toward action
        • collaborate across boundaries
        • focus on human values
        • be mindful of process
        • prototype toward a solution
        • show don’t tell
        • How did engaging with a real person and testing your prototype with a real person change the direction that your prototype took?
        • What was it like showing unfinished work to another human being?
        • How did the pace feel?
        • It is an iterative process, which step would you go back to do more of? What would you do next if you had it to do it over again?
  • IDEO- obvious connections, any important differences when translated for students?
  • Challenge Based Learning
    • Big Idea
    • Essential Question
    • The Challenge
    • Guiding Questions, Activities, & Resources
    • Solution-Action
    • Assessment
    • Publishing
  • Big 6
    • 1. Task Definition
      • 1.1 Define the information problem
      • 1.2 Identify information needed
    • 2. Information Seeking Strategies
      • 2.1 Determine all possible sources
      • 2.2 Select the best sources
    • 3. Location and Access
      • 3.1 Locate sources (intellectually and physically)
      • 3.2 Find information within sources
    • 4. Use of Information
      • 4.1 Engage (e.g., read, hear, view, touch)
      • 4.2 Extract relevant information
    • 5. Synthesis
      • 5.1 Organize from multiple sources
      • 5.2 Present the information
    • 6. Evaluation
      • 6.1 Judge the product (effectiveness)
      • 6.2 Judge the process (efficiency)
  • Research Cycle(McKenzie)
    • Questioning, Planning, Gathering, Sorting & Sifting, Synthesizing, Evaluating, Reporting
  • Tinkering School
  • Perkins' Whole Game - Are there junior versions of Design Thinking School so that we can play the whole game of Design Thinking School later?
  • Perkins' Knowledge as Design
  • BCS' Engage
  • PBS' Design Squad - The Design Process In Action
  • MIT's D-Lab & Amy Smith

"Skills" & "Knowledge"

  • What skills/knowledge are needed for Design Thinking School or need to be developed?
    • Questioning
      • Problem finding
      • Challenge finding
      • Rich topic finding
    • Conferencing - Communicative
    • Reflection/Metacognition
    • Which Habits of Mind would belong here?
  • Are there some "reusable rules" for themselves that you hope/expect all students to make eventually? Do those become your objectives?
    • Any connected to students getting better at selecting (or continually modifying) their project so that it is within a reasonable zone that they can achieve an Epic win?
    • How to deal with "failure"?
  • How do you get students to the point of wanting to "read" feedback?
  • How do students learn how/when a learning log should be pulled out?
  • Are there mini lessons for certain skills built in, based on what the kids ask for (or need)?
  • These new standards sound connected, but alas, the problem finding part is missing (or maybe it is implied). Standards for Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Science


More Resources