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.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Slammin' National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. One of my favorite parts of National Poetry Month is Poem in Your Pocket Day. That's April 27, if you're curious. That can be a really fun event for students across grade levels, especially if faculty and staff participate, too.

But I've also been thinking about poetry slams and how spoken art can be powerful. Then I found this video of a couple of kids performing at a TEDxYouth event. Their title? "If You Give a Child a Word."

Before you watch the video, just think of the potential of inviting, encouraging students to write a poem about a word.

In her Master Class with Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou spoke about the power of words. Angelou said,
Words are things. . . Some day we'll be able to measure the power of words. I think they are things. They get on the walls. They get in your wallpaper. They get in your rugs, in your upholstery, and your clothes, and your upholstery, and your clothes, and, finally, into you.
If kids write and speak about words, they have to think about words and they have to think about the words they want to use to describe, explain, declaim, and express their word.

Yea, that's pretty powerful, isn't it?

 I started putting together a list of words for kids to choose from to write their poems, just in case they didn't know how or where to start. I started to create a list of words by grade level but quickly abandoned that. It occurred to me that students of any age may have some unrealized or unexpected connection with some words, so better to let them choose from a broader list. If you do this with first or second graders, the words might need to be more concrete, but maybe not. I've learned not to underestimate kids and how they see and experience their worlds.


Then I wondered what the experience might be like to write a poem about a word that has meaning to me. So I picked "future" which might seem like an odd for a woman of a certain age, but it was the word that resonated with me at the moment and mostly because I've been contemplating my future, and thinking about balance, and thinking about possibilities and passions. Thinking about change, which is actually one of my favorite things. ;)

Anyway, I know I don't have a future as a professional rapper, but I have to say this was fun to do and not just because it forced me to think in very specific ways although, I confess, that is one of the happy byproducts of this kind of an activity. I hope you'll encourage your students to try to write their own poem--limerick, haiku, or whatever moves them--using "If You Give a Child a Word."



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Making "room" for makerspace

A couple of weeks ago I was able to facilitate a workshop about makerspace. Like many of us, I've been reading a lot about makerspace--how to start one, what to buy for one, etc.

We spent the morning talking about what schools are already doing, what educators think makerspace is, what parents think it might be, how students are responding to what schools are already doing, and reading some of the current articles about makerspace. I asked the participants to download a bunch of apps and we spent a bit of time in the morning coloring and playing with QuiverVision.

We spent the afternoon playing with green screen, Osmo, Makey Makey, Dash & Dot, Ozobot, Bee-Bot, Google Cardboard, and stuff. Lots of just stuff. I called that the "Figure It Out" station. I could have had several more stations but I wasn't willing to schlep or ship that much stuff, and the point was to give some of the unfamiliar a taste of what's out there. In fact, people were most excited about being able to experiment with things they've heard of but not been able to play with and then talk about what they'd already gotten and why they did or didn't like it. Perfection.

The next week I was at one of my schools and the principal was talking about the area for their makerspace in their new building. I sighed inwardly. Some of his folks had been at the workshop and they were, I'm truly delighted to say, still stoked about some of what they'd learned. In fact, a couple of the teachers were already integrating some of what they'd discussed at the workshop. That, my friends, is bliss.

My response to the principal was this, "Have you been able to talk with the team who work at the workshop last week?" He shook his head and told me they were going to share out at a faculty PD in April. Another internal sigh, but I get it: it's hard to find or make time to share new learning. And when I'm at his school, I'm there under the auspices of another organization, not my own business. But, well, I know what I know, so. . . .

I let him know some of his teachers were already doing makerspace in their rooms. I went on to say, as we walked down the hall of sea creatures made by his students, each grouping of creatures with its own "fun facts" researched and written by students, that makerspace work was already evidenced in his school. That was as we stopped to look out the window where the outdoor coop for the hatchery was being built.

He looked at me and I could see the connections being made.

We have established a bad perception that Makerspace is all about technology. That a good Makerpsace space has Raspberry Pi, arduino boards, and all kinds of coding stuff. That's not wrong. In fact, many of those resources are great for a lot of kids. Some of the kids love the coding option for Osmo while others really like the math and word games. (The new pizza company option is pretty cool, too.) Those are GREAT indicators for teachers who are paying attention to what draws their kids.

Now we've all seen those videos of kids creating prosthetics using 3D printers and that is Maker-mazing! Kids figuring out how to solve a specific problem for a specific purpose. That's Making at its best.

Then I came across a video about The Empowerment Plan and its sleeping bag coat.

And then I found a blog post about compassionate making. That was the genesis of the "Figure It Out" station. What can we encourage our kids to create to solve "right now" problems for themselves or their friends, some of which may have little or nothing to do with technology.

And then I heard a podcast with Tom Murray during which the host, Jon Harper, said that one thing he remembered and valued was a question he'd heard Tom asks his children at the end of every day: "What nice thing were you able to do for someone today?"

Now I love technology. Anyone who knows me knows I love me some technology. I'm always buying stuff so I can "test" it for my customers and teachers. Yea, right. Well, that's partially true. But I get itchy when people seem to think that Makerspace is all about technology because it isn't.

You look up the word "making" and the definition you're likely to get will read something like this:
Precisely. Look at all of those synonyms. That's why some felt or fabric, some duct tape sheets (I kid you not; I found them at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts), and a glue gun could become something maker-mazing. That's why the sleeping bag coat is so powerful.

That's why the library media specialist who is talking about having sewing machines in her makerspace is right on.

That's why another library media specialist who is talking about having green fabric so kids can check out a "green screen" to take home or back to their classrooms is right on.

That's why the educator who is letting her third graders play with stop motion photography for their projects as well as using the ShowMe app to create math tutorials for their classmates is maker-mindblowing!

That's why the kid who wondered if an anemometer made as a class project was more or less effective than a smartphone app, and wondered how to test it is maker-exciting. (We'll work on that after spring break.)

So by all means have Maker Mornings in your libraries at least one day a week. Absolutely have Makerspace Mania in your libraries for as much time as you can schedule during specials with whatever students are present. 

If you're a classroom teacher, partner up with your library media specialist who can help you find and brainstorm different kinds of projects but don't forget how often you might already have your kids making in your classrooms even now. It's not a big stretch to take some projects to another level and realize how much more engaging that constructivist, hands-on, making learning is for your kids. And yea, go ahead and think SAMR because inviting kids to find new and other ways to demonstrate their learning definitely moves you along the SAMR scale.

Do you do centers? Some centers can be an opportunity for making. In that case, it's easy peasy to make room for makerspace because it's just a part of the learning process.

And that's my point. Making room for makerspace doesn't require a lot of stuff or a ton of planning. It might take some time because kids might need to work on some projects for more than one class period or more than one day, but that's good, too. I've seen projects where kids come back the next day, have a quick huddle, or decide to start over because they've each figured out what their project lacks and how to make it better. How freakin' exciting is that?

So whatever you do for makerspace doesn't have to be expensive or take up a lot of space. Though, yes, over time you'll need more room because you'll have to find space for sewing machines, fabric, glue guns, random stuff you collect for possible projects, some green fabric (buy it at a fabric store) for a green screen then the accoutrements you can't leave without for better production quality. That's when you'll really want to partner with the library media specialist for space for the larger and more expensive items you might not use every day. Or maybe you'll have grade level makerspaces though with agreements that allow one grade to borrow another grade's stuff should the project necessitate.

But, again, to get started doesn't have to be expensive or take up a lot of space. Buy some fabric at a fabric store for your first green screen and download Touchcast or (buy) DoInk. Done. Go to DonorsChoose to get your kinder and first grade teachers at least one Bee-Bot and the basic Osmo package (plus an iPad to go with Osmo). Download the Education Starter pack at and download the app for some exposure to augmented reality. Google Cardboard isn't expensive and a few free apps will get them interested in virtual reality. Rummage around the school and house for old shoeboxes, unpaired socks, old T-shirts, screws, nuts, bolts, etc. Buy a few mini glue guns. Ask someone to come to school to teach kids some basic sewing skills (including darning socks), maybe even some quilting or knitting skills. Maybe a compassionate maker project is to create something for the elderly or the very young in their community. Ask someone else to come to the school to show kids some basic carpentry skills: how to use a screwdriver, level and hang a picture, build something small and relatively simple like a birdfeeder.

Show students (and teachers) these BYU meets origami videos (Origami Inspires Tiny Medical Devices, Origami in Space, and Origami Ballistic Barrier) to see if and how they might be inspired about origami or other arts that could have other applications and uses.

It doesn't have to a big production. It doesn't have to be big. It doesn't have to take long. But any time students can put their hands on something that allows them to be creative or invites them to produce, construct, put together, assemble, fabricate, form, or forge something that enables them to express their learning in a way that makes sense to them, well, that is just maker-mazing!