Full Tilt Into Design Thinking

Getting our ideas (many!) on the wall as part of the Design Thinking process.

Getting our ideas (many!) on the wall as part of the Design Thinking process.

This past week I was lucky enough to participate in four days of Design Thinking workshops given by the University of Kentucky DLab (ukydlab) director John Nash. In addition to myself, the people who participated in these four days were; Stacy Stephens (curriculum coordinator), Jessica Krueger (assistant curriculum coordinator), Dave Beaty (tech director), Maureen Cullen (HS Tech Coordinator), Gary Coyle (ES tech coordinator), Phil Rynearson (ES tech integrator), Ruchira Kochar (ES tech integrator) and Robyn Ibrahim(ES curriculum). We spent the first day learning about the Design Thinking philosophy and structure. We explored this structure with a hands on exercise and tried to create a better wallet for our partner. I have to say this was right up my alley. Two key elements of Design Thinking that I connected with immediately were the human centered approach and the onus on action.

Trying to design a better wallet.

Trying to design a better wallet.

The second day we spent using the Design Thinking process to look at creating a model for staff professional development around technology. We were going full tilt for the entire the second day. By the end of the day our brains were fried, but at the same time our spirits and motivation were high. I think this speaks not only to the exceptional facilitation by John Nash, but also the engaging and relevant nature of using the Design Thinking approach.

The third day we were lucky enough to have one of our stellar teachers come to work with us. She brought to the table something she was grappling with in her classroom. As we worked through the day using the Design Thinking process we broke out to interview some of the teacher’s former and current students.(remember the human centered nature) This was so valuable on so many levels. It reminded me that sometimes we educators get so wrapped up in content and standards that we forget about the human element of teaching. I was also reminded that sometimes we need to slow down and take this into account.(Because it’s so important!)

Sharing a prototype.

Sharing a prototype.

As we moved into the afternoon we had come up with some really cool ideas. One stumbling block was that we kept falling into the trap of trying to make sure our ideas were bulletproof. (Which I think is an easy trap for educators to fall into.) I had to keep reminding myself that this was merely a prototype and that once we implemented it we would gather more feedback from the people it affected to tweak and improve as we learned more.

As you may have noticed I have used “we” quite a bit in this post. That’s because Design Thinking involves collaboration. John Nash even says it requires “radical collaboration”. The process followed more of a “yes and” rather than a “no but” approach. If you know me at all you know that I am a big fan of collaboration so this is a natural fit for my working style.

If only it ended there! We still had one more day to work with John and to learn more about Design Thinking. This time we brought in 20 middle and high school students! The first challenge we explored was for them to redesign their partners morning routine. This involved building a prototype of whatever tool they were going to use to help create this new and improved routine.

I feel like I’ve been blabbering away long enough so take a moment to enjoy some Vine’s that hopefully will give you some insight into what we did!

The kids getting some of their ideas on paper.

John Nash explaining what the students had to work with to build their prototype.

The kids working feverishly on their prototypes.

The kids all explained how their prototypes would improve their partners routine.

All in all I was super pumped on the four days we spent learning about Design Thinking. This week some grade 6 teachers approached me and asked if I would help facilitate a Design Challenge around service learning projects. I’m very excited to give this a go. I’m a little anxious about diving into this for the first time on my own but John Nash left us with so many top notch resources and we were so heavily immersed in the process for four solid days that I’m pretty confident the day will prove successful.

Have you used Design thinking at your school and/or in your classroom? If so what nuggets of insight can you share?

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About Benjamin J Sheridan

Instructional designer at the University of Kentucky.
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