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One School’s Leap Into Design Thinking, Part III

In the two previous posts, I have outlined the process one school underwent to apply design thinking strategies to the improvement of the daily schedule.  Part I focused on the Discovery phase and our methods of collecting data from the teacher user group.  Still in the Discovery phase, Part II covered the collection of data from our student user group.  In this post, I will move into the Interpretation and Ideation phases of our DT journey.

Once data was collected from the two user groups of the daily schedule, it was brought to our Academic Council, a team composed of administrators and department chairs.  It fell to this group to interpret the data in order to determine the needs of the users.  To achieve this, we employed an Empathy Map.   This tool is effective in helping designers get from data to a more distilled design opportunity that can truly make a difference to users.  By exploring both the specific words students and teachers used to describe their thoughts on the schedule, and by making inferences or observations of their actions and feelings about the schedule, we were able to crystallize our work into a set of specific “How might we…?” questions that addressed the needs of the users.  The following are some of those questions.empathy map
How might we find more time for students to meet with teachers for help?
How might we incorporate academic club meetings (i.e. Science Olympiad, Math Team, Robotics) into the regular school day?
How might we allow more flexibility for students in lunch/recess?
How might we help students not feel rushed at certain points of the day?
How might we add more homeroom/advisory time?

empathy map

In the past, administrators would have analyzed the schedule themselves with the input of a handful of teachers.  The design thinking process helped to target the needs of the teachers and students specifically, thereby allowing the focus to remain on issues important to the learners and their learning.  If we had stopped the process here, I would have considered it a success for that reason.  However, the goals of this process included the incorporation of a larger group of problem solvers and designers.  Therefore, the HMW questions were taken back to the faculty for discussion and ideation.

The faculty brainstorming session was held with a group of approximately 40 teachers of all different subjects and ages within our division.  The group included those that were treated as users earlier in the process and Academic Council members that generated the questions.  We employed a Wagon Wheel protocol from the National School Reform Faculty to ensure the best possible mixing of ideas across the group.  Considering the numbers and the physical space and furniture our wagon wheel ended up being more of a conveyor belt, but the concept worked the same; short solution brainstorming sessions on one question with one colleague before shifting to another colleague to do the same with the next question.  The concept is akin to speed dating.  Once each question was tackled in this way, teachers were given the choice of which question they would like to work on further and grouped themselves into design teams.  Their goal was to come up with a prototype for a solution to the scheduling question they chose.  Prototypes and ideas were shared out with the full group and recorded by administrators.

It is important to note that throughout this process teachers understood that their solutions may not be used.  This can be a tricky part of designing in groups and a lesson that teachers would be wise to pass on to their students.  At the end of the day, the administrators will make the final schedule and the final product will have had a number of limitations applied to it, i.e. staffing, facilities, and finances.  Excellent ideas may have to be shelved because of these limitations.  Despite those possible disappointments, the inclusion of users in the process helps to create a culture of initiative, creativity, and self-advocacy that would surely benefit any organization.

– Time is an issue in a process such as this.  I felt that the process was stretched out over too many months, but design sessions themselves were too short.   It was difficult to incorporate student input due to time constraints, and I would like to see greater student involvement in general.
– Attitudes towards a process such as this also varied among all constituencies.  The first attempt at design thinking can seem forced or can fall flat because some may insist they do not have anything to contribute or perhaps think it is not their responsibility to solve such problems.  This can be exacerbated if the limitations set by administration, to which I alluded earlier, are too constrictive.  If there is a sense of pointlessness to the project, very little can be accomplished.  It is important, therefore, to begin to create a culture in which all problems are tackled this way.  Once participants see that their ideas are valued and employed, creativity and initiative will grow.

One School’s Leap Into Design Thinking, Part II

After a whirlwind end to the school year and an early summer dominated by a house sale and cross-country move, it is time to finally share more about one school’s attempt to use Design Thinking concepts to tweak the daily schedule.  For a recap of the early steps of this process and the entire plan, please refer back to the previous post here.

Though the responsibility of designing and setting class schedule is mainly left to administration, it was important to us to include faculty and students in the process.  After all, they are the users of the schedule.  As described in the previous post referenced above, the Discovery phase called for the involvement of these two user groups.  After data was collected and compiled from sessions with faculty, we turned to our most important users.  All 6th and 7th graders were split into groups of 15-25 and placed with 2 or 3 teachers familiar with the Chalk Talk and Affinity Mapping protocols used for data collection and discussion.  In these groups, students were given the opportunity to share their thoughts on schedule details that either work or do not work for them.  In order to ensure useful and relevant data, teacher facilitators previewed the session by brainstorming schedule elements with students .  By defining up front the difference between a scheduling issue and other issues, they helped limit irrelevant comments.  For example, when discussing lunch, students would need to realize that time and duration of lunch were open for discussion, but not what food was being served.2014-01-23 08.58.18

It is always evident in sessions such as these that students love to be asked what they think.  This chance to be heard is essential in the development of a voice and the ability to self-advocate.  While there are those that will distract from the task at hand, for the most part students took this opportunity seriously.  Many engaged in the process in a way that showed their belief that they have a say in their own educations.  Teacher facilitators were all advised, however, to remind students that just because they want something changed does not mean it will be.   The complication of putting together a school schedule and the limitations in place due to staffing, facilities, and finances can make the reality a fair bit different from the ideal.  It was important for students to hear this and realize that the goal was to simply get feedback on their experience with the schedule.  This was sometimes difficult as many students wanted to talk about how things should be rather than how they are.  All comments, though, were useful in the overall analysis.

These student sessions were held in 45 minute blocks as part of a rotation of activities taking place on a non-cycle day (such days do not have scheduled classes and are set aside for large inter-disciplinary projects and/or special events).  I have shared the document teacher facilitators worked from to help them get started with the sessions here.  Schedule Student Feedback Protocol 1-23

In the next installment, I will share the next steps of the process which included interpretation and ideation, as done through Empathy Mapping and Prototyping.

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