Blog Archives

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.


Getting Our Hands a Little Dirty

I am an educator because I want to help develop young people who are makers, doers, growers, and learners, rather than consumers, talkers, destroyers, and knowers.  A few posts ago, I highlighted the Maker Movement and the importance of encouraging students to see themselves as problem finders, solution designers, and prototype creators (read that post here).  While a culture shift in most schools is required to achieve the ideals of the Maker Movement, I feel confident that such a shift is gaining momentum.  What is less evident is that schools are working to develop self-sufficient growers who are able to maintain healthy lifestyles.  dirt, garden

It is rare in my experience to come across students who truly understand healthy nutrition and exactly where our food comes from.  In a country where the most affordable food is often the worst for us, it is of paramount importance to educate children on the realities of food production and how knowledge of farming and cooking can improve quality of life.  Generations ago this was the responsibility of parents or other family members, but as food production has moved away from family farms and into the hands of large corporate entities, it has become increasingly important for schools to lead the effort.  To this end, curricula have been designed to provide students with learning opportunities that move outside classroom walls and into gardens and kitchens.  (for one such example see here and the video below)

cooking, food prepWe are constantly searching for ways to make learning more relevant and real for students.  Is there anything more relevant to them than food?  The satisfaction students get from seeing a project through from inception to product is evident in schools all the time.  Often, though, the product is meaningless to them, a way to get a grade.  As soon as it is turned in, it is forgotten.  When the product is something useful to them, or edible, student interest grows exponentially.  Harnessing such interest into varied experiences that incorporate science, math, history, culture, and other subjects is the goal of any good program.  Doing so in a way that also develops important life skills and greater knowledge and interest in health and nutrition should be a no-brainer.  If we can help students understand the process of getting from seeds to salads, we can develop people who care and know about what they eat, which, in turn, will begin to inflict some positive change on a society that is at the mercy of entities who put healthy commerce ahead of healthy people.

Schools need to find a patch of earth somewhere on campus and get down into the dirt with students.  We need to add words like plant, cultivate, harvest, and cook to our curriculum map action verb lists.  If we do, we will be helping our future leaders take better care of themselves and the planet.  As educators, is there anything more important than that?

We need to bring children up with a whole different way of thinking about food and their lives.  – Alice Waters, Founder of Chez Panisse Foundation

Where High Tech and Low Tech Join Forces

Credit: MakezineMany of us in education have spent much time and energy recently pushing the agenda of so-called “21st Century Learning”.  The problem with that phrase is that it can be misconstrued to mean that we are focused solely on creating a generation of students skilled in the use of digital technologies and, thus, prepared to become useful members of a future workforce.  While we know there is so much more to 21st century education than mastery of new technologies (i.e. developing creativity, critical thinking skills, perseverance, adaptability), we do sometimes fall into the trap of looking for the next cool gadget for our students to play with, thereby losing sight of the big picture.  Many teachers are cautious not to use technology just for the sake of using it, but rather as a tool to accomplish something otherwise impossible, but shouldn’t we still be asking ourselves just what type of users of technology we are creating?  Do we run the risk of merely feeding the pool of desensitized screen zombies whose connection to the world around them grows more tenuous?  Surely, helping students master a varied toolbox of hardware, software, and apps is important, but we need to work to be certain that we are not just creating a generation of consumers when what we really want is a generation of makers.

The Maker Movement, which is best explained in the below video, is not new, but it is beginning to find its way into the world of education in more meaningful ways.  Educators are beginning to see the value of giving time for student invention and creation. (see:  Even universities have opened their application process to include student projects. (see:  The beauty of the Maker Movement is that it holds high tech and low tech in equal stead.  Maker spaces at the most well-known facilities are supplied with buttons, pipe cleaners, glue, and hand drills, right alongside the 3D printers and laser cutters.  The idea is to give makers whatever they need and the results and processes are often a blend of handmade and machine-made.  Most importantly, a Maker Movement in schools encourages problem finding, question asking, solution trying, failing forward, and the use of a wide range of technologies, some cutting edge now and perhaps some cutting edge 100 years ago, for the purpose of making our world a little better for everyone.  If we are finding ways of helping students master technologies for this purpose, than we can be proud of the work we are doing.

It’s not really about the one piece of equipment or the latest and greatest tool.  It’s really about creating the environment for them to feel free to experiment, to feel free to fail, but always have the ability to continue to progress.  – Leif Krinkle, Director of Visible Futures Lab, School of Visual Arts, NYC

Do Schools Give Students the Chance to Grow “Organically”?

child chasing chickensWhen we picture the animals on an organic farm, we see chickens or cows roaming free in a bucolic setting.  Happily eating naturally and growing organically, they are not force-fed filler or injected with chemicals to enhance or speed the growth process.  We often consider these animals to be the lucky ones, though they will share a similar fate in the end, compared to their counterparts in traditional farms equipped with over-crowded cages.

Students in schools are certainly not chickens or cows, nor do they deserve to be thought of as such, but the idea of school as farm makes for a compelling metaphor, one that helps guide our thoughts on what education in schools could and should look like.  What if students in schools weren’t shuttled from classroom to classroom, often constrained to a less than comfortable desk?  What if schools didn’t ask students to compartmentalize learning into 45 minute blocks of time?  What if schools didn’t force-feed students content that was not relevant or interesting to them?  In short, what if schools worked to adapt learning environments, i.e. physical space, schedule, pedagogy, curriculum, to allow for greater freedom, flexibility, and creativity for their teachers and students?  What if, like an organic farmer, we set the fences, fostered an environment for organic growth and development, and allowed our students to then be free-range?

There are certainly a great number of schools, organizations, and educators working towards these ideals through conversation and practice.  The aim of this blog is to join that conversation, share ideas and success stories from around the world, and to report on some of the efforts and experiments of one independent school that is embarking on the journey.

it's about learning

exploring the educational crossroads of our time

The Principal of Change

Stories of learning and leading


Pondering education, technology, and making a difference

Leading is Learning.

The Santa Fe Leadership Center's Incubator for Teaching and Learning

Granted, and...

thoughts on education by Grant Wiggins

The Randolph Journey

Life in a K-12 community of learners


Thoughts on How Innovative School Learning Environments Can Better Prepare Students to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century


Thoughts on How Innovative School Learning Environments Can Better Prepare Students to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century

Lisa Nielsen: The Innovative Educator

Thoughts on How Innovative School Learning Environments Can Better Prepare Students to Meet the Challenges of the 21st Century

My Island View

Educational, Disconnected Utterances

Will Richardson

Will Richardson

%d bloggers like this: