Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Reflaluating Design Thinking

It's an ugly word, but it's mine:
reflaluation - that process which both evaluates and allows for reflection on an experience.
It implies that we find the value in, and also find ways of curating the salient artifacts of the experience. To that end I hope to record the experience of my foray into leading Grade 8 students in Design Thinking.


Maker Kits
As with most things in teaching, one workshop is often enough to inspire activation of a new way of doing things but it does not make an expertan expert make. We (as teachers) are often required to wear the mask of "expert" in the face of the students while being continually aware that we might only understand the process from a distance. It is those who are willing to risk getting it wrong in public who welcome new process into their classrooms without intense study and mentoring. The irony being that so many professional development mandates demand that a teacher indicate how they will immediately apply the expense that has been made to bring in the experts.

I, as you may have read, have recently been exposed to Design Thinking. I am not a Design Thinking expert though I do find that it lends itself to my natural inclinations well and so, perhaps, I am more an expert than I realize. Having been exposed to the vernacular and handed the template it was only a matter of opportunity that would allow for immediate experimentation.

Alberta's Mechanical Systems unit for Grade 8 lends itself well to the #MakerEd movement, and is rich in room for students to thinker and ideate. (not my words)

Fruits of Tinkering
The project (still and always in refinement) was installed in partnership with the Grade 8 teachers who would normally be responsible for this Unit. They, in a sense, partnered with the Learning Commons to go deeper into the mechanics of Design Thinking as they scaffolded the physics of Mechanical Systems. It would be another blog post entirely that would properly address how an entire unit was captured by Design Thinking, what I want to reflaluate here is on one element of what happened that was unexpected: rich partnerships.


In design thinking methodology a student is made responsible for recording and empathizing with another student's ideas. They become active listeners and engagement experts hoping to draw out the best from the person they are listening to. That in itself could be enough but yesterday I noticed something deeper: Trust.

Making groups is common in a classroom, and Design Thinking makes group-work better. There is something that happens in the community though that has inspired me to share; students forge trust.

Under Pressure

Item 1: Students are often asked NOT to work with their friends as they are familiar, too common, and often sources of distraction. In Design Thinking it is possible for students to gravitate to their friends. Where this would normally be something that does not expand a student's experience in this case it is actually an excellent place to start. When you become responsible for your friend's work, and you are asked to represent your friend's work to others in the group there is a loyalty there that means a student who might normally "phone-in" the work is now directly responsible for the way that their friend looks in the eyes of others. Particularly for the boys, but I suspect for all of the students, this addition of risk draws out better work from two friends than you might expect to see, and it also solidifies a relationship between two students.

Item 2: Students might be put into a situation where they are working with someone they would not normally choose to experience learning with, much less speak to. They might be encountering this partner for the first time, and in that experience they are presented to the unfamiliar as being a responsive, engaged, active listener who will stand up and advocate on behalf of their partner who knows that they are not owed this grace given the social context of a middle-school classroom. The amount of trust that this builds between two unfamiliar people; the way that it sets up two strangers to demonstrate the capacity for reliability, loyalty, and friendship appears organically, is not contrived (as it so often is) and is allowed to happen naturally. The authenticity of the experience can bring out the best in the community (in this case the classroom) and creates yet more impetus for employing Design Thinking structure in any and all of the activities which involve collaboration in the classroom.

Written by Tom Currie - Westmount Charter School - Learning Commons

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