Design Thinking for Educators Workshop: “Things are changing. Education needs to evolve.”

This past Tuesday, the rethinkED team attended the Design Thinking for Educators workshop at Riverdale. It was an action-packed day full of conversations, speakers, and activities surrounding using design thinking to reimagine education.

IDEO provided a useful overview of the design thinking ideology and process.  We then heard from a variety of speakers on their experiences with design thinking. The bulk of the conference was spent going through the process itself in small groups, attacking our own unique specific “how might we” using the DT4E process.

For me personally, it was a great opportunity to watch teachers use the design thinking process and very interesting to hear about the various problems and aspects of their experience that they wished to address. I worked with an elementary school teacher who was frustrated by the lack of communication and collaboration between the members of her team and between home-based teachers and specialists at her school. We spoke about the barriers to communication (e.g., scheduling constraints, school culture), and we came up with a variety of solutions, including creating an open-door culture and installing whiteboards outside of each classroom where teachers can write a short summary of what that class will be learning that day.

I think that the design thinking process is most valuable in that it gives teachers permission to explore, enact change, and fail. A great quote from the workshop, from Pam Moran, was, “We don’t need to teach children how to be design thinkers. They need to teach US how.” This iterative, creative process actually comes a lot more naturally for young children (I’ll talk more about the Marshmallow Challenge in a future post), and, in fact, many of the speakers stressed the paramount importance of including children in your design process both for feedback and ideation sessions.

I particularly enjoyed hearing from speakers such as Grant Wiggins. In his talk, he stressed the importance of using backwards design or “designing from the destination.” This destination is for students to, long-term, be able to use content effectively and independently in a variety of novel contexts (transfer). To get there, you should always keep the student in mind (design for the user), and recognize that teaching is just ONE piece of the design.  There are other important aspects of the learning experience such as materials, time, culture, and people. He also spoke of the conflict between goals and habits, stating that it is a lot harder to change habits than one would expect, even if you have the right goal in mind. This is something that was reiterated to me by many of the teachers present- they could envision what they’d potentially like their classroom or curriculum or teaching to look like, but faced both personal and institutional barriers based on tradition or habit.

Pam Moran – the superintendent of the Albemarle school district- spoke about her 26-school-wide project to create a better user experience in schools, relying heavily on student and overall community feedback.  Patrick Murray and Michael Schurr from Riverdale also spoke about user-based design, relying heavily on their students for feedback on rethinking the classroom space. They realized that students saw the classroom as “cold and hard” and desired a more “comfortable, personalized learning space.” They created a live prototype, enacting solutions such as cubby storage, lower magnetic whiteboards, carpeted spaces, and more mobile chairs. Some changes worked well and others, such as the whiteboards, did not turn out as expected. I would love to see how their classroom evolves as they iterate in the design process.

Another amazing aspect of the workshop was the reflection room created by Parsons school of Design. The room included a variety of conceptual diagrams of design, adjectives, and random objects for inspiration and we were encouraged to create dioramas embodying our experience and feelings about design thinking. It was a fun and creative experience.

Overall, it was a day of design thinking, meeting inspirational and passionate educators, and thinking about big problems in education. Thanks to Riverdale, IDEO, and Parson’s for all of your work!

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