Category Archives: Inquiry

9th Grade Humanities & Mission: Learning at the Service of [ ]

Over the past two years, our library has taken a prominent role in helping to develop our 9th Grade Humanities curriculum. The course itself is fairly traditional: we close read literary and informational texts for themes and concepts. We write argumentative paragraphs and essays. We perform research on historical events. We develop the skills necessary to excel in the study of history and literature. We even complete a few group projects, too.

Yet, we’re iterating Humanities into a interdisciplinary study of literature and history that supports individuals in skill development while situating learners into real world challenges that ask them to put their growing body of knowledge and ability at the service of our greater community.

If you tailed off, spun out, or otherwise crashed somewhere in the crags of that sentence, you’re not to blame. We’re building quite a bit into this course, and each component shows commitment towards creating learning experiences that fully embody our mission.

After all,  what steers our institution should drive the learning we undertake with our students, too:

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The course still needs to mature to more realize and measure the ideals, yet here’s a rundown of our progress thus far.


Individualization: Content & Skill

Our approach to course content with aspirations towards individualization? Balanced. We believe in the necessity of discussing, analyzing, and developing ideas within a safe intellectual community, so our students share texts such as Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns. Yet, we’ll use such texts as launchpads for individual explorations: we’ll create annotated bibliographies (and, eventually research essays) on topics and questions of individual interest that we unearthed while exploring the texts. While such inquiries are highly individualized, they emerge from a collective experience, and the skills we cultivate challenge each student to become even more effective literary scholars and historians.

Our individualization continues to emerge within the realm of assessment, as well. We collect and distribute data sets from our assessments to showcase individual learning accomplishment and also target areas for growth in future units, lessons, and tutorials.


The learning target students receive at the end of each project. This model is inspired by Mike Gwaltney, a history department chair at Oregon Episcopal School and one of the leading experts on project-based learning.

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The data we collect on each learner’s ability to comprehend and process texts, using the digital reading platform, ActivelyLearn.


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A bar graph displaying a student’s performance on a short oral presentation from last week. We’ll use these forms to create goals for another short oral presentation we’ll complete this week, and we’ll track the changes as we go.

We are using our data sets to provide detailed feedback to learners so they can create very targeted goals, developing individualized action plans for students who want to improve and extend their abilities. As our system solidifies, we want to empower each student to articulate their strengths and weaknesses, and we want each student to carry a personal toolkit for becoming even more effective scholars and performers.


Knowledge: A Conceptual Approach

As a learning environment that supports the principles and aspirations of International Baccalaureate programmes,, we forefront conceptual understanding ahead of any particular topic, issue, or text. We want our students to transition from one historical event or literary text to another equipped with frameworks to question, understand, and build knowledge.

Currently, our unit focuses on investigating how varying how varying perspectives and identities create conflict within the communities, and what factors influence the resolutions of such conflicts.

We look into the Abolitionist, Suffrage, and Civil Rights Movements. We unearthed the parallels between the the “Declaration of Independence” and the Seneca Falls Convention’s “Declaration of Rights and Grievances.” We investigated the rhetorical structure of Sojourner Truth’s “Ain’t I a Woman,” and we dived into the rhetorical strategy of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

We also read Sue Monk Kidd’s Secret Life of Bees to see how our considerations of race and gender intersect.

Even though we leap through space and time, these concepts are the threads that sew our understanding together.

Creativity & Citizenship

But our learning doesn’t stop with developing skill and understanding.

Instead, we want our students to see how they can set their knowledge towards the service of something–to put their knowledge into action.

A focal point of each unit of study in Humanities is a community focused action project.

For our unit on identities and perspectives, we are collaborating with Tacoma’s Reconciliation Project Foundation, as the 1885 expulsion of 600 Chinese workers from their residences on the Tacoma waterfront has been a human rights violation of local significance, and the city’s relatively recent actions to reconcile that event is perfect fodder to continue our investigation of communities, perspectives, and identities.

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On a recent visit to Chinese Reconciliation Park, we took photographs of aspects of the park that embody the foundation’s values. Here is a photograph of the Fuzhou Ting for the value, ‘inclusion.’

Currently, we’re mid-project. Our class has listened to board members from the Reconciliation Project Foundation who have presented on their aspirations for the project. We have toured the nearby Chinese Reconciliation Park. We have used these experiences to discern the values the foundation is striving to build within our community. Such activities have deepened our close reading abilities. After all, one should analyze a presentation or a space just as one analyzes a poem or a story.

We have created Opportunity Statements to recommend which values we feel should be amplified, and we have written Historical Studies to showcase how these values are embedded in the concepts and events surrounding the Chinese Expulsion.

We have also employed a toolkit of ideation methods, from the Impact-Effort Matrix to the NUF Test to develop plans to help the Foundation amplify the values we see the foundation aspiring to achieve.

In the coming two weeks, we will pitch both our understanding and ideas to foundation members. The feedback we’ll receive will be used to iterate our plans, and we will eventually create full-on presentations, some of which will be given to the entire board of trustees during their May meeting.


In future posts, we’ll showcase a few in progress or unrealized goals for the course as well as investigate why the library team is so involved. But for now, we’re excited to report some of the strong steps we’ve made towards transitioning our 9th Grade Humanities class into an even greater realization of Annie Wright’s mission, and we’re searching for  even more opportunity to amplify how we individualize learner interest and growth while building a body of knowledge that is then employed to engage and impact our wider community.

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Picademy & Raspberry Jam! A Journey into Connected Learning

Over the past few months, you might have stopped by the library and seen me fiddling with the following:


A sound sensitive bulletin board. When finished, each letter should light up at 3 second intervals, so long as there’s little to no noise in the vicinity. If there’s noise? The lights will cut out, and the timer will begin again.

And for the past few months, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not *yet* finished with my sound sensitive library sign. For someone who has no experience with electrical engineering, programming or, frankly, making bulletin boards, this stuff is tough!

But it’s also a blast, and throughout the process of researching and developing this sign, I’ve discovered entire communities who create, make, hack, develop, and share knowledge around microprocessors, tiny computers that can control electronics.

While I’ve written about Connected Learning here before, the impact of diving into such communities has never felt more visceral, especially given my relative ignorance at the start of this process.

Again and again, I’m reminded: learning has never been easier. There are communities and collaborators both locally and globally willing to help us learn in one way or another.

So, my sign is controlled by an Arduino, but my learning journey with these internet communities led to me to a device that I feel has even more potential: Raspberry Pi.


Plug in a power source, keyboard, mouse, television, and SD card, and you have yourself a fully capable home computer.

A UK Charitable Foundation, the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s mission is to accelerate learning in computer science in the UK and throughout the world. They fund their educational efforts by selling a $35 computer called, well, a Raspberry Pi. The Foundation then turns around and creates learning resources and educational experiences for students.

The Raspberry Pi Foundation also puts on Picademy, a free professional development opportunity for teachers. While there have been numerous Picademys based in the UK, last March featured the first ever Picademy USA, hosted by the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA.

I applied, and I was grateful to be awarded a coveted spot. I was also lucky enough to receive travel support from AWS to be able to attend the event.

And what an event it was.

My journey with Arduino taught me the power and possibility of ‘physical computing,’ where we use the tools of the digital world to impact the physical world. An example of this might be my READ sign, but there are many, more sophisticated uses of physical computing. These range from equipping clothes with lights, speakers and sensors that respond to a wearer’s movements, to, well, self-driving cars.

But Picademy? It showed me even greater potential for such work. Not only will Raspberry Pi operate as a computer, but its price and features has accelerated my ability to think about turning anything into a computer. My garden? Let’s get a moisture sensor and automate its watering cycle. My bicycle? Let’s have it send me text messages if anyone nudges it (or, at worst, steals it!). My library? Let’s take something I gleaned from our visit to MKThink and use motion sensors and digital trip wires to see how displays, furniture rearrangements, and other changes might cause patrons to increase or behave differently (This is also why WeWork’s presence is skyrocketing!).

Most importantly, Picademy taught me just how amazing forays into physical computing can be for kids. After all, the software in a $35 computer can be easily changed, hacked, and even broken, but since the operating system lives in a micro-SD card (just like you put into your digital camera), the Raspberry Pi can easily be fixed. Plus, there are so many cool projects for young learners to undertake, like this Parent Detector!

While attending Picademy, I learned how to program my Pi so that an accelerator to change an image on an LED screen:

And how to connect the Pi to switches and lights:

And, I learned a variety of different teaching and instructional strategies to get others interested and engaged in physical computing. I left the weekend officially titled a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator:

And I also met so many incredible, experienced, and thoughtful educators dedicated to helping kids learn computer science, so much so that I left the weekend emboldened to learn more. Thank you, Matt, Phillip, Carrie Anne, Ben, Marc, David, and Courtney, and James for the experience.

Next up?

Raspberry Pi is best controlled through the programming language, Python, so I’m taking on the modules served up by Treehouse, which I highly recommend.

I’m diving into the Pibrary Project, an incredible resource around how libraries are using Raspberry Pi with their patrons and in their own operations.

And, I’m planning to teach kids physical computing and how to use Raspberry Pi during my Build Your Own Computer Club this summer at Camp Wright.

Even more immediately, I’m unearthing a great local community of Raspberry Pi enthusiasts. On April 10, Tacoma’s FabLab has graciously agreed to host an informal gathering of Pi users called a Raspberry Jam:


In the process of reaching out to potential sponsors for the event, the folks at the Pi Foundation pointed me towards C4Labs, a Tacoma based (!) group at the forefront of manufacturing cases for the Raspberry Pi:


Dustin, their owner, has agreed to sponsor, and he seems as equally passionate about sharing his work with younger learners, as well.

All this so exciting, not just for unlocking the potential for physical computing and Raspberry Pi in my life or for kids at AWS, but even more so for the energy and zeal involved in discovering new communities and learning the ropes.

Coding and computer science is hot, for sure, but I’m even more so struck by the impact of connected learning. Several months ago, I had met with Cynthia Tee, Executive Director of Seattle’s Ada Developer’s Academy,  and she echoed this sentiment, telling me that the most promising employees aren’t the ones who know x, y, or z, but the most exciting employees are the ones who are willing to learn how to navigate any system, or, the ones who are willing to open to learn how to learn new tools or use new knowledge

And the Raspberry Pi, among many other options, provides such and wonderful computing playground and a vast, supportive community to do just that.

On that note, check out one more of the Pi’s incredibly capabilities, in this TEDxNewcastle presentation by Sam Aaron:

So cool.



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Low-Definition, High-Definition, & Re-Definition: Constellating Stars Along I-280

Among the many hobbies we here in the Library & Learning Commons share, tracking shifts and evolutions in the landscape of education is one of our favorites, and Twitter serves as our central hub to peer into these developments throughout the world. Given the medium’s frenetic pace, we often feel situated in a camera obscura, catching emerging shapes and moving figures without much chance for the fullest clarity, so any opportunity to get on the ground in one of the most exciting environments for education is an opportunity for a high-fidelity view.

This past week marked the second occasion we have sent a team of educators down to The Nueva School’s Innovative Learning Conference. We’re incredibly fortunate that Annie Wright commits to immerse its educators in the zeitgeist shared by so many in the Bay Area. Worldwide, there is no higher concentration of people and organizations committed to transformation outside of the I-280 corridor. Even as whispers of another tech bubble continue their crescendo, it’s almost impossible to imagine that area becoming unseated from its dominant position. That place, like no other, has built itself on learning, and such learning will ignite rapid resurrection. Excess capital might take a sabbatical, but it will always return to this environment’s infrastructure of fervent thought.

We see this learning in major Silicon Valley tech firms, start-up incubators, world-class universities, and, for our purposes, the many schools committed to honing best practice in progressive education.

Aside from the conference itself, our trip featured visits to The Hillbrook School, Stanford’s, and MKThink. The learning spaces of these places are so easily alluring.

Hillbrook has its I-Lab.

The is the gold standard for formal education’s move to make space for critical collaboration and creative thought.

MKThink holds incredible expertise in shaping such spaces, and their own headquarters features a makerspace and small collaborative hot seats within a historic roundhouse that sits along San Francisco’s Embarcadero.

Round out our Thursday visits to these three organizations with a Friday dedicated to orbiting around the Nueva School’s triple threat of i-Labs, and we received a front seat to education’s most interesting furnishings and technology features.

We can easily depart SFO with airline napkins and hotel stationery filled with scribbled blueprints and quite a set of shopping lists. But to do so would be to miss the Bay Area’s most important lesson: transformation occurs by examining the ecosystem of evolution, not its tools. Not the makerspaces. Or the sticky notes. Or the furniture. Or iPads. LCD screens. Dream Director position descriptions. Centers for Teaching Excellence. Service learning projects. Internal start-ups. Online classes. Global education. Coding. STEM/STEAM/STEAMS/SHTEAM. Makerspaces. Group process toolkits. Meditation techniques. Assessment practices. Pedagogical approaches. Even delicious salads served at school lunch. Design Thinking as a proper noun. All and all and all: the tools and deliverables so easily seen from the camera obscura. It’s wonderful to realize the expanse of tools at our disposal, but what might we put them in the service of?

What constellates Hillbrook, the, MKThink, and Nueva among the many, many stars along I-280 are their commitments to modes of thought that shape their learning ecosystems, ecosystems that are poised to evolve exponentially and infinitely.

Hillbrook was an early adopter of 1:1 iPads. This enabled the school to transform their computer lab into the iLab. The school performed in-house research on how the iLab affected learning outcomes, and this research motivated educators in Hillbrook’s community to adopt the features of the iLab in individual classrooms. The iLab has since morphed into a makerspace. This makerspace will soon move to a yet unbuilt hub at the center of their campus. Their engine of further evolution is fueled by an in-house researcher and a teacher in residence program that will continue to measure the impact of their prototypes and prepare their community for whatever they choose to scale out next.

We can take Hillbrook’s shopping list and their how-to guide. What’s more challenging, and what I-280 does so well, is maintaining thoughts on higher aspirations with each incremental shift and assuring each development arrives with contrails that ask everyone to interrogate how that development might impact the next step, even if that next step has yet to be imagined.

The advocates and educates towards mindsets and practices that enable organizations and individuals to navigate their evolutions with the intellectual elegance that is on display in ecosystems like Hillbrook’s. Stanford empowers professional and personal transformation, launching those that connect with their mode of design thinking well into the future.

MKThink is increasingly involved in constructing conceptual frameworks for identifying problems within problems and quantifying the impact of solutions in order to ignite continual iteration.

Nueva showcases standing evidence of a school very experienced in such evolutions, and their decision to expand into educating high schoolers displays their evolving savvy in thinking towards these next steps.

This year’s lineup of speakers and workshops at the Innovative Learning Conference also presented such maturity. Almost every presentation we attended focused on the process of evolution. Here is how we aligned a community around a set of values. Here are the many levers we have at our fingertips to drive us towards fulfilling those values. Here is how we measure our effectiveness. Here is how our measurements motivated pivots along the way. Here is the ecosystem we created. Take it in. We’re set to evolve.

But don’t copy us or our direction—it’s truly about the messy work of developing the ecosystem that will sustain your community’s values, not ours.

Umberto Boccioni: “The City Rises”

All in all, It’s easy to get wrapped up in the aggressive futurism embedded throughout I-280. Credos abound:

At its face, we might easily be turned off by such aggression that harkens back to F.T. Marinetti and Company:

“Do you, then, wish to waste all your best powers in this eternal and futile worship of the past, from which you emerge fatally exhausted, shrunken, beaten down?”

We know the environment is also competitive and cutthroat, and extremely problematic are issues of race and class, which also makes the Bay Area a central node for both social innovation and social unrest to the extent of outright riot (ex 1., ex. 2.).

We can also point towards other stars outside of the valley, from the transformative Mount Vernon and Shattuck St. Mary’s to the upstart Iowa BIG, Watershed, Big Picture Learning, Nuvu Studio, the latter allowed the luxury of developing an ecosystem from scratch.

But it’s the thoughtfulness, warmth, and calculated elegance with which organizations dedicated to learning employ empathy driven design thinking and lean methodology to engage in the messy process of transforming ecosystems along I-280 that makes a visit there so thrilling, as the area offers such a concentration of schools and school partners prepared shape the continued brilliance of the Bay Area for years to come.

Thanks to community members at the Hillbrook School for the warm welcome, Durell Coleman of DCDesign for an engaging tour of the, Signo Uddenberg for exposure to MKThink and its work, and everyone who worked so hard to put together the Innovative Learning Conference at Nueva. And thanks to Annie Wright for dedicating the time and resources to make this experience happen.

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Your Summer Assignment

Last school year, our faculty and staff selected from a number of books that they had identified as good, helpful professional reading, and we here at Annie Wright Schools entered the summer months tasked with tackling one of these texts. Thus launched our exploration of best practices in  inquiry-based learning.

Next school year, we also hope to continue exploring inquiry, so we’re using our summer ‘reading’ to launch into our own explorations. When we teach inquiry, we teach our students and ourselves to be mindful of a process of inquiry. Are you just starting out by exploring? Have you identified a solution to your topic? Are you preparing to present?

When individuals or organizations struggle to realize where they are in a process, the inquiries struggle. They’re more likely to give up. To start over. To become so frustrated that they limit future risks.

So your summer assignment, just like ours, is to forecast your inquiry. Think about what challenges or topics you want to explore. Make a plan for resources. Stick to one of the cycles you’ll find in the documents linked to below. And be mindful of how you move through the process. Where did you struggle? How would you evaluate your performance for each step in your journey?

So, what’ll it be? Personally, I’m exploring how to eradicate bamboo from my backyard. I have a mountain of books, both professional and personal, I’d like to get to (a post on these will come soon!), and, most immediately, I’m off to inquire about the Columbia River Gorge, Smith Rock, and the Coastal Areas of Oregon.

Enjoy the summer months, and enjoy plotting your inquiries. As faculty and staff, we’ll report back in the fall on how we were practitioners of methods that we teach. We hope you will, as well.

Learning by Design

As we evolve our library space, I’m pressed with decisions regarding design. Who enters the library where? When and why do we arrive? What signage most effectively attracts patrons to where they’ll solve their library needs?

The process is research intensive (what have folks done at other libraries? what opportunities have they created?) and highly empathetic (what do individuals in our community need? what particular challenges and opportunities do we have?).

The Design Thinking Process Cycle employed by the, otherwise known as the Hasso Plattner’s Institute for Design at Stanford University

But the process isn’t one I’d like to reserve for adults in the community. Instead, we’ve been working through the design thinking process with several classes here at Annie Wright.

Some quick background:

Design thinking is problem-solving on steroids, as participants are given an overall challenge or idea and are taught steps to gain a better understanding of who they’re solving the problem for. With that understanding, design thinkers can create a more precise, complex, and unique problem to solve, brainstorm ways to solve the problem, build a prototype to gain insightful feedback, and then refine their work. And design isn’t just relegated to the world of things. However intentionally, daily schedules, lunch line experiences, story experiences, and social interactions are all designed. How might we redesign the lunch line experience? How did Jay Gatsby design his rise (and how might we, without collaborating with that selfish tough, Meyer Wolfsheim)? How might we create cleaner waters in Commencement Bay?

So, lately I’ve worked with 8th Graders on a brief introduction to design, using the Stanford D.School’s Design a Wallet Challenge that they also use with corporate clients and Stanford attendees to build creative confidence–one’s ability to think of oneself as a designer.

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A screenshot of steps five, six, and seven in the Wallet Challenge design process. Click on the image to learn even more information about this particular challenge.

In 4th grade, we took on an even more pressing design challenge: how to redesign the library space to optimize learning. In coordination with their inquiry unit on learning styles, art teacher Mr. Weir and I guided the students through the design process.

First, we took iPads throughout the school to gain empathy for a wide range of learners. Then, we viewed those video clips and created Empathy Maps to create a snapshot of what people generally think, feel, say, hear and do when they’re learning at their best.

We created problem statements (what problem do these folks have that we can help solve?).

We learned about the four factors that we can adjust to suit learning activities: posture (the height of a participants in a learning session), orientation (the direction we face in a learning session), ambiance (the feeling the space gives off during a learning session), and surface (the vertical and horizontal spaces we work on).

We brainstormed ways to solve those problems, and we prototyped design solutions.

Rapid Prototypes need not be prefect; instead, they should be quickly built, and they should communicate the essence of an idea. Here we are using cardboard to rapidly prototype library features

Rapid Prototypes need not be prefect; instead, they should be quickly built, and they should communicate the essence of an idea. Here we are using cardboard to rapidly prototype library features

The resulting design were incredible, creative, and tied to problems these young designers unearthed by talking to others. Check out this quick display of the many rapid protoypes we created.

What if we had light fixtures with many colored bulbs suited to set the mood for a range of learning activities?

What if we had light fixtures with many colored bulbs suited to set the mood for a range of learning activities?


Two young designers put their work together: what if we had more window seats with a relaxed posture for reading, and beneath those seats had heaters to keep readers comfortable?

What if we had a reclining chair with movable cushions to suit a wide range of postures, activities, and body sizes?

What if we had a reclining chair with movable cushions to suit a wide range of postures, activities, and body sizes?

At the end of the project, we presented our individually created design problems and our prototyped solutions. Finally, we offered each other feedback (I like…, I wish…, What if… on our respective ideas).

The design process involves so much of what we already do in school (research in a variety of forms, writing on empathy maps and problems statements, idea development, and testing the idea for others), and it also locates young designers in authentic learning opportunities that they themselves drive. This sort of knowledge work is one of the key drivers of the school library evolutions you’ll see in the coming months and years, both in terms of its the library program and the library space.


The Great Exploration

A visualization of IB’s Diploma Program. Click the image for a short narrative description of the graphic.

At the center of the IB Diploma Program experience lay a trio that truly distinguishes the Diploma Program from other curricula: Theory of Knowledge (TOK); Creativity, Action, Service (CAS); and Extended Essay.

Each experience is tailored for individual students to adapt their passions and interests into action, from learning the modes of thought that are relevant for their particular pursuits (TOK) to applying their passions to benefit the world (CAS).

As librarian, I’m most excited by the Extended Essay, a 4,000 word research essay that a student may pursue in any academic area IB offers. Click here to read about recent research that points towards the Extended Essay as a project that enhances college readiness and success.

Our seniors have been working on this essay since last May, and the final drafts aren’t due until the end of January. However, I’m happy to report a diverse array of topics, interests, and passions being pursued:

*Postwar German society’s influence on the rise of Dadaism.

*How Coca-cola and Pepsi-co differ approaches in American and Indian marketplaces.

*The supermarket industry’s influence on establishing agricultural monocultures and, in turn, the collapse of the honey bee population.

*A comparative analysis of the poetics of Amari Baraka and Langston Hughes.

*An investigation of how anthropogenic sounds affect marine animals.

*”A study on bond strengths of orthodontic brackets bonded to enamel surfaces pre-conditioned with various solutions.”

This year, we have over 25 students pursuing the Extended Essay, with a super wide range of topics.

For anyone who worries inquiry-based learning lacks rigor, check out the above list of titles. Our seniors have been hitting the books, working in labs, and channeling our databases.

Or swing on by the library, and I’ll share a sampling of essays that are under development, with the permission of our writers, of course!

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Design Thinking on PBS

Design Thinking in Education is one of the most exciting derivatives of inquiry-based learning (click here for our previous explanation or here for material more thorough). In this process, learners are presented with a challenge (“How Might We Make the Library Conducive for Reading?”) before starting in on a process of empathy (“What can I learn about library users?”), problem identification (“What is really preventing the library from offering better reading spaces?”), ideating problem solutions, and creating prototypes.

The Design Thinking Process Cycle used by Stanford’s dschool. Click the image to learn more about how the dschool works.

The Design Thinking model can be applied to almost any tasks. Want to make the lunch room experience even more effective? Want to re-think the gift giving process in your family? Feel like thinking how World War I could have ended differently or what is really causing a novel’s character to react so vehemently?

As an inquiry cycle, Design Thinking is particularly unique is its focus on empathizing with a particular user and its dedication to problem identification (as opposed to just problem solving). It’s also one of the few inquiry cycles in education that’s also used by businesses (although their resources to do research and user interviews are much greater).

If you’re interested in seeing Design Thinking in action, check out this week’s PBS airing of Extreme by Design, as it offers one example of the many ways Design Thinking is being used in education today. Click here for more information, or check out the above video for a preview of the film.

Even though the episode is set to air on Wednesday, December 11th, it will be available online for two weeks after the initial showing.

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Group Process Resources


Here’s the final of our five post series on group process and collaboration. For context, here are links to the first, second, third, and fourth posts.

Collaboration is never delegation. Instead, it’s a constant negotiation between task and maintenance, between roles and goals, and between humans who want to work together to make positive impact, on each other and their tasks.  There’s still thought to be put towards this and activities and language to teach and employ, but these are a few first steps we might take to teach everyone to harness the productive tension in groups in order to accomplish our goals. Here’s my reading list, both past and present, that is helping push the very early foundations of a group dynamics curriculum that you see emerge in this series of posts. Click on each link to be directed towards a short description or the source itself.

Paradoxes of Group Life, by Kenwyn K. Smith (for learning about the central, necessary tensions in groups)

Fierce Conversations, by Susan Scott (for increased knowledge and skills for conversation and collaboration)

Leadership and Design Studio’s Task-Maintenance Cards (pictured above in their prototype versions–not yet available for distribution.)

Gamestorming, by Dave Gray (for a series of ideas and activities to accelerate group process)

The University of Victoria’s Human Resources Department’s Manager’s Toolkit (for more on The Waterline Model)

The University of Pittsburgh’s Speaking Within the Disciplines (for more details on the specific functional task and maintenance roles we might adopt)

The Ten Faces of Innovation, by Tom Kelley and Jonathon Littman (for various group roles we might strive to fulfill)

The Six Thinking Hats, by Edward De Bono (for various group roles we might strive to fulfill)

For anyone who has studied organizational behavior, you’ll know there are even more appropriate professional and academic texts regarding organizational and behavioral management (and please! write them below in the comment section of this blog!). But, with easier reading comes faster experimentation. We won’t grow our ability to facilitate groups (or teach facilitation) but over-preparing.

Instead, drop Task-Maintenance into your next group project, see how your group takes on the language, and make an action plan from there.We’re happy to help facilitate this process (and other group tension creating and mitigating activities)

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Why Groups & Libraries?

This is the fourth post in a five post series on helping learners navigate group life. Here are the first, second, and third posts.

Why Library? 

Previously, we’ve posted on the increase in attention inquiry has received given how inquiry equips students with a process of learning that they can use to navigate ambiguous tasks. We’ve also positioned the library as a central space for inquiry, a space that’s equipped with various tools, informational resources, and places to make inquiry happen.

While it’s crucial that individuals learn how to learn through the inquiry process, it’s as important that individuals learn how to learn in groups. After all, it’s a big world and the problems are too many to rely on solo master inquirers to solve them for us. Instead, we’ll need people who are equipped to work in groups and facilitate groups masterfully as each individual brings a unique body of knowledge and skillset to aid group success. If each of our learners is pursuing individual lines of inquiry based on their interest in a particular topic, then we’ll have opportunity to team several up for a project experience so they can teach each other and learn a topic even more holistically.

I’ve always said that libraries are spaces for conversations with a text and with another person. Collaboration is just a specialized conversation the library can help facilitate.

The Co-Lab:

In fact, the Annie Wright Schools Parents’ Association was kind enough to donate funds necessary to flip the librarian’s office into the Co-Lab, a collaboration laboratory that groups in our community can book to enhance maintenance and tasks. The seating is flexible, the windows are writeable, and with a little advanced notice, it comes equipped with supplies and facilitators that can make your group fly. Attendees can learn how they might use four spatial factors to modify a room to suit their meeting’s goals. They might learn about task-maintenance, or they might learn how to use various activities and techniques to proactively encounter group challenges.

Group Life at AWS

This series of posts isn’t to say that we don’t teach collaborative skills elsewhere in school. In fact, we’ve been doing such fantastic work with teamwork for many years. Here are just a few highlights:

  • Our 4th Grade completes an entire inquiry unit on “How We Organize Ourselves,” where they explore leadership in their community and build teamwork skills that they use for the rest of the year.
  • Our 2nd grade works on team skills as they design their own team experience in their normal classrooms but also for their physical education experience.
  • Our IB Business course helps students practice team-building and team success as they develop proposals and business plans.

Of course, there are many other instances of how we help our learners learn group skills, but these are just a few of the highlights I have seen in my short term as librarian!

Next Post: Further Reading on Group Process

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Practicing Group Life

This is the third post in a five-post series on Group Life. For the first post, click here. For the second post, click here.

Today’s workshop was speedy, but it featured introductions to several techniques we might use with groups. Some will stimulate thought on how groups work. Some will be readymade for learners to use as they work on group facilitation skills. Here’s a brief description of each one and how they might align with stages of maintenance on The Waterline Model.

Prop To Y: Give a group early confidence in its ability to succeed by providing low-stakes tasks they can easily master. Prop To Y requires a set of props and a pile of notecards, each card with a verb phrase on them. Then, groups are randomly assigned a prop and a notecard and asked to answer this question: How Can You Use this Prop to Do Y. The group will have five minutes to create a plan to share with another team.

Task-Maintenance Spectrum: Groups should perform continual maintenance to understand each individual better. In the early days of a group, it’s useful to understand where each member falls on a spectrum between task and maintenance. Who cares more about how the group works together? Who cares more about getting stuff done? Arrange yourself along this spectrum (it’s not necessarily a polar choice), see where your teammates fall, and talk out why you’ve placed yourself where you have.

Roles & Goals Fishbowl:  After reviewing the Waterline Model, have one of the many groups in the room sit in the middle of the room with everyone else watching. Then, ask that group to discuss how they want to work together as a team. You can pepper that group with questions, but you should also write acts of Task and Maintenance that you witness the group performing. You might even ask others watching the interaction to do the same just so we come to an operating understanding about how to view Task and Maintenance occurring in a group. Of course, the entire conversation is pointed towards maintenance, but there are tasks that always be seen when the group will converse.

Signature Presence: How do I look/talk/act/think when I’m performing at my best in a group? How do I look/talk/act/think when I’m at my worst in a group? Your Signature Presence is your special uniqueness you bring to a group situation. By asking and answering these questions and letting your teammates know, you’ll enhance the support your group can offer you. Bill will know when Mary’s on fire and when he should stop and listen for a bit. Or, Bill might notice that something’s bothering Mary, so he’ll stop task and perform maintenance to bring Mary back to her signature presence.

Speedback: On the count of three, point to the leader in your group. Discuss. On three, point to the person you feel most comfortable with right now. Discuss. On three, point to the person you’d like to hear from next. Finger-vote: on a scale of 1 to 5, 1 being “beta-fish collaborate better than we do” and 5 being “we’re thoughtful, considerate all-stars!” show how you feel your group works together.

The goal of speedback is to get quick reads on how the group feels about its process. Some speedback can clarify roles and goals, while some speedback helps analyze group dynamics. Some speedback even points out the elephant in the room. Hey, the elephant is there: we might as well point it out so we work together to usher it out the door.

Johari’s Window: 

Graphic from’s article, “The Johari Window: Using Self-Discovery and Communication to Build Trust.” Click the graphic to be transported to the article.

When you push this far into the Waterline Model, maintenance will dive deep, but maintenance will also become highly productive. Johari’s Window asks all group members to acknowledge what they think they know about themselves that no one else knows, what they know about themselves that they think everyone else knows, and finally, the blindspot: what others know about an individual that that individual doesn’t know. Group members should actively strive to close their blind spots in order to improve group functionality. This last one I didn’t ask the entire faculty to complete. Instead, I passed a Johari Window about myself to let faculty fill out, and I made copies of the Window in case a brave group wanted to take this next step.

We practiced several other group process techniques, and not every group practiced every single technique. However, these are a sampling of the techniques that were introduced. Some are tools that we can all implement in our group experiences, and some are experiences that ask individuals to reflect more deeply on how they operate in groups.

We ended the workshop wondering: which techniques, tools and language should we help our students adopt and use, and which techniques, tools, and language should we adults facilitate for our kids?

The Next Post: Why Library, and Why Inquiry?

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