Tag Archives: design thinking

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.

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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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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 d.school, and MKThink. The learning spaces of these places are so easily alluring.

Hillbrook has its I-Lab.

The d.school 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 d.school, 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 d.school 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 d.school, 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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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 d.school, 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?

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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.

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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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