Saturday, September 12, 2015

Innovation Incubator Part II: Learning Design Thinking

This is the second post in a series documenting our experience with design thinking and the Innovation Incubator Team in 15/16. Post 1 can be found here. 

Starting with Design Thinking

From the start, we knew we wanted to implement principles of Design Thinking in our Innovation Incubator pilot. Design Thinking is a process that seems to have gained quite a bit of traction in educational circles recently, and East Leyden Principal Jason Markey (@JasonMMarkey) has been investigating it for a few years through collaborations with other educators and reading the work of David and Tom Kelley, pioneers in the Design Thinking model. In short, Design Thinking is a process and a mindset that has been developed by the Design School ("dSchool") at Stanford. 

The dSchool Website describes it in terms of human centered, cross-disciplinary, creative problem solving (boldface mine):  

The is a hub for innovators at Stanford. Students and faculty in engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education find their way here to take on the world’s messy problems together. Human values are at the heart of our collaborative approach. We focus on creating spectacularly transformative learning experiences. Along the way, our students develop a process for producing creative solutions to even the most complex challenges they tackle. This is the core of what we do.    (From dSchool at Stanford, "Our Point of View: Innovators not Innovations")

The idea is that this process can be used to creatively approach a wide array of problems, whether it's designing a physical product, or a process, or a classroom arrangement. The typical graphic illustrating the design thinking process is below: 

Image Credit:

An alternate image describing the process is here, from the Design Thinking for Educators toolkit:

Image Credit :

Whichever model you use, the basic steps are the same, although they are fluid and iterative.

  1. Empathy/Discovery: At this stage, designers have to gather data about the problem. Specifically, you need to talk to your end "users," and gather all of the information you can without analysis (yet). This could be interviews with students or teachers, or it could be shadowing someone throughout their day to get a sense of what that person's experience is like. You have to really empathize with the lived experience of the user to get a handle on his or her needs with respect to the design problem. 
  2. Definition/Interpretation: At this point, designers pool their data and attempt to make sense of it. You would look for patterns in the data, or themes that repeatedly pop up. In this stage, designers might attempt to find the particular pain points of the user that might be minimized, or delight points that might be emphasized. After this point, the design team should have a central question to guide the work. Often, these are stated as "How Might We's." For example, "How might we design a classroom that allows for movement and student collaboration?"  
  3. Ideation: Once the data has been sorted through and analyzed, the brainstorming process begins. Creativity and expansive thinking is encouraged, including a "Yes And" mindset. That is, no matter what the idea is being discussed, no matter how wild and unrealistic, participants must add to it starting with "Yes AND...". Unfortunately, it highlights how easily we slip into, "Yes, BUT..." or "No, because" thinking. At the end of this stage, designers end up with a general plan regarding how to solve the design problem. 
  4. Prototype/Experimentation: One of the pillars of the design thinking mindset (in my interpretation) is to use cheap, easily available materials to prototype your solution. We used pipe cleaners, scrap cardboard, tongue depressors, craft materials randomly purchased from hobby stores, and sticky notes. Lots and lots of sticky notes. 
  5. Testing/Evolving: Once the prototype is developed, designers test it out on the original users to determine if the solution meets their needs. If there are tweaks necessary, designers gather more information from the users and iterate through the process again. 
(Other resources I've collected on Design Thinking)

Designing the Lunchroom Experience

Our Professional Learning Planning Team consists of myself, our building level administrators (Principals, Assistant Principals for Teaching and Learning, and Assistant Principals for Student Supports), and our Department Chair for Student Supports (which includes the instructional coaching program).

To get ourselves started in the process, we brought in Erik Burmeister (@MrBPrincipal), currently the Assistant Superintendent at Menlo Park City School District in Campbell, California. Erik does consulting work related to design thinking and led our team through the process with a group of students as our "users." Specifically, we learned about the process by re-designing the lunchroom experience for students.

In the following pictures, you can see us presenting our final designs to a group of students who we had interviewed earlier in the day about their lunchroom experiences. Needless to say, they were happy to hear their ideas incorporated in our final designs.

Designing the lunchroom experience

Presenting our prototypes to students

Designing the Incubator's Experience

Once we had gone through the design thinking experience once, we thought we should try it with our innovation incubator teachers. Specifically, we had the team assembled in 14/15 but we didn't know what this very different experience would look like for them. In the "Empathy" stage, we brought them together and asked them a series of questions about their needs, wants, and expectations for the 15/16 school year.

Defining the Experience for the Innovation Incubator Teachers

Trying to define the issues

Our administrative Ideating and Prototyping

After going through their information, and trying to be empathetic about their needs for the following year, we tried to come up with a plan for the first year of the Incubator project. One of our first steps was to schedule a Design Thinking experience for those teachers.

First Steps: Design Thinking and Learning Spaces

We brought in our incubator teachers for two days after the 14/15 school year had ended to work with another consultant, Morley McBride from Createdu. Morley developed a two day experience for the Incubator teachers, using student volunteers to help design ideal learning spaces.

Defining the Problem: What are our "Dots"?

Tendency toward action

Starting with Prototyping

Building prototypes

One of the classroom prototypes developed

Presenting models to students

At the end of the experience, the learning space designs we developed were not the most important products (although we were able to incorporate some of the principles into existing learning spaces). 
Most significantly, we realized that we didn't know enough about our users (students) and their needs to strictly define what it was we wanted to innovate yet. Instead, we developed the overall design question for the Year: "How Might We Enhance the Overall Student Classroom Experience?"

Plan outlined in June 2015 for Innovation Incubator Teams

You can see from the picture of our summarizing discussion that we developed a schedule for the innovation teachers to engage in their own design process. This started with developing question stems and scheduling time with different groups of students to try to uncover their needs in creating an enhanced classroom experience.

NEXT UP: What did we learn from our Empathy/Discovery experiences with students? 


Innovation Incubator Part I: Jump-Starting Innovation
Innovation Incubator Part II: Learning Design Thinking
Innovation Incubator Part III: Empathy Leads to Understanding
Innovation Incubator Part IV: Building the Model


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