When we're working with schools on our Design Thinking School programme, one of the easiest ways to explain what we're looking for in the way a project is set, is whether the statement or questions being asked can be Googled easily: is this a Googleable or Not Googleable topic?
Every topic, every bit of learning has content that can be Googled, and we don't want teachers wasting precious enquiry time lecturing that content. We want students, instead, to be using class time to collaborate and debate around the questions that are Not Googleable, the rich higher order thinking to which neither the textbook nor the teacher know the answers.
One of our schools in Brisbane, Star of the Sea Cleveland, took my "Googleable" / "Not Googleable" to a very literal end, when they pinned up two headings and got students to post-it each and every question in the class, categorising those which could be searched quickly (the lower order questions) and those which they should dwell on in class time.
This is the kind of meaty discussion that we want in class, and making it explicit in this way means that we cut to the higher order thinking so much quicker.
Read more from our Brisbane school, and how the rest of this particular lesson worked out, on our shared blog.
While sitting in on a seminar on Mental Toughness as a teachable, as well as genetic, attribute, I came across the work of Dutch researcher Nico Van Yperen. Being mentally tough means that we take control of our futures, we enjoy challenges as opportunities rather than threats, and we have deep involvement in meeting our own, personal goals. But if you're a leader, your actions can also be responsible for helping or hindering others' capacity to have mental toughness:
Van Yperen believes it is possible to influence achievement orientation. Generally, one's environment will shape these choices. For example, work settings with a compensation system that identifies and rewards individual performance will encourage a performance orientation.
One that rewards groups of people equitably encourages a mastery orientation.
Managers' comments drawing attention to the task encourage mastery. Comments comparing individuals encourage a performance orientation.
Managers who display their own pleasure when performing the same tasks as their people, encourage mastery. Those who don't, encourage a performance orientation.
Hard working, effective employees are a valuable asset we'd like to preserve. Helping them be satisfied in their work by encouraging a mastery achievement orientation is one way to do it.
Design Thinking father Tim Brown blogged a while ago this great pleading from some of Britain's best designers and design educators for Government and schools to heighten the importance of design, technology, design thinking and prototyping skills through the vehicle of engineering subjects such as design and technology. It's a great clip, with many great reasonings as to why making learning concrete makes so much sense.
However, as impatient as I ever am, it's not enough.
Design thinking - learning how to scope out and solve problems within seemingly vast areas of knowledge and experience - is something I believe belongs as a framework across the curriculum. It's as core a skill as literacy and numeracy, but a lot less well understood by teachers outside the design technology world. It needs the time, attention and thinking power of educators to be understood as a framework that contains so many of what we already know are powerful learning and teaching strategies for student improvement.
With NoTosh, I've been fortunate to foster and see the beginnings of this whole-school approach to design thinking in schools around the world, with our partners in the UK, US, Australia and the Far East. The Design Thinking School is taking hold in many areas, and challenging the status quo in some painful ways in others.
But challenging the status quo, that content cannot be covered unless a teacher or day-by-day curriculum is 'delivering' it, is what we're all about. And, school by school, that sea change - design thinking throughout the school, not just in the design technology class - is happening.
In early February I presented, in French, a 90 minute story about how design thinking and the educational worlds of formative assessment, school building, curriculum and assessment strategy are all bound together.
I wanted to show to the audience at Clair 2012 in New Brunswick, Canada, what can happen when these apparently unrelated worlds of technology startups, product design and formal education are bound together by leaders with foresight and an understanding of the detail and complexity of learning, amazing learning opportunities can happen.
It was a joy to speak about the complexity of learning and teaching, with the time and audience who got it - it was, after all, New Brunswick teachers that taught me how to really teach through their French immersion, project-led pedagogy.
It's the first time I've ever had a standing ovation for a talk, especially one that was 90 minutes and between opportunities for the audience to drink wine and eat cheese. I was taken aback by that. And even more humbled by the words from Stephen Downes, who also braved his fears of keynoting en français at the event:
I've had my criticisms of Ewan McIntosh in the past and I will no doubt have my criticisms of him in the future. But they will be a bit tempered from now on, I think. Ewan McIntosh weaved what can only be called magic at the conference I attended at Clair 2012, in northern New Brunswick. It wasn't simply because his French is easier to follow than his English ;) - he wove a tapestry of ideas together talking about what it is that will draw out students, interest them, engage them, and get them to be more than just followers of orders. It was one of the best presentations I've even seen - visually beautiful, low-keyed, personal and engaging. He has clearly learned a lot from his work with TED, but also, with 90 minutes to work with, the talk was never rush, never forced, and, in the end, exactly the right length. He received a standing ovation at the end, very much (to my observation) a rarity at education conferences. Well deserved.
I think part of it was to do with speaking French, but not because I was making an effort to speak it or anything, more that as a result of speaking my second language in an unfamiliar context I took extra care, and extra time from the normal 45 minute keynote sprint, to weave the complexities of our learning world in a simple way.
It was great fun, and I'm grateful to Roberto Gauvin, the Principal teacher at Clair's learning centre, for the opportunity to come through the metre-thick snow and -30˚C freeze to work alongside such a dedicated group of franco-canadian educators.
You can download a copy of the talk from the Clair 2012 website (right click/control click and select "Save As..."). Better still, you can see the actions stemming from it and other talks when you dip into the manifesto for change, the DeCLAIRation, a pragmatic document for change based on what we all heard from the four speakers and our many corridor conversations.
This growing document is designed by 100 educators who gave up a Saturday morning in a gym in Clair, to provide links to research that disprove the key naysayer arguments for curricular, assessment and pedagogical change in the classroom. Well, it's a dream document for a keynoter, even one with 90 minutes, because the Saturday morning exercise allowed us to revisit and question all those things we had heard from the keynoters through two days of conference, and back up our views with research and leading practice, rather than anecdotes.
It's open until March 11th for changes, and then we're going to use it to create change in the Francophone and, with some translation, the Anglophone worlds of education, by create a copy that can be sent to every politician and Principal we know.
Do you have a plan that you stick with, no matter what? Do you have a plan at all? Do you have a plan that you're prepared to give up totally when a student proposes something, anything, interesting? Are you patient, listening to what's going on, allowing yourself to be pulled, and slick enough (skilled enough?) to react and create something magical out of your box to make a lesson sing?
When we're working with our Design Thinking Schools the main challenge that comes up, at the beginning at least, is the desire of educators to forward plan to the extent that improvisations - or mistakes - can't be seized upon to create something much better than the plan the teacher had written, and probably stayed up until 11pm on Sunday night writing.
Stefon Harris explains in his TED Talk how this over reliance on the plan is, in jazz, a form of musical bullying. As someone who, in his early twenties, almost gave it all up to be a big band drummer, I know exactly what he means, and I know how it feels when 17 other musicians move their plan to accommodate for another's idea.
But I can also picture it in the classroom, where a "gift" is offered up by a students' question (or a student's lack of understanding) but isn't built upon by the teacher. Who or what are you going to allow to improvise and shift your plan today?
School timetables work for so few people, yet it's only a few daring souls that seem to be prepared to change them. A new piece of research adds to the evidence that more flexibility is required to make the most of the latent creativity in our learners and teachers.
At NoTosh we're working with several schools on reshaping their school timetables to create space for teachers and students to conference, one-on-one, on how the day and/or week will look for each student, personalising content and the way learning will be undertaken. We've also been taken with trying to map the energy levels of students and staff to better shape the overall day, discovering, for example, in one school that no-one was fit for learning well first thing on a Monday (quelle surprise), and suggesting we should start and end the day later.
Last night, via Mike Press, I found a new piece of research showing a counterintuitive effect of energy on creativity: the less fresh you are the better it is for your ability to think and act creatively:
"...Tasks involving creativity might benefit from a nonoptimal time of day.” What this means in everyday language is that morning people should try to solve problems requiring creative thought in the late afternoon, and evening people should undertake them in the morning.
So, where an entire school is fatigued first thing on a Monday is where people should be engaged in creative problem-finding projects, perhaps, rather than in learning the core content elements that might act as a foundation for some project work.
This is counterintuitive to many who believe that when we're fresh and full of energy we should invest our efforts in our "best" work - if you want to approach it creatively, it might be best to approach it when you're feeling less than your best.
The Future Belongs To The Curious - so says this compelling clip passed on by Christian Long. But so say the scores of teachers with whom we work, when we suggest to them that the average 13 years of compulsory schooling content can be covered, easily, in less than 13 years time if, in fact, students choose what they cover, and when.
This is the core tenet of the first phase of The Design Thinking School: Immersion.
The first phase of design thinking does not take one fifth of the time: immersion might take up to 70% of the process, as great observations can lead quickly to great ideas for solving real problems. It's a process of opening up opportunities to explore, not shutting them down. This is where, from a teacher's perspective, all control sometimes feels lost as students explore unexpected tangents. The trick is keeping out of the way, and letting students justify to themselves and to others why some tangents are worth exploring and others less so.
Immersion: observation and empathy with others
The act of just observing what goes on in the world is one that most adults struggle with: we want to jump to inferences and even come up with ideas to problems that we've perceived. But there's only one way to spot a great problem: find it through speaking with people, observing their "thoughtless actions", as Jane Fulton Suri puts it, noticing the small things that don't work, and the band-aid solutions people have to make the world around them work better. It's in these observations, and the empathetic process of putting yourselves in their shoes, that interesting problems no-one has solved, and questions to which no-one (yet) knows the answers, will emerge.
Observations might be made around a general theme or a more specific challenge (often framed in the "How might we…?" or "What would happen if…?" vein). The teacher's job with his or her students, much like the client working with creative design agency, is to negotiate the initial trigger of research, the brief, which needs to be
1. open-ended enough not to suggest a pre-existing bias or answer to be second-guessed
2. epic enough to be worth solving or working out (it needs to pass the "so what?" test of your average 14 year old, regardless of the age group of children working on the challenge)
3. negotiated enough to allow the students to find interesting tangents to explore, but the teacher to retrospectively see how curricular goals can be matched with their learning.
Tim Brown, CEO of Ideo, puts it this way:
"The key of a design thinking structure is enough flexibility with enough specificity to ground its ideas in the lives of their intended beneficiaries."
How about these for starters?
What would happen if we cut down the last tree?
What would happen if humans became extinct?
How might we create a carbon zero school?
How does an iPad know where it is?
What would happen if there were no religions?
How might we solve a problem that will improve the lives of 100 people in our local community?
You'll notice that these are not framed as problems, but rather generative challenges out of which many problems could be found. It is these subsequent problems that students will set out to solve. This means that in a class of 30 students, working in groups of three, four or five, you could end up with 10 different problems being solved within the same initial challenge. Or, you might find students being drawn to one problem in particular.
What they did with this process opened up their eyes to a much more enrichening curriculum approach than anything that had been 'carefully' planned by the teacher. Students didn't just cover what needed covered - they went up and over that limit to surpass the core curriculum, putting it in context, and bringing in other, new and existing content that made their project ideas work.
The key to success, and the differentiator compared to other problem-based learning approaches? Students, not teachers, work out the challenge they want to solve.
Tom: At Mount Vernon School in the United States, as part of the ITU Telecom World conference that we helped to reinvent with the participation of 10,000 young people through design thinking, one picture sticks in my mind. As part of the empathy phase young students, no more than six or seven years old, carried water, large canisters of water, from home to school. They had pain on their faces, sweat pouring down their cheeks. All this to better understand what it's like. Because they did that, they thought up better products, through a broader range of solutions.
Ewan: It's hard to teach that empathy/observation part. Teachers want to cover what they feel they want to cover. But empathy and observation is going to go beyond what you need to cover in any six week period, because this isn't a six week project. It's a way of working, a way of learning that frees up so much time later in the year or in the child's school career, with enough cooperation between schools. I wonder whether this is why 3-18 schools, independent mostly, are able to better understand the potential time saving and the ability to reduce the repetition most school students have to put up with.
Cassie: The immersion stage is a very difficult stage. It's not about generating a solution, drawing in a sketchbook, or Googling ideas or finding information. It's about finding emotions, people's feelings, finding empathy for the problem.
Miriam: When we were in that immersion stage and we were really trying to create that empathy, we were trying to get out of the students their feelings, what they thought about it and then what action can we take to be better? It was sort of empowering to them to see that they can do something about it. It's not just your teachers, your parents your school, you can actually go out there and do something about it.
I don't do guest posts, but when it's your mother it's hard to say no. A year ago I wrote the Times Education Supplement's New Year editorial, If you truly want to engage pupils, relinquish the reins and give them the chance to learn by doing. At the time, my ideas were young, we had only been playing with them for six months or so, and Mrs McIntosh senior (and Mr McIntosh senior) weren't entirely sure how these "great ideas" were actually do-able. So we had many a dinner-table chat, and from these, as is the wont of the McIntosh family, my mother wrote a blog post, dry, unpublished, and asked me to push it out when I felt the time was right. She has since pushed it on her own blog, but I thought I'd ressurect this revolution again here.
A year on, the ideas in that article have been playing out in reality in so many of the schools with whom NoTosh has worked, and so it feels appropriate to now publish the foresight, and challenge, in my mother's post, written a year ago today:
The Revolution: a traditional English teacher’s take. “Poetry, like all the arts, is useless” Thus began an introductory note, written in the 1940s, for Higher English students on the subject of poetry – a wonderful note which went on to demonstrate that a knowledge of poetry would not clothe or put a roof over the heads of those who knew how to approach it, it was nevertheless one of the most fulfilling cultural activities for students of English.
The question for an English teacher who is sensitive to the need both for the cultural aspects of the subject and for the transactional writing that underpins half the subjects in the secondary curriculum is how to achieve a balance within a revolutionised school curriculum. This is one vision – the vision of an English teacher who has bridged the period between “Projects in Practice” and Higher Still, and who sees Curriculum for Excellence as a half-baked attempt to have a bloodless revolution.
Transactional English in immersion learning through a central topic:If a whole school was immersed in a core topic such as Climate Change, dealing with everything from the Physics and Chemistry of the process through the social aspects and physical impact of change to the politics and journalism of dealing with it, then English writing and comprehension would be an integral part of the study. English specialists would have to be timetabled to be present in the area where such work was going on, to be a constant resource on the ground, to enable the best possible communication and expression of what was being done at all levels.
Expressive and cultural input – especially from S3 upwards – in English:This is where the biggest change might be seen to take place. It would be perfectly possible to deliver the kind of lesson that has always brought, say, a poem to life to a much larger group than has been traditional since the days when partitioned classrooms used to be opened up to allow one teacher to take 60 pupils in time of absence of staff shortage. I’m thinking Big Lesson, followed by group work by pupils with teacher participation, followed by plenary feedback with some kind of projected backdrop showing the results of the discussions. This would free up timetable time to allow for more flexibility.
[It always seemed a waste to me to have a whole year timetabled to be doing the same course at the same time when some of the work was suitable for this kind of treatment. It also seemed a shame for some pupils to be stuck with the one teacher for the two years, say, of S grade, when they could easily have a shot of someone who inspired them. There were often instances of pupils of one teacher coming to another for advice which was lacking in the class they were in]
Technology as the glue as well as the instrument:If pupils were not isolated in the womb-like classroom of individual teachers (I’ll speak for English classes now) for up to 6 hours a week, but could because of flexible working spaces have access to technology and subject specialists when they needed it, provision of an adequate number of computers should be less of a problem – and the maintenance of them might be made simpler if 20 computers were not buried in the room of a cack-handed technophobe who didn’t ensure they were properly functional.
I think the formative assessment of students involved in both the cultural and the transactional stages of English could be transformed by their doing all their working-out online, so that both the process and the input of the teacher could be publicly visible (whether in the wider world or on a closed school site). This would save teacher-hours in repeating the same mantras (eg about the embedding of quotation in a Critical Essay for Higher English) and allow learning to take place through study of past materials (something I always did, but which was limited by having limited copies of exemplars).
Final work could be submitted on paper if required, but I like the openness and accountability of the blog/ning model for ongoing assessment and appraisal. If twitter or other short-form communication were to be built in to the system, the resulting flexibility would expedite learning, mentoring, teaching, assessment and feedback – and none of these would be limited to the physical classroom or the 9-4 day.
The integration of the extra-curricular:It strikes me that if something like The Pupils’ View had been a more collaborative activity, we would have had the Business Studies people onside teaching effective skills in typing and layout instead of fighting over when we could use their computers – and there was much useful learning going on with phone skills, advertising, layout & design, sweet-talking advertisers, selling papers. None of that was ever recognised.
Obviously timetabling and resources, school buildings and staffing are at the heart of this, but it seems to me a way of developing the ideas you were sharing so that the interesting and purely cultural aspects of the subject are not subordinated. And I have taken no account whatsoever of the matter of discipline and the disaffected pupil.
In my experience, there is a great deal of slack time and wasted effort in teaching as it currently stands. C.M.M. 01/11
These are many of the actual, practical ways that teachers in our Design Thinking School are piecing together a new form of curriculum, assessment and ways of teaching and learning. What practices and ideas would you add?
In 2011, with NoTosh, I started a programme of learning with the Catholic Education Office in Brisbane, to transform learning with our Design Thinking School programme. Six months on, we've captured some of the teacher feedback, thanks to our film friends at the Education Office, and it's revealing more transformation, more engagement of teachers in their own learning, and more responsiblity of learning transferred to students than we could have ever hoped for.
Over a short series of posts I'll take you through the key elements of the process, what it looks like in the planning and execution phases and how students, teachers and leaders respond to it.
While Design Thinking is a process that dates nearly 30 years, born out of the firm IDEO in California, and we've only been working on the process in schools since the summer of 2010, the workshops and online community support that we've been nurturing in Brisbane and other locations around the world is based on two fairly unique elements of practice we're lucky to come across every day at NoTosh:
The marrying of what we know works best in learning, based on the most recent research on formative assessment, school design, experential and active learning, play and technology, with what we know about the creative process of design thinking;
Taking our regular work with tech startups, film and TV companies, fashion houses and designers to inform, update and validate the creative processes' likelihood of generating new knowledge, as well as reinforcing existing understanding.
I hope that my reflections on the forthcoming posts are useful. They're far from complete - there's a book later this year to get closer to that - but they might provide a starting point for working this out in your own classroom or, if you're seeking to change a school or district of schools, it might provide the starting point to get in touch to work together.
Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
Implementing the Wrong Solution
Following on from misdiagnoses, is finding the wrong solution. Learning Management Systems, as described earlier, were the wrong solution to the wrong problem. IT managers were convinced that some IT, instead of some psychology, would help solve the problem of teachers not sharing their work and ideas.
The same's true of those trying to 'protect' young people by not allowing them or encouraging them to post to the open world wide web: the problem is not so much internet predators as the lack of media literacy skills to not put oneself at risk online. The right solution here is not internet filtering or setting school blog platform defaults to 'private', but to set school blog defaults to 'public' and initiate a superb media literacy programme for every student, parent and teacher.
Morten T Hansen's answer is that we need disciplined collaboration, where leaders i) evaluate what opportunities there are for collaboration (where an upside will be created), ii) spot the barriers to collaboration (not-invented-here, unwillingness to help and preference to hoard one's ideas, inability to seek out ideas, and an unwillingness to collaborate with people we don't know very well).
Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.
His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.
Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?
In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.