18 posts categorized "The Problem Finders"

November 26, 2014

Inside Out Thinking Down Under - provocation for learning

Provocations lead to deep, broad learning, and students tend to learn more, faster as a result. I've been showing educators how this is so, and how to do it, for the past five years with my motley crew. New Zealand educator Rob Ferguson woke me up this morning with a tweet, about how a provocation (the video, above) led to his students not just "doing art" for their 10th Grade assessments, but "doing art" to make a difference, as part of a global movement of artists:

B3WwbgbCEAIQuCN

This might seem simple, but at play is some good, deep thinking. The provocation, through the video clip, comes at the beginning of learning, along with many other resources and content sources in an immersion that will contradict, delight, frustrate and generate a discord. This is not PBL where the teacher creates just one problem or open-ended 'essential' question, but a more realworld scenario where conflicting and provocative takes on several subject matters create confusion and discord. This discord is what sets students off to "problem-find" for themselves, seeking the genuine core of the many problems and many potentially 'essential' questions being presented. Having synthesised down to their own problem, or "how might we" statement, students will set out to ideate and prototype their solutions to the problem, or their way of showing off what they have learned. Often the ingredients used in the provocation will reappear in the prototypes, of which the photo above is one example.

Simple on the surface, deep, complex, frustrating, confusing learning on the underbelly: that is what we mean by design thinking for learning. And not a 3D printer or robot in sight!

You can read more about the use of provocation to create innovation in your school in my latest book, How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen.

March 21, 2014

Lessons from Disney Pixar on how creativity leads to more summative success

Pixar and Creativity.001

Pixar, since it was purchased by Disney, gives off an air of resilient creative and commercial success, but the journey is rarely that smooth. In fact, the more creative the output, the more commercially successful it is, for Pixar at least, and the processes used by the teams is remarkably close to what we see in highly effective classrooms.

During a keynote en français in Québec, I wondered why learning today sometimes felt less personalised than 30 years ago when personal computers first hit my primary school. Inspiration came to me from my daughters, Catriona and Anna, as for the nth time they sang along to the karaoké version of Disney's Frozen title track, Let It Go:

I was fascinated by the obvious success of this film in hooking my kids, and wondered if I might be able to make some links between what we know works, from the research of Dylan Wiliam, Hattie and the like, and what we see works in the creative industries with films like this. Much of the insight comes from a new book by Pixar’s President, Ed Catmull, which is released this April: Creativity, Inc.. Excerpts from the book can be read in this month’s Fast Company.

1. We all start out ugly

“After the original leaders of animation left Disney in the 1990s, the new people running things were from production. And they brought their values, which were to keep the production people busy and productive with one movie after another. So story development was organized in the same way they organized production. As a consequence of this "feed the beast" mentality, a balance was lost at Disney.

“The cost of that becomes clear when you think of how a movie starts out. It's a baby. It's like the foetus of a movie star; we all start out ugly. Every one of Pixar's stories starts out that way. A new thing is hard to define; it's not attractive, and it requires protection. When I was a researcher at DARPA, I had protection for what was ill-defined. Every new idea in any field needs protection. Pixar is set up to protect our director's ugly baby.”

This process is markedly not just a creative one - it involves critical thinking, too. But the point at which critical analysis is introduced is, well, critical. Too early, you kill your baby before it has a chance to grow fully. We do this all the time when we survey progress too early, or don't know what the purpose of an immersion period is.


2. We’ve been through the process ourselves. We share the language and steps

“People who take on complicated creative projects become lost at some point in the process. It is the nature of things--in order to create, you must internalize and almost become the project for a while, and that near-fusing with the project is an essential part of its emergence. But it is also confusing. Where once a movie's writer/director had perspective, he or she loses it. Where once he or she could see a forest, now there are only trees.”

Key to making sure that the balance is struck, and struck at the right time, is having a process on which you can depend, and which everyone in the team can trust. Most creatives we know at NoTosh use design thinking, or some version of it. The language between each team is different, but the language within each team is shared and common.

They all recognise that in the initial period of immersion it is too early to make the call as to the worthiness of any given problem or challenge. By synthesis they know that there is an opportunity to critique, to make sure that we’re headed on the right path. By the time you enter the ideation, prototyping and feedback loop, you are constantly starting and stopping, but each idea is small enough, light enough and on strong enough foundations of the immersion, to cope with tweaks, both major and minor. New ideas can get ditched easily, with a fresh crop of better ones emerging from the dust of the feedback.


3. Decide on your rules

“Earlier, before the screening, Pete had described what they'd come up with so far. "What's inside the mind?" he asked his colleagues. "Your emotions--and we've worked really hard to make these characters look the way those emotions feel. We have our main character, an emotion called Joy, who is effervescent. She literally glows when she's excited. Then we have Fear. He thinks of himself as confident and suave, but he's a little raw nerve and tends to freak out. The other characters are Anger, Sadness--her shape is inspired by teardrops--and Disgust, who basically turns up her nose at everything. And all these guys work at what we call Headquarters."

“That got a laugh, as did many scenes in the 10-minute preview that followed. Everyone agreed that the movie had the potential to be, like Pete's previous film Up, among our most original and affecting. But there seemed to be a consensus that one key scene--an argument between two characters about why certain memories fade while others burn bright forever--was too minor to sufficiently connect audiences to the film's profound ideas.

“Midway down the table, Brad Bird shifted in his chair. Brad joined Pixar in 2000, after having written and directed The Iron Giant at Warner Bros. His first movie for us was The Incredibles, which opened in 2004. Brad is a born rebel who fights against creative conformity in any guise. So it was no surprise that he was among the first to articulate his worries. "I understand that you want to keep this simple and relatable," he told Pete, "but I think we need something that your audience can get a little more invested in."

“Andrew Stanton spoke next. Andrew is fond of saying that people need to be wrong as fast as they can. In a battle, if you're faced with two hills and you're unsure which one to attack, he says, the right course of action is to hurry up and choose. If you find out it's the wrong hill, turn around and attack the other one. Now he seemed to be suggesting that Pete and his team had stormed the wrong hill. "I think you need to spend more time settling on the rules of your imagined world," he said.

“Every Pixar movie has its own rules that viewers have to accept, understand, and enjoy understanding. The voices of the toys in the Toy Story films, for example, are never audible to humans. The rats in Ratatouille walk on four paws, like normal vermin, except for Remy, our star, whose upright posture sets him apart. In Pete's film, one of the rules--at least at this point--was that memories (depicted as glowing glass globes) were stored in the brain by traveling through a maze of chutes into a kind of archive. When retrieved or remembered, they'd roll back down another tangle of chutes, like bowling balls being returned to bowlers at the alley.

“That construct was elegant and effective, but Andrew suggested that another rule needed to be clarified: how memories and emotions change over time, as the brain gets older. This was the moment in the film, Andrew said, to establish some key themes.”

If it takes a long time for Catmull to describe the formation of rules that guide the creation of a film, it takes an equally long time to make them clear in a learning situation. Taking Dylan Wiliam’s five key areas that teachers and schools might develop, one might feel that there are ready-made rules about “the way we should teach and learn”, ready to take off the shelf:

Dylan Wiliam.001

But schools need to have internal discussions amongst staff about how to internalise these into the story they are trying to tell, with their clientèle in their locale, work out what the rules of their game are. Then teachers have to have the same conversations with their students, taking time out to think about thinking, to learn how to think - those learnings become the rules of engagement for the class, keeping learning on the straight and narrow, even when a project is complex, even when the project team is only seeing trees and no forest.

 

4. Know how to take feedback, and find a producer to help you through it

“An important corollary to the assertion that the Braintrust must be candid is that filmmakers must be ready to hear the truth; candor is only valuable if the person on the receiving end is open to it and willing, if necessary, to let go of things that don't work. Jonas Rivera, the producer of Pete's film, tries to make that painful process easier by "headlining" the main points of a Braintrust session--distilling the many observations down to a digestible takeaway. Once this meeting wrapped up, this is what he did for Pete, ticking off the areas that seemed the most problematic, reminding him of the scenes that resonated most. "So what do we blow up?" Jonas asked. "And what do you love? Is what you loved about the film different now than it was when we started?””

Getting critiqued is never pleasant, even if you’re used to feedback and feed forward from your peers. Despite the feeling that we give good feedback to students, teachers are, in a decade of seeing their feedback on conferences, less strong at giving feedback on their own learning. It takes work, effort, energy and sometimes a little painful learning to get feedback that is, in the words of Ron Berger, Kind, Specific and Useful. In the film industry, the Producer’s job in these “brain trust” advisories is to capture that feedback, headline it and begin to make it as useful as possible for the Director, who’s just had his worked critiqued, and might feel a bunch of things, not all positive.

In a classroom setting, when we are giving and receiving feedback, who is the third person playing the role of Producer?

 

5. The Pupils' View

During my talk, I asked a group of seven students to act as my own braintrust during the talk, providing me with the actions they as students might undertake to make a vision of a more shared learning journey come true, and to highlight which elements of this (new and slightly too hot-off-the-press talk) I should emphasise in the future. Here's what Marianne, Laurie, Marie-Pier, Roxanne, Mathieu, Éloïse and Joana from l'Ecole des Sentiers put to me via Twitter, and what I read out as my conclusions for the talk:

  • As students, we must also get involved! When teachers offer ideas using technology, they are easily discouraged, but students also have their long journey to undertake, too.
  • We must show them that we are interested and we are ready to encourage. Teachers feed the enthusiasm of their students.
  • We should be encouraged to be creative, to risk failure to rise, dust ourselves down and be better next time. Do not prioritize performance above all else.
  • As students we should create a school forum where everyone would be comfortable giving their ideas and asking questions.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions and to assert your ideas, as the opinion of the students is also important. We have a head on our shoulders.
  • And sometimes we can see things from another side :)
  • Our idealistic idea: find a way to finance the purchase of tablets for each pupil. There’d be no more need for a heavy textbook, manual or notebook. And we could connect with interactive whiteboards, with communication between student and teacher encouraged. There’s also an ecological advantage.
  • Students want to be involved in the course. No more lectures. Students could also talk in front of the class, expose other ideas, what we have understood. Help us not to have to depend on teachers so much.
  • Students would be able to give their ideas, eg for course topics or written work ... All ideas are welcome.
  • Suggesting an idea is the best demonstration of intelligence.
  • Do not aim solely at the acquisition of specific skills encourage overall development.
  • We must be able to define our own rules :)

En tant qu'élèves, on doit aussi s'impliquer! Quand les enseignants proposent des idées en utilisant les technologies, ils se decouragent facilement. Donc les élèves on aussi leur bout de chemin à faire.
Il faut leur montrer qu'on est intéressé et qu'on est prêt à les encourager. Les professeurs se nourrissent de l'enthousiasme de leurs élèves
On devrait être encouragé à la créativité, le risque, à tomber pour se relever meilleur. À ne pas prioritiser les performances.
En tant qu'élèves nous devrions créer un forum école où tout le monde serait bien à l'aise de donner leurs idées et poser leurs questions
Pas avoir peur de poser des questions et de s'affirmer, car l'opinion des élèves est aussi important. On a une tête sur les épaules
Et on voit parfois les choses d'un autre côté :)
Idée idéaliste: trouver un moyen de financer l'achat de tablettes propres à chaque éleve. Plus besoin de manuels ni cahier de notes,
Et connecter avec les tableaux interactifs, la communication élève-prof est favorisée. Avantage écologique également
Les élèves veulent être impliqué dans les cours. Plus de cours magistraux, les élèves pourraient aussi parler en avant de la classe, exposer
Aux autres leurs idées, ce qu'ils comprennent. S'aider entre nous et ne pas dépendre des enseignants
Les élèves aimeraient pouvoir donner leurs idées, par exemple pour les sujets de cours ou de productions écrites… Toute les idées sont bonnes
Une idées c'est la plus belle demonstration de l'intelligence
Se developer en tant que personne a l'école. Ne pas viser l'acquisition de compétence trop spécifique et encourager le développement global.
Il faut pouvoir définir nos propres règles :)

EchofonLiteScreenSnapz001

December 21, 2012

Bach: the Design Thinker

Bach music

As a teenager I loved playing Bach on the piano, an instrument that for most of my playing time I was maybe less than loving about. It was all about first of all learning the rudiments, then adding in what you felt about it, then bringing the parts together into a whole that always felt greater than the sum of those elements I'd practiced in bar-by-bar, note-by-note detail. Today, I still play music - percussion - and it's the same process, I guess, that I describe in Bach: learn the rudiments well, pull them together bit by bit, then unleash the whole to see what it sounds like together with the band.

This process is not dissimilar to design thinking, the way of structuring one's thinking so as not to miss out on a potentially epic idea or solution to a problem that we've been harnessing across the schools with whom we work. Rebecca Cochran has taken Bach's music and composing style to reveal how in composing these he, too, was following many of the design thinking processes and habits of mind. In her blog post she explains each one in greater detail:

  • Bach combined the analytical with the intuitive.
  • Bach employed iterative prototyping.
  • Bach took inspiration from a broad range of experiences and cultures.
  • Bach co-created with others.
  • Bach regularly embraced constraint as a source of creativity.
  • Bach wrote music for the people. 

Hat tip on this, I think, is Tom. Pic from Magnuscanis.

August 22, 2012

What's the difference between PBL and Design Thinking?

Bianca Hewes and some others were last night asking some good questions to seek out the difference between design thinking and project-based learning (PBL) as techniques for use in the classroom. These kinds of questions we explore through out workshops with educators around the world, and there's an explanation developing in a book I hope to release soon. In the meantime, here's a quick and dirty take on the question from me:

For much of the past three years my colleagues and I been working through a specific innovation process with educators on the one hand, and non-education organisations on the other: media groups, technology startups, fashion companies, the UN, political parties... The process is design thinking.

When we work with creative, government or political organisations, the approach is a logical extension of what they're doing, a welcome structure through which to explore a wider scope of a given challenge.

When we work with schools, we're taking the Design Thinking process and marrying it with what we know from research about what makes great learning. However, there's a piece of vocabulary that often gets in the teachers' way of seeing what design thinking might bring to the learning process: PBL, or project-based learning. "It's just PBL"; "This is the same as CBL": the understanding of a model which is close, but not quite the same to design thinking, makes it harder to spot the differences and additional elements that could help enrichen practice.

So what are the key differences between a PBL project and one where design thinking is mashed with what we know makes learning great? (N.B. Following some criticism on Twitter, I feel it is worth pointing out that these reflections are just that, reflections on practice I've either observed first hand or have researched online. Don't get mad: comment and take part in the discussion).

0. Important point: there's probably less of a #PBL vs Design Thinking distinction to make, but rather, how can design thinking add to existing well-kent pedagogies of PBL?

1. A PBL project tends to explore a relatively narrow subject area, with a narrow essential question
In many, if not most PBL, projects I've seen, the project is defined by the essential question(s), which often sound like curricular checkpoints, or which funnel learning down a particular pre-defined path. In many, the groupings of students and their activities are defined (the film crew, the researchers, the presentation-makers, the event organisers).

In Design Thinking, the goal is to explore the widest possible area(s) for longer, to offer a good half-dozen or more potential lines of enquiry that students might end up exploring. The essential question(s) come much later in the process (as much as half-way through, in the synthesis stage) and...

2. In Design Thinking, the students, not the teacher, write the essential question(s)
In PBL, the teacher does a lot of the learning for the student: taking a large potential area of study and narrowing it down into a manageable project question. The teacher often delivers a "brief" for learners through two or three essential questions, much in the same way as a client delivers a brief to a design firm.

In Design Thinking, the teacher avoids asking a question at all, and comes up with what we call a generative topic (from David Perkins' work), a curiosity-mongering statement that opens up an area of study, doesn't narrow it down. The questions that come from this investigation are the ones that students will go on to look at in more detail, come with ideas around solving or presenting.

Design firms like IDEO and our own web designers at NoTosh often take a brief from a client and then through their research, they change it. However, in learning, the use of a generative topic from the start speeds up the process, and teaches this skill of "helpful disobedience" of the brief. There's little difference, in fact, between a traditional project-based learning experience and a deep design thinking experience if the educator is giving a brief: design thinking merely adds some structure to PBL, a new vocabulary, and, it seems from every workshop I spot online, lots of LEGOs, pipe cleaners and post-its. There is more to Design Thinking for learning than this utilitarian service-improvement model that's currently getting big airtime!

A large part of our work with educators is working on how to develop higher order questioning skills in students. So many Design Thinking projects we observe elsewhere at the moment are based around relatively lower order questions, or on just school/community improvement. Design Thinking can be so much more than this, but it takes the marriage between Design Thinking as a creative industries process and the best educational research we can find. It's hard to find people teaching Shakespeare, religious studies or mathematics through the process, the very things we're seeing educators through our work begin to achieve. Core to raising that ambition is raising the quality of questioning in both teachers and students, something that remains untouched in most schools.

3. The ideas of what students will produce in PBL are often set by the teacher.
In Design Thinking students make the choice about what their prototype will be. Prototype or product ideas for learning are often set in advance in a PBL project ("you will produce a film", or "you will be able to use multimedia and text").

In Design Thinking the decision about which medium to use to show an idea lies entirely with the students, and again comes later in the process, when they know more about the initial exploratory topic.

4. Design Thinking provides a set of vocabulary that increasingly makes sense to employers in the creative, financial and governmental and innovation sectors.
The biggest challenge with PBL is that it was invented for education by educators. Design Thinking was created 30 years ago by a product design outfit (IDEO) as a way of working and thinking, to help provide better solutions to clients. The process helped bring about the graphical interface and computer mouse. It's now coming into the language of many large firms as they seek a more structured way to innovate.

The language PBL uses is, by contrast, inconsistent and not usable outside the classroom. So, using a process that encourage deeper, wider thinking AND helps develop a life skill provides great value to learners.

5. And what about Understanding by Design..?
When we first came across Understanding by Design, or UbD, it felt, in the words of those harnessing it, very similar to their first impressions of design thinking. However, there's a key difference. UbD involves the educator deciding on a final view of success and working back from that, designing learning towards the final goal. Design Thinking does it the other way around.

UbD almost tries to give students the impression they have choice, responsibility for their learning, real things to create in order to learn, but in fact, it fails to respect the choices learners make, as tangents are a) less likely to appear (the immersion phease of research at the beginning is narrower by design) and b) less likely to be given time and resource by the teacher when they do appear (such tangents are off the goal that the teacher has already set in mind).

Although controversial to say, I feel that UbD and many project-based learning approaches do nothing but disempower the learner, or at least not empower them any more than traditional coursework and chalk-and-talk. It's maybe less the approach that is wrong (since depth and higher order thinking is a staple of most guides to project-based learning) but the practice that ends up occurring as people find themselves pushed back into the status quo of assessment accountability and content coverage fear from their superiors. As a result, many design thinking projects we see are too narrowly designed around school or community improvement, something Reggio Emilia and Montessori schools have been doing (better?) for scores of years. Why are we not seeing PBL or Design Thinking taking place across whole school curricula, from Shakespeare to science, school canteens to Cantonese?

It's time people look more seriously towards the amazing work done by educators in Europe and Australia, where design thinking is truly stretching the scope within which learners operate. There. I said it! :-) And I promise that over the next six months we'll share even more of those amazing learning stories.

This is a brief outline of five key differences between the two approaches. As I wrote above, there is a new book coming out soon from me outlining the amazing work done by our Design Thinking Schools and creative clients around the world. This will provide the depth that some folk might want after this briefest of explanations. We also run intensive workshops for educators and creative firms, wherever you are in the world, that help enthuse staff and set them out on the journey towards more student-led learning. If you're interested in one of those, just get in touch.

February 25, 2012

Clair 2012: Le design thinking, du studio à la classe

NoToshClair2012

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.

How To Start An Education Revolution

Part of the manifesto is an ongoing Revolutionary Google Doc, developed in a furiously productive 50 minute BarCamp session that I led on Starting A Revolution. I've been reading Gene Sharpe's work on real, political revolutions, and wanted to produce a live, step-by-step guide to education revolution, much along the same lines:

 

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.

January 31, 2012

Invest Time To Make Time

Time
One of our proudest long-term Design Thinking School programmes is taking place in Sydney, Australia, with MLC School. Back in November we kicked off a programme of pedagogical change, to inform a new school bulding, with an intensive design thinking workshop. More on that soon over on the NoTosh site.

It has already led to a different type of language being used in the school: refreshingly, instead of "yes, but", we are now hearing "what if..." and "so what, who cares..." as the key questions asked around policy ideas and pedagogy.

But the biggest challenge that came through our Building Blocks challenge, sourcing the main blocks to change, was Time (or the lack of it). You can see time forming as the key concern in the middle of this timelapse of the process:

 

Tom and I traded a few ideas based on the way we work, harnessing GTD, the Done Wall and a vision founded on fuzzy goals that allows us to achieve a lot without getting bogged down too much in adminstering that creativity.

A throwaway phrase in one exercise, though, was the notion that, at the end of the day, we have to invest time to make time. James, one of our star music teachers, explains on his blog:

"INVEST TIME TO MAKE TIME". This motto, which I have since repeated to myself daily, has been my ticket to FREEDOM. It has given me the courage to change the way I do things as it has taken the guilt and anxiety away from "wasting" time in class (and on my own at my desk) to plan topics and projects WITH my students.

Yes, I may spend two entire lessons with my students planning a learning project, but the earnings on this relatively small investment are so high (and not only time wise). I get through more topics in a shorter amount of time (tick, tick, tick goes my virtual pen on my syllabus document), the students are more engaged and consequently put MORE time and effort themselves into the project.

From the workshop I have also held quite tightly onto... [the] image of the curriculum being like a 3D matrix...: instead of working through our syllabus in a linear manner, we could visualise all the student outcomes in a three-dimensional matrix and tick them off at different points in time as the students meet them through their various projects. This is also a great way to help us see that interdisciplinary teaching through project based learning is DOABLE.

So, INVEST TIME TO MAKE TIME... in any area of your life, really.

Photo from Noukka Signe

January 16, 2012

Design Thinking 2: Immersion - don't give students a problem to solve...

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.

When we began working with our schools in Brisbane, we explained Immersion like this: 

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.

This key idea is what I explored in my TEDxLondon talk on the problem finders:

 

Now you can see for yourself how this plays out in the classroom in the video produced by the Brisbane Catholic Education Office.

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.

January 11, 2012

Release the reins of learning: an annual post-script from... my mum

Reins

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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]
  3. 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.
  4. 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? 

January 10, 2012

Design Thinking 1: Overview of a transformative learning ethic

Design Thinking Brisbane from Danielle Carter on Vimeo.

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:

  1. 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;
  2. 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.

January 05, 2012

Collaboration 7: Implementing the Wrong Solution

Wrong solution
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

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).

Picture from Noel C

About Ewan

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.

Ewan’s education keynotes & MasterClasses

Module Masterclass

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.

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