We can do this: design thinking as edu-therapy

The state of Vermont adopted the Education Quality Standards in 2014 and thus set in motion an education overhaul.  We needed it.  Schools in Vermont have been working hard to retrofit our systems in order to meet these new requirements, and with the class of 2020 as the first ones who will graduate measured by their proficiencies (proficiency based graduation requirements), this shift is literally just around the corner.

The staff at Lamoille Union knows this, and when we met for inservice last Friday morning, it became ever clearer that this transition will be both complex and challenging.  Among the concerns for our staff were issues around communication to parents and community members, changes to our grading and reporting practices, a need for common language, and what will be required of students who receive a high school diploma from LUHS.  Although there were many concerns, I believe that this is the first law that holds genuine potential to truly change the way we educate our students.  Still, it’s intimidating.  It’s overwhelming.  And it’s happening next fall.

 

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Kate Selkirk and Leah Hirsch look on as Brad Parker explains his prototype.

So how do we as educators get a strong grip on the changes that need to be made and welcome them?  Our first solid go at it was inspired by design thinking in a workshop led by Leah Hirsch and Kate Selkirk, two teachers at Quest to Learn in NYC, and in conjunction with the Institute of Play, also in NYC.  With their guidance, our faculty experienced design thinking with an introductory wallet design challenge.  Pairing up educators who don’t often work together, we opened the door for connection and collaboration, and judging from the positive feedback and laughter, it was enough to break the tension created earlier in wondering aloud what these changes might bring.

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Crowded around the art supplies like kids in a candy store

The power of play once again leveled the field, and we were able to move on to the real work.  Teachers met in interdisciplinary, cross-school groups which provided them the opportunity to have rich conversations void of any baggage.  The result was therapeutic.  Given license to think about all of the challenges inherent in How might wean overhaul, plenty of sticky notes gave their lives to thoughts and concerns.  Grouping them was the next task, after which followed the key to the work: “how might we…?”  It is an incredibly empowering question to ask, as within its structure is the idea that the person asking the question already knows the answer.  It was the proverbial leather therapist’s divan

As expected, solutions to those problems abounded.  Teachers started to see what was possible, dream about how it might happen, and be inspired by one another.    The simple use of the word “might” freed us.  It wasn’t, “How will we…?” In fact, Leah and Kate pushed the idea of thinking big and bold.  So our staff dreamt, and we considered, and we collaborated.  We realized that this change could be incredible, and that we have the human resources to handle it.  We felt better.

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In the end, after we grouped our thoughts into categories and considered what prototypes we might create as we ran out of time, we left for lunch with some important takeaways:

  • change can be intimidating, but realizing just how talented the teachers with whom you work are is incredibly comforting as you’re facing it
  • approaching a problem with design thinking is good therapy; it reminds you that the answers to your problems lie somewhere within
  • trust and a willingness to roll up your sleeves to do the hard work are two incredibly important components to creating lasting change

While design thinking set us on our way toward school-wide change, it is also something that can (and might I suggest, should) be used on a smaller scale in the classroom.  Check out Saga Briggs’ collection of 45 design thinking resources for educators if you’d like some ideas about where to start.  I’d love to hear about your experiences; feel free to leave comments!

 

 

Rowland, Rowland, Rowland

3“Better late than never” has never been one of my favorite aphorisms, but I feel the need to invoke it now.  I have been very fortunate to receive a Rowland Fellowship this year, and I have begun my adventure in earnest, but I am just now writing my first blog post.  I want to begin with a sincere thank you to Barry and Wendy Rowland.  Without their support and shared vision with Chuck Scranton, I would not be on this fantastic journey to bring the power of games and technology into more classrooms.  The Rowland Foundation is now forty-four fellows strong, and amazing work is being accomplished throughout the small state of Vermont because of them.  I step forward on this path in anticipation of making my own contributions, and will use this blog as a place to share my insights, ideas, and resources.

As a Rowland fellow, I will deepen my understanding of how the components of game-play are successfully applied to curriculum design and personalized learning.  I plan to design two humanities games based on the themes of Identity and Survival, as well as to create a template for games-based lessons that will offer time-starved teachers a faster, more accessible path to game-based learning.  My guiding principle will be to frame learning as an adventure as I increase the capacity of our Lancer One initiative and establish a mindset that embraces the wonder of games as powerful learning tools.

 

It is true that the world of game-based learning is ablaze with hot ideas and games being used successfully in the classroom, but from what I can tell, it’s only in pockets, and by no means pervasive.  I have had to ask myself why more people aren’t using games in their classrooms, and one of the reasons I’ve realized is that somewhere along the line, the ideas of adventure and fun as an expected part of learning were dismissed as incongruent with serious learning.  That conclusion is marred, and I will demonstrate that over the course of this blog.  Let me first start with a game that’s likely already taken hold of your students’ personal lives: Minecraft.

Minecraft is something that made its way into my classroom by request of my students.  During a unit on Utopia where I asked students to imagine their perfect schools, they asked if they could create the design in Minecraft.  I thought it was a great idea, and given the collaborative nature of the game, agreed that it was a perfect fit.  Students worked in groups to build their ideal schools in the Minecraft Pocket Edition on their iPads.  What I observed was complete engagement, and even better, genuinely thoughtful discussion about what makes a great school.  I should mention that I gave them no budget, so there were plenty of olympic-sized swimming pools and tricked-out dorm rooms, but the students’ conversation around what makes a great learning space (“We need more windows!”  “I think we need a dome so we can control the climate,”  and “Let’s make a place where we can just hang out when we get to school.”) was informed, insightful, and quite educational for me.

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A colleague of mine used Minecraft in her class during a unit of study on colonies.  Students were asked to create their own colonies, and they did so using the app.  Again, teamwork ensued, and creative discussion around choices and compromises were regularly taking place.  Minecraft offered us both the opportunity to encourage collaboration, creativity, and discussion in our classrooms.  I can see so many uses for this game in the classroom–exploring cells in Science either teacher-designed or student-designed, tapping into Common Core goals in math, exploring Westward Expansion in social studies (stake a flag and get building!), recreating classic works of art in pixelated form in Art class…just a few ideas.  Teachers might look at Minecraft as an equivalent to Legos, with the added bonus of collaboration built in, and no blocks to lose or clean-up when the bell rings.  Enjoy exploring!

*Game piece rider art credit to the amazing Natalie Reed