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Teaching Opinion

Teaching Design Thinking to Hack School and Prep for Complexity

By Tom Vander Ark — October 10, 2018 4 min read
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Sam Seidel’s appreciation for social justice started in a K-8 school named after Rosa Parks and Sonya Graham. It continued in high school at the historic and diverse Cambridge Rindge and Latin where he became involved with Cambridge Service Corps and engaged in building community solutions.

After teaching English, Seidel ran a student experience lab at the Business Innovation Factory in Providence. BIF was his first foray into design thinking and engaging student as designers. BIF engaged with Next Generation Learning Challenges and Sam had the opportunity to work with dozens of innovative schools nationwide.

A year ago, Seidel took on the role of Director of K-12 Strategy + Research at the Stanford d.School. The K-12 Lab offers workshops and tools to narrow the opportunity gap. With a bias for action, the Lab staff and partner organization experiment with new models and share design approaches with the sector.

After a decade at High Tech High, Laura McBain joined the Lab team as Director of Community and Implementation. By pushing educators beyond their comfort zone, Sam and Laura (pictured below) help educators develop new skills and mindsets.

In the early years of the d.School there was an emphasis on process but more recently it has been opening, “It is more about mindset, navigating ambiguity, and creative courage,” said Seidel.

On the K12 Lab mission, Sam reflects, “Is it our job to improve a system that tracks students where many lack access to powerful learning, or design a radically different system and equip an entire generation of problem solvers? You might guess the Lab is focused on the ladder. “If that’s our project,” added Seidel, “We need to develop system take partners.”

Schools are often infected with solutionitis, with educators jumping to packaged solutions. Design thinking, said Seidel, slows us down, it asks us to focus on the real root problem, it often reframes the challenge in a fresh and productive way.

K-12 Lab Projects

Discover Design Thinking, an introduction to design thinking for teachers and school leaders.

School Retool is a professional development fellowship that helps school leaders redesign school culture using small, quick experiments called “hacks.” Leaders get five days of coaching and school visits over three months. In addition to a plan, the leaders develop a “hack mindset” (below).

Deeper Learning Puzzle Bus applies the popularity of escape rooms to the imperative of helping students get better at crucial deeper learning skills. The Bus began as a prototype of a three-dimensional hands-on assessment of collaborative problem for students and educators. The Lab team is building other collaborative problem-solving experiences and assessments.

Equity Centered Design Framework was created in 2016 encourage vulnerability, self-awareness and courage as an equity-centered designer. They added two new design modes to the existing hexagonal d.school design thinking visual: Notice and Reflect (below).

The Shadow a Student Challenge encourages leaders to see school through a student’s eyes. It’s a crash course into learner experience and produces insights that drive meaningful change. Seidel suggests that school leaders “following a student furthest from opportunity,” to see gauge their access to powerful learning experiences.

Sam recalled experiencing an active shooter drill during his last student shadow experience. He found it difficult to refocus on school after the drill--a reminder of how fear impacts the children.

The d.School staff tries to follow their own administration to design in real time. After a recent design thinking workshop, several participants said, “I need more help taking it back to school.” Sam and his colleagues built another day of implementation planning and folks stuck around on a Saturday to prepared to take back what they learned to their school. Including three dozen k-12 students in the session allowed the school leaders to test drive solutions in real time.

To learn more, check out the Virtual Crash Course in Design Thinking and the K12 Lab Network wiki. And check out these design podcasts:

Mentioned in This Episode

Stanford d.school
Business Innovation Factory
Gates Foundation
High Tech High
Apple Exec on Rewiring Education
Digital Promise
Association for High School Innovation (AHSI)
Rhode Island Department of Education
Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC)
360 High School
School Retool
Discover Design Thinking
Olin College
Einhorn Family Charitable Fund
4.0 Schools
Shadow a Student Challenge
32 Ways AI is Improving Education

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The photos above were taken by Tom Vander Ark. The graphics are used with permission from the d.school.

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The opinions expressed in Vander Ark on Innovation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.