Sunday, September 2, 2012

Teaching Design Thinking: Week One is in the Books

Tina Seeling writes in her new book inGenius that we keep telling our students that they can always invent their future but we ignore the fact that the heart of invention is creativity.  We do not teach creativity in schools.  We are selling our students an empty promise.

This year I have the unique challenge and thrill of teaching seventh and eighth grade students about creativity and problem solving.  For almost a decade I have been coaching students for creative problem solving competitions for Destination Imagination and Future Problem Solving.  However this is the first time I have had to design a class around those principles.

Thankfully creative people are so open to sharing.  I am borrowing heavily from the Stanford d.school K-12 site and from numerous e-mails to the Texas A&M University Institute for Applied Creativity.

My challenge this week was to embed two fundamental tenets of the class:  the opportunity for innovation is everywhere and to be a great problem solver you have to look at the challenge from different perspectives.

To begin our discussion on perspectives I used the Marshmallow Challenge.  I have used this challenge in class for a couple of years for a break away from the routine of school.  This year I used it to give the class a shared experience on the importance of perspective in problem solving.



I had eight groups of children attempt the challenge on Thursday, only three groups had a standing structure at the end of the eighteen minute time limit.  The lesson:  You forgot about the marshmallow.



The key to solving the challenge is to start with the marshmallow and build the structure from there.  The marshmallow is a metaphor for the people we are solving problems for - we can never forget to take their perspective into account when designing solutions to their problems.

We did the exact same challenge on Friday and seven of the eight groups had standing structures with the tallest being 24.5 inches.  They started with the marshmallow and worked their way down.



For homework this week the class had to post their reflections on the first week of class.  Here are their thoughts on the impact of the marshmallow challenge:

I learned that when solving problems, you should always be thinking about the person you're solving them for. 
Alice

In this past week I have learned to work better with others and--in the case of the marshmallow challenge--"always put the customer on top" (haha).
Ross

I learned that you should always be open minded and make several prototypes before the ta-da moment.
Tomas

Also I learned that everything we build has a marshmallow, all designs and innovations should cater to the customer, and that design plans should include several prototypes.
Saarang

We learned that good design has to go through many prototypes before reaching the final product, and that throughout the designing process the customer must always be kept in mind.
Michael

As the year goes on we will keep building on these concepts:  the world is ripe for innovation, fail fast and fail often and most importantly never forget the marshmallow.



2 comments:

  1. I am often bemused when I hear leaders ~ both in government & education ~ about how America is still the world's greatest country when it comes to creativity and innovation. In reality, we are fast approaching the end of the line. 10+ years into NCLB and a nation obsessed with testing ad naseum, it is only a matter of time when those claims will no longer be able to be made.
    Please continue to champion the cause of creativity in the classroom. Teachers like you are our last great hope.

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  2. Love to see some more photos of results to this - fun and sticky, I presume.

    It is true Lisa, that creativity can be stifled so much when trying to accommodate prescriptive testing into a classroom programme.

    I have lived with a creative man, to whom many times I have raised my eyebrows at his creative results to problems.

    This can be so devastating to an emotionally sensitive soul even within marriage, let alone to a student who feels the bite of criticism from an unyielding teacher or school system.

    Acceptance of the unusual can lead to wonderful solutions. Albert Einstein said:

    "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."

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