Education Issues

Does Design Thinking Have A Place In Education?

Design Cycle_Design Thinking for Education (1)



In my latest #tiegrad course I have been tasked with better understanding design thinking, and to consider whether it could play a relevant part in my own instructional design process.  I wanted to share my initial findings as I seek a deeper understanding of the process.

If empathy, interpreting, imagining, planning, and testing are the principles of design thinking, then it is remarkably akin to the assessment cycle used in education.  They are both user centered, continuous, and intentional.  Perhaps design thinking is the new assessment cycle?  Regardless of your thoughts of the process of creating engaging, authentic, and relevant instruction in your classroom, I believe design thinking has a place in our education system, classrooms, and schools.

If “Design has a set of tools and methods that can guide people to new solutions.” (Nussbaum, 2009) and mainstream public-school education in Canada is having difficulty understanding the needs of the latest entrants into its system, then surely we can borrow some ideas from design thinking to inspire a new generation of learner.

I will be the first to admit that I struggle to consistently design learning experiences, which engage all my students.  I struggle with student apathy towards education, and I seem to focus so much of my day developing and maintaining relationships, understanding my learners, and meeting their socio-emotional needs that my current assessment practices need redesigning.  Can the design thinking cycle help?  I’m not sure yet, but I am certain that more time I spend with my learners working towards authentic, real life learning experiences the more engaged my class is, and the more satisfied I feel.

I see design thinking working across the curriculum.  In social studies, design thinking is idea for addressing many social justice issues such as hunger, education, poverty, and unclean water.  These global issues need a new approach and  creative solutions.  The collaborative nature and user-centered approach of design thinking can help.  This PBS documentary shows design thinking at work by highlight the work done by Stanford University’s Institute of Design (aka the students who created products that may save thousands of lives in Bangladesh, Indonesia and other developing countries they visited.

Teaching Students Design Thinking?

In contrast to the benefits of design thinking as a teaching tool in education, I enjoyed reading Debbie Morrison’s blog posting Why ‘Design Thinking’ Doesn’t Work in Education.  As an elementary school teacher working in an inner-city school with a disproportionately high number of at-risk students, I fully agree with her argument that design thinking has a place in instructional design but not in student curriculum.  She argues that design thinking, “… requires one to think of a problem from unconventional, even unlikely perspectives…”  and could be too complex for our k-12 education system.  My students do not have the school experience or life experience to deal with such abstract thinking.  Morrison further states that our current learners

“…have the creative confidence knocked out of them at an early age and little attention paid to developing their creative thinking skills thereafter. Any design thinking process would be greatly enhanced by people who have had the opportunity to hone their creative fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration.”

My learners are concrete learners.  How do we teach creative fluency, flexibility, and originality, when these qualities may not be supported/valued at home?


Conversations In Ed Series #1: Advocating For Co-Ed Sports Teams:



This post is the start of a series of postings which are designed to create conversations on a variety of educational topics. Feel free to add your thoughts in the comments section.

I have been thinking about this topic for a couple of years, because I have yet to hear valid reasons for segregated our students when they play on school sports teams?  Is it really necessary to separate girls and boys for team sports, at the elementary level?

Developing co-ed sports teams at the upper elementary level can create more harmonious classroom relationships between girls and boys, and may even lead to a deeper sense of gender equality later in life.  Those that play together learn to live together. I have often been dismayed by the lack of respect boys and girls show each on the playground, occasionally in the classroom, and frequently on the field of play. These offences are usually gross-generalizations passed down through generations. I have lost count how many times I have heard these quiet murmurings on and around the soccer, “They are just girls,” “We should score lots of goals today, they have girls on their team,” “You can’t skip with us you’re a boy.”

I have heard the argument that the physical differences between boys and girls should be reason enough to separate them, but I disagree.  In my experience, boys and girls aged 10, 11, and 12 (the age which students in my school district typically join sports teams) are very similar in bodyweight and height. Sure, there are times when the opposition towers over my smallest boys and girls, but they know its safe to play and nobody will intentionally hurt them.

Playing on co-ed teams teaches children to be more socially responsible.  One of our school’s goals is social responsibility. We learn social responsibly in different ways throughout the day, and one way is through play. What better way is there to learn these skills, in a truly authentic way? The power of a great play between a boy and girl on the soccer field cannot be understated, especially when that moment of mutual respect is later transferred to the classroom in terms of working together in harmony. I would even go so far as to say that later in life that single moment could lead to a deeper sense of gender equality.

Our schools should mirror society’s move towards greater gender equality.  We don’t have public schools for boys and public schools for girls in British Columbia.  In fact, we activity encourage our students to work in mixed gender groups in the classroom, so why not on the sports field?  Working and playing with the opposite sex is a skill and a necessity in life.  The sooner we close the gap by developing co-ed teams at the elementary level the better.

Is it really necessary to separate girls and boys for team sports, at the elementary level?  Co-ed teams foster a sense of mutual respect, they teach social responsibility, and they mirror what happens naturally in the classroom.

Further reading on gender bias’ in education:

View of single sex public education:

TED Talks for Kids in B.C.

As an elementary educator who encourages student involvement in many aspects of the education system, not just in the classroom, I am incredibly excited about the  independent TED event coming to Vancouver in September of this year.  TEDxKids BC is scheduled for Saturday September 17th, 2011 in Vancouver and will showcase student achievement and celebrate empowerment of students in our education system.  In a similar fashion to the larger and more prestigious TED Talks, TEDxKids BC showcases ordinary students and allows them a platform to share their experiences and inspire others to follow their dreams.

The organizers of TEDxKids BC are still looking for awe-inspiring kids who meet some of the following requirements:

  • Someone who has created a project that has made other people take notice and say: “Wow — what an amazing thing to do!”
  • Perhaps a kid who has helped others without thinking of him or herself — someone who just jumped in to lend a helping hand — and then perhaps the project grew and others liked the idea so much, that they too wanted to get involved.
  • Or maybe a speaker has a talent that they would like to share. They could tell the audience about how they developed this talent — or the effect they see in others when they perform.
If you can have a student in your class already, or know of a student that would fit well into some of the categories above, and would like to nominate himher then please fill out the this form.
You can also follow and promote TEDxKids BC through the following social media sites:

Professional Development Ideas for 21st Century Teaching

Does your school offer the professional development you’re need?

Recently I worked with my Twitter PLN on the topic of professional development.  Directly after the Tuesday Edchat session we worked on a document together, describing the kind of professional development opportunities we wished our schools districts offered.  We also discussed how we could developed our own in the interim.

Here’s a list of my favourite professional development opportunities I wished my district offered:

Personally, this type of collaborative effort excites me as an educator.  I would ultimately like to master my craft (education) and I feel like I move one step closer every time I connect with fellow educators from around the globe.

Many thanks to #Edchat, my PLN, the following educators – @actionhero, @missbartel, @21stcenturychem, @DrTimony, @cybraryman1, @davidwees, and everyone else who contributed to the document:

Do Your Learners Need A BOOST?

This post may point you in the right direction.  There is no acronym involved here and I did not develop the program.  BOOST is academic intervention for all learners.  The initial idea came from Rebecca and Richard DuFour’s book, “Whatever It Takes: How Professional Learning Communities Respond When Kids Don’t Learn,” and a workshop they both delivered in Chilliwack, B.C.

Following this workshop one teacher, with the help of her peers, developed BOOST and together they’ve been using the program for the last two years.  As far as I know this type of intervention is only used in one elementary school in Chilliwack, but after a recent workshop presentation showcasing its merits I’m certain it will grow.

BOOST’s Goal:  To implement a system of effective intervention for students with their specific learning needs.

One of the main reasons BOOST was initiated in one elementary school in Chilliwack, B.C. was because of the gaps found in their grade 5/6’s fundamental understanding of math.  Because of this teachers found students were ill-prepared for middle school math at the time.  The second reason for introducing BOOST was because their LA schedule was proving to be very chaotic and almost counter-productive because of sheer number of students in the school.

Presently, Boost is focused on math intervention but may spread to languages arts in the future. It is designed specifically to tackle gaps in math fundamentals, such as understanding that numbers have differing value/worth depending on which place value column they are written in.    Here’s a brief introduction of how the program works.  You’ll see the successes and the challenges:

  • At beginning of year 1 students were given pre-assessment on place value.  Assessment was targeted to reveal specific gaps in place-value understanding.  First Steps In Math was used as the primary assessment tool.
  • In this particular school, with the help of school administration, 8 math groups were formed.  This helped in a variety of ways, firstly it enabled teachers to breakdown the skills required to successfully master understanding of place-value, and at the same time it allowed for groups of students who may not work well together to be separated.
  • In the 8 groups which were formed, there was an IEP group which stayed the same the whole year, an enrichment group which had already mastered the concept but worked on problem solving within a given concept (i.e. division) and the other 6 groups were divided based on the key understanding of each concept, they failed to understand.  Often, two different groups worked on the same key understandings (i.e. covered the same materials) because of the sheer number of learners.
  • After 6 weeks learners were given a post-assessment to determine they understood the new concepts taught.
  • After the results were obtained teachers decided whether to move on to a new topic o remain and explore the topic further.
  • If teacher’s decided to move on to a new topic and learners remained who had not successfully understand the previous topic, they formed the lowest group in the new topic.  For example, those learners (after 6 weeks) who continued to have difficultly with key understandings to successfully complete multiplication formed the lowest group when moving to division.

Format In A Nutshell:

  1. Pre-test skills set
  2. Assign groups
  3. Direct teach
  4. Re-assess

Here are a list of quote from people who have been involved with BOOST:
“Enhances student understanding of math concepts…”  “Targets the specific problems students are having…”  “Teachers discussing assessment and teaching strategies…”  “Students who are able to work at their own level…”  “Connects different classroom teachers with all intermediate teachers…”

At this particular school BOOST is still a work-in-progress.  Some of the challenges and areas that need to be addressed (according to the school) in order for BOOST to improve are as follows:

  • Creating the time for teachers to meet and plan outside of their lunch hours
  • Easier access to resource (resource binders, electronic resources etc..)
  • Varying teaching/learning styles
  • Generating more effective assessments to properly and easily identify where a learner is going wrong when tackling a new concept
  • Strategies to deal with students who are at the same level but for whatever reason shouldn’t be in the same class together
  • Looking to expand to language arts and beyond

Thanks to everyone at Promontory Elementary Community School for showcasing BOOST at the recent Pro-D event.  I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and look forward to implementing BOOST soon.  Great work guys!

Technology Hurdles In Canadian Education

The Canadian education system is struggling to deal with the speed and complexity of our digital age.  In some instances it looks like decision makers view technology as a passing fad that will eventually be replaced.  They’re sadly mistaken!  Canadian educator’s and the institutions which support them need to change.  The biggest change needs to be a shift in teaching pedagogy.  Educators need to move away from acting as content deliverer’s to acting as content facilitator’s in order to engage the digital learners we see in our classroom’s today.  These are some of the challenges technology savvy educators experience in Canada:

  1. Canada’s Privacy Act combined with the U.S. Patriot Act makes it difficult for Canadian educator’s to take advantage of the latest web2.0 tools with their learners.  The Canadian government doesn’t allow educators to store any type of student information on servers outside of the Canada.  You can see the disadvantage our learners face over those south of the border.  Our learners are unable to take advantage of many collaborate tools such as Google Apps, Skype, social-bookmarking, RSS feeds, blogging software, and any other web2.0 tool which requires email registration.
  2. From a more local perspective I’m not convinced School District’s put a high enough priority on finding the right people to run and maintain their IT departments.  I realize it’s a difficult task keeping current with the latest software and hardware, but the days of spending thousands of dollars on licences for Microsoft Word are gone.  Cloud computing is the future and our IT department’s need to support teacher’s with their needs.
  3. The fear of student’s owning email addresses exhibited by superintendent’s and administration’s is difficult to understand, and even more difficult to explain away when student’s ask, “Why can’t we just create Gmail accounts?”  Creating or migrating to a new email server is time-consuming I agree, but the desire to move with any type of forward momentum seems to be drastically lacking.
  4. Funding for technology and technology integration in Canadian public schools is within the control of each school.  Clearly it’s not working!  I feel there needs to be a standard established, and maintained, for technology hardware in our elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools.  The days of taking classes down to the computer lab, filled with outdated and poorly maintained machines, to work on typing skills should be a thing of the past, but it’s not.  It’s the reality in many schools.  The shift needs to be made from using technology as an add on to the tools we use to get things done.  Netbooks, interactive whiteboards, electronic projectors, and freedom to use web2.0 tools should be the norm in classroom’s throughout Canada, not the exception.

Solutions to these issues need to be sort before we lose a generation of learner’s to boredom.  Is it possible that in the future, if we don’t address the technology divide, that some students will opt to educate themselves and severely impact public education as we know it?