Atlanta K12 Design Thinking (@ak12dc) bootcamp with teachers and administrators from Fulton County Schools, a professional development workshop for learning design thinking. Thirty-one participants are learning from and working with Scott Sanchez and our AK12DC leadership team on design thinking principles (see figure below). One of our objectives is to help folks see the value of the design thinking process as a method for tackling complex challenges or problems at their school. Another objective is to help teachers see how the design thinking process can be used as an instructional strategy to build interesting lessons for students. Our workshop, a hands-on approach to learning design thinking, makes use of activities that engage participants in doing and applying the principles of design thinking.
The following Storify illustrates the work being accomplished by our AK12DC design teams as they learn to tell compelling stories about their design challenge. Teams are progressing quite well as we get closer to the end of the school year. Lots of good energy at the workshop and focused attention on learning how to tell good stories. Good to see teams together and feeling positive about their efforts.
Yesterday, Trinity School's (@trinityatl) design thinking team shared their work over the past six months with their leadership team. Trinity is in its third year as a member of Atlanta K12 Design Challenge (@ak12dc) program. Members of their design thinking team have remained relatively constant over the past two years, which has allowed the team to take on a number of school challenges. The three challenges they shared were:
1. How might the hallway be transformed into a learning space?
2. How might we address the noise issues in the school dining hall?
3. How might we improve the carpool experience for students, teachers and families?
The team has been quite resourceful and deliberate about using design thinking to address each of these challenges. The hallway as a learning space, has been a successful design thinking challenge, leading to a new space for teachers and students to use on the grade 3-5 corridor. The team reported that the space has been welcomed and embraced by teachers and students. With comfortable furniture, Ideal Paint walls, and caddies with materials, teachers bring their students to the space for brainstorming sessions, as an alternative learning space, and as a space for small groups to work. In addition, some administrators and teacher teams use the space for meetings that need creative spaces for brainstorming.
The team also shared their data and prototype for addressing the noisy environment in the dining hall. While their prototype successfully addressed one aspect of the problem, the design thinking process led them to understand all the variables feeding into the problem. Due to some structural issues underlying this challenge, the team decided to move on to a new challenge.
Finally, the team went to the carpool experience at Trinity School and gained some empathy with various users. They discovered that the experience is challenging for teachers, parents, and to some extent students. With this challenge, they have just started to understand the problem. Using design thinking, they have defined the problem, prototyped some ideas, and tested them. The first lap of design thinking has generated some interest in continuing the work on improving the carpool experience.
The Trinity design team is functioning at a high level and experiencing success with design thinking. Contact Marsha Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org or Jill Gough at email@example.com for more information about their team's work and experience.
In AK12DC, we work with schools' design teams in our portfolio workshops to learn the principles of design thinking and apply them to a "school challenge." What do we mean by a school challenge? When working with school leaders and design teams, we define a school challenge as a problem, issue, or initiative that needs to be addressed in a new way. This year we are working with nine schools in Atlanta, five independent schools and four public schools, one of which is a public charter.
Here are the challenges that each school is trying to work on using the design thinking process.
How might we collect and share information about students' learning in a more transparent fashion?
In this challenge, the school is looking at how teachers can capture and share student work and showcase student growth. Problem-solving this challenge will hopefully lead the school to design a way for students to improve their communication of their own growth. They are hoping their work will lead to assessment experiences that more completely and authentically represent the student.
How might we ensure that all students are mastering math facts?
This school found through teacher empathy data that they were concerned students struggled learning math facts. Pacing guides in math made it difficult for teachers to allocate enough time to teach math facts adequately. They are looking at designing a plan to help teachers structure sufficient time to teach math facts.
How might we reimagine family engagement to empower and build the capacity for our families to positively impact student achievement?
When this school looked at their program and collected empathy data, they discovered that family engagement was something they wanted to address. With more active involvement of parents in school, they are looking to see positive impact on student learning.
How might we make student eating on campus a more mindful experience?
Notice with this school, the issue or problem they wanted to solve for has more to do with students' social-emotional experience. The dining experience is an important part of a student's life in school so how can we design it so that it more "mindful." With this design team, they will need to gain empathy with students to understand how they interpret the word mindful. What changes might lead to the experience becoming more mindful?
A fifth school collected empathy data and met an "energetic, social, competitive child who is eager to learn more." They wonder if this means that despite our rigorous curriculum students find classwork is predictable and routine. So they think it would be game-changing if the pace and delivery of curriculum could be more responsive to a student’s learning strengths, curiosity, and mastery? They are looking at whether this challenge could be addressed by designing learning spaces or use of time so students have more voice and choice.
How might we design a way for students to identify and connect with the right resources so that they are more confident and can experience additional support in school when challenges arise?
In this school, they collected student empathy data that led them to think more effective support for students would improve their school experience. They will be working on prototypes that help students identify and connect with school resources in more effective ways.
How might we continue to cultivate interactions where people feel valued?
Building community is an important goal for this school. Empathy data suggests that if they can design ways for students and teachers to feel more valued, then the school will feel more like a community.
Hopefully, you can see that each of these schools has a different challenge.
In 2016-2017, AK12DC launched its programming in design thinking with nine schools in the Greater Atlanta area. Each school has at least one design team working on a school challenge aligned to what their leadership team believed was important. Three schools have two design teams. The graphic below outlines our overall structure with the nine schools.
The following graphic outlines the four overarching goals we have as an organization. AK12DC started its work in 2012 when the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Foundation came to the Center for Teaching (CFT) at Westminster School to get some advice new opportunities for professional learning for educators. The CFT assembled a small group of thought leaders (educators) in Atlanta to discuss the issue and design a learning experience that would be different from those that schools typically support. AK12DC was hatched with the expressed purpose of teaching and applying the principles of design thinking to drive innovation in schools.
An important part of the AK12DC experience is the partnerships we have established. We are funded in part by the R. Howard Dobbs Jr. Foundation. The Fulton County School (FCS) district has entered into a partnership with a consortium of independent schools (Westminster School, Lovett School, Atlanta International School, Woodward Academy and Trinity School), and a local charter school, Drew Charter School. FCS selects some of their schools to work alongside the independent and charter school in the AK12DC experience.
The following graphic gives you an idea of the journey we have been on since we launched the program. Since 2013 we have worked with about 8-12 schools each year and about 8-12 design teams, usually one per school. We have seen many AK12SDC schools use our curriculum and the learning they experienced to solve interesting and complex problems in their schools. For example, Mountain Park Elementary has redesigned the homework experience, Westminster School has created a hub of innovation in its Middle School, and Lovett School has redesigned the Lower School playground. Other schools have addressed some equally interesting and challenging issues.
In 2014, we worked with Kronley and Associates to conducted a yearlong study of AK12DC’s impact on the design teams and their schools. Then in 2015, we worked with SageFox Consulting Group to conduct a similar study of our impact on design teams, schools and programs. Each of study gave us a clear window into the effectiveness of our programs. We learned that we were teaching design thinking exceptionally well, we were supporting design teams really well, and we were having an impact on AK12DC schools. We also learned some things that resulted in us changing the program’s structure from 2014-2016. A very brief summary of an extensive amount of data is shown in the graphic below.
In 2016-2017, we changed our approach and designed our program around two initiatives: (1) our Bootcamp model which is structured to teach design thinking to educators and educational leaders; and (2) our Portfolio Program which is structured to help K-12 schools apply design-thinking principles to solve complex school challenges. The following graphic outlines our programmatic structure for 2016-2017.
The structure that allows us to manage the roughly $200,000 annual budget is illustrated in the graphic below. While the structure uses mostly educators who have other responsibilities, we do invest in outside consultants and experts to deliver parts of the program. For example, we contract with a professional in Atlanta who uses design thinking in the workplace, trained at the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design (d.school) at Stanford University, and is on the faculty at the d.school. In addition, some of the support team (mentors) are from the corporate or non-profit sector who use design thinking in their work.
by Laurie Kimbrel
In the 26 years that I have worked in education, I’ve seen a lot of fads come and go. Most of these ideas seem promising but don’t stand up to scrutiny from teachers or the test of time. However, Design Thinking as a framework for school improvement has the power to be more than just the idea of the day.
We are all Here for the Same Reasons
We choose to become teachers because we care deeply about children and ensuring that they learn and grow. When a child has an “aha moment”, especially if he or she has previously had some difficulty, it gives us the energy to come back and do it all again on another day. As some of us move from being teachers into leadership positions, it is usually because of our desire to create the conditions necessary to bring our work to a larger scale so that those moments of growth occur with greater ease, frequency and for more children. Given that the vast majority of educational leaders come from the field of teaching and that basically, teachers and leaders have the same goal of student growth, we should wonder why there is often a disconnect between teachers and their administrators when it comes to problem solving and change.
As educators, we have the best of intentions as we attempt to solve problems and make improvements in our schools. I’ve never met a school leader who deliberately tried to make things more difficult for teachers or students. And yet, our “solutions” often do just that because we move so quickly to action based on our own personal biases without seeking to understand the situation from the perspective of those who experience it every day.
Design Thinking Shows Great Care About the Experience of Users
The Design Thinking process offers great promise to educators at all levels to improve schools in a way that will bring teachers, leaders and students together rather than creating division. Unlike typical decision-making models, if we use a Design Thinking process, we develop empathy for users prior to the implementation of solutions. In addition, Design Thinking focuses on the creation of multiple prototypes of solutions with the understanding that we will require feedback and several iterations before we find the “right” solution. Design Thinking brings a refreshing move towards deep care about the experience of others rather than a rush to a finding a solution and crossing a problem off of a list.
The Process - First Who, Then What and How
Discovering Points of View Previously Unknown to You
As an observer of several AK12DC school teams using the Design Thinking process over the course of this school year, I am particularly struck by the changes in problem statements from first drafts developed at the Fall Summit to the current drafts that have continued to develop throughout the winter. As teams worked through empathy interviews and observations, they discovered points of view previously unknown to them. In almost every case, teams found that the problems had multiple facets and complexities that had not been previously known or considered. Even more interesting, and yet hardly surprising, several teams found that their actual problems and eventual prototypes for solutions were quite different than the initial direction given to them by their school leaders.
The lack of alignment between the initial definitions of the problem and how others experience it seems to be the root of the divide that is often created between groups in schools. Imagine how different it could be if we as leaders provided the time and training necessary for staff and students to use the Design Thinking process as a regular part of their routine!
My Lessons Learned
I have had many lessons learned while watching both public and private school teams learn and implement the Design Thinking process this year. I understand that Design Thinking is not an “add on” or “one more thing to do” but rather something that can and should be integrated into school culture. It is inevitable that we deal with problems every day; however, the process that we use to solve them is up to us. The integration of Design Thinking into a school culture allows groups to truly understand and define problems from the point of view of multiple users and eventually to solve problems in ways that create unity rather than division.
My experience with AK12DC and Design Thinking has been invaluable to my growth as a leader and as a person. I now find myself attempting to gain empathy as I think about not only professional but also personal issues. I have found such value in the process that I can’t imagine working in a school setting without it and I look forward to the day that I create and work on a Design Team myself.
The video below illustrates the extended point-of-view (POV) statements from the six Track 1 design teams at Atlanta K12 Design Challenge's November 18, 2015 Summit.
The schools in order of appearance are:
This blog captures the spirit of the Atlanta K12 Design Challenge: a community of voices joined together to create something new. We welcome the broader community to engage with us here as we reflect on our journey together.