+Dana Melvin +Susie Mutschler +Lori Kody
+Mindy Coon and I attended the Innovative Learning Conference (ILC) hosted at the Nueva School in October. The ILC featured many strands aimed at framing attitudes of teaching and learning. Of course, as it is hosted at the Nueva School, one would expect design thinking to be one of those strands. Ah, at that, one would be right. We attended multiple sessions focusing on design thinking and the themes of setting up a culture for the right behaviors, attitudes, and mindsets were intertwined throughout.
David Kelley, founder of IDEO, engaged in a spirited discussion with Kim Saxe, Director of the K-12 Innovation Labs at Nueva, to a packed house. While he started off the session inviting the audience to guide the session towards what they wished him to speak about, there could be no doubt to his agenda. Empathy is the driving force of design thinking. Specifically, designers need to engage in the quest for “the non-obvious latent needs” of users. In that, Kelley advocated for moving the problem definition to the center of the diagram, whatever your diagram is (and according to him, there is no one diagram, so for those of you hoping for clarity...let’s move on). During the process, everything should inform the needs statement. As layer and layer of artifice is removed, the designer gets closer to the real need. This in turn, allows the designer to pivot to a better problem, and with that, a solution that is a better fit for the user.
This is messy work, which Kelley admits, flies in the face of certain social conventions and organizational norms, most specifically the fear of being judged to be wrong. In this way, he advocates that designers develop a self-efficacy to unleash their own creativity. There are no natural designers. The behaviors can be taught and the opportunities given so that students can develop, as Kelley puts it, a creative confidence to “act on what every person is capable of.” Creative Confidence, not uncoincidentally, just so happens to be the name of a David Kelley book (only $16.99 at Amazon - cheap!). In this model, there are no longer the traditional “silo” model of the numbers people, the management people, and the creative people. Everyone is a creative person.
While Kelley provided the vision, Saxe chimed in late with the take of someone with integral knowledge of the practical nature of teaching design thinking for school-aged children. Behaviors figured prominently in her take. Design thinking did not happen in a vacuum. It happened as part of a greater culture. A culture that gives repeated opportunities for children to own their own creativity and a culture with a robust social-emotional learning program that builds trust among students so that they can take risks to explore that creativity. Everything was constructed around DT so that that creativity could be fostered, grown, and spread.
The behaviors of design thinking were also a major focus of a session led by George Kembel, co-founder of the Stanford d.school, which was also facilitated with Saxe. Kembel made a case that we were hurdling headlong into a creative world different from the industrial and informational societies that preceded it. Whereas the industrial world rewarded replication, this one was based on patterns that rewarded people for adapting. The more students become masterful with recognizing these patterns, the more likely they are to adapt to the varying landscape. Here, Kembel posited that DT was not really the end itself, but was really just the vehicle, or as he explained, “the MacGuffin,” that pulled people into true innovation.
As educators, how do we foster these creative and adaptive skills? The great news is that Kembel echoes Kelley in that these behaviors are ones that can be taught. While he spoke of skateboarding to school with his young sons, I had to admit his outlook was definitely geared to an older set, as one would expect for someone who has worked primarily with college students and entrepreneurs. Yet, with a little stretching, a teacher can start making connections to empathy and resilience. Empathy again figured prominently as a touchstone behavior, and he highlighted the importance of giving students repeated opportunities to identify the needs of others. As they got more practice, he surmised that students would “start finding needs everywhere.” It would become a part of how they looked at the world. Kembel also identified resiliency as a core behavior of these adaptive individuals. What he had noticed in successful entrepreneurs is that while the natural tendency of one running into failure is to avoid it, these entrepreneurs kept “banging their heads” against the one part that fails until they figured out how to get it to work - once again, totally adaptable if one looks at it as part of the reflection process and gives opportunities for kids to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn.
The behaviors necessary for design thinking also factored heavily in the session ran by Glenn Tripp and Pamela Briskman of Galileo Learning. Galileo runs week-long summer programs on science, art, and design for students. They take a noticeable departure from the empathy piece as when they provide a challenge, the need is stated. Yet, here was an organization that had actually made something for school-aged clients and was constantly adapting to the needs of these clients. Galileo did - GASP! - present an actual design process (attached for your viewing pleasure) and what I noticed was how simple and to the point it was - an absolute must if you only have a week with the kids. This process was not one that came from the top-down, but one that was constantly evaluated according to how it helped students. In this way, Galileo truly “lived” the iterative process that they taught to the students.
What was informative though was the attitude and behaviors they foster, and as they have tremendous time constraints, how important it is to be intentional. They cannot afford to spend time teaching everything someone would need to know in order for kindergartners to create a lion mask, eighth-graders to design a video game, or fifth-graders to build a batmobile, so they have to be selective and focus on what is most important. While on the surface, they may say that the challenge is about building a “batmobile”, this focus is not on the output, but the - drumroll, please - behaviors (which cleverly, they call “mindsets”). Building of rituals are an integral part of how they focus students towards these mindsets, and one such is establishing a daily mindset challenge that focuses kids towards the behavior and attitude most necessary for the day’s work. Other rituals they mentioned include celebrating failures on a Failure Wall and giving kids opportunities to build off each other’s thinking by choosing someone else’s idea on an Inspiration Wall. Once again, there is an iterative nature to everything they do, and these mindsets have been developed and tested based on the responses of the thousands of students using the Galileo Innovation Approach.
As they are dealing with 40,000 students and 1,600 educators during their summer programs, establishing the right culture for creativity is integral to Galileo. In this, they the educators embrace the mindsets themselves. In a little simpler phrasing, if you want the kids to do it, you’ve got to do it too. And by that, they don’t mean that the teachers make batmobiles too. Although I bet they can if they wanted to.
One takeaway from this it is always powerful to engage your students in empathizing to understand what another person thinks and feels. This will serve them well in relationships, career opportunities, and well, innovation. To take this one step further, so often, I found myself focusing on the steps when teaching design thinking, as if it were an algorithm and if I was just better at teaching them, my students would be better at designing. But according to Kelley, Kembel, Tripp, and Briskman, what is most important is teaching the behaviors, the mindsets, and the attitudes. I found myself agreeing with Kembel that these behaviors reach so much further than DT.
This was a conference that focused not so much on the how, but the what and why (for those interested in the “how,” there is a summer conference hosted by the Nueva School that focuses on that). And yet, there was a real power to this piece. So much of what we actually think of doing as teachers focuses on the how; the series of steps necessary to accomplish that what we have tasked for our students. I have to admit that when pressed for time, focusing on the steps often comes at a cost to is the inspirational piece. In retrospect, when it came to my attitude about design thinking, inspiration was exactly what I found most valuable from attending this conference.
* DT may not be about the outcomes or the steps, but the behaviors.
* The good news is that these behaviors can be taught!
* Of these behaviors, empathy is paramount.
* It is important to establish a culture that promotes an attitude of risk-taking and resilience, ownership, and creativity (available at Amazon.com for $16.99 - cheap!).
Congratulations! You made it to the end of this very wordy post. As a “reward,” see if you can work in which Star Wars character best exhibits the behaviors noted in this post. May the force be with you.
What is the Nueva School?
Nueva is a small (two classes per grade), student-centered school known for its distinctive inquiry-based interdisciplinary studies, constructivist project-based learning, and its pioneering work in social emotional learning and design thinking. The school also offers specialist teachers in numerous other core and elective areas, including STEM, writing, the arts, entrepreneurship, and physical education.
Why do ASIJ teachers go to Nueva?
ASIJ selected Nueva as a model school for Design Thinking and because of their strong relationship with the Stanford d.school. As Paul O’Neill mentioned at our ES October staff meeting, teams get the most traction from attending professional development together. Grade 3 was fortunate to have the opportunity to engage in this learning experience together. International schools learning from Nueva at the October ILC included teams of teachers and administrators from International School Bangkok, Hong Kong International School, and Shanghai American School.
What is the ILC and how is it different than the Summer Institute?
The Innovative Learning Conference is a symposium about cutting edge topics in education that occurs every two years. The organizers of this event at the Nueva School try to structure the conference so there are some recurring threads or themes. This year these resonant pieces included: Social-Emotional Learning/Mindfulness; Design Thinking; Meeting the Needs of the Gifted and Talented; Creativity and Innovation; and Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment. Basically the ILC is a series of live extended-play TED talks; some of these are panel discussions with a Q and A session at the end. The topics are meant to be timely and relevant. Many of the sessions also lean into the future probing into “What’s next?”
The summer institute enables teams to efficiently create projects that foster students’ DT skills. Institute attendees experience DT through hands-on activities. Then, they move into extended real-life projects diving into each area of the DT process in depth. Finally, the attendees have time and guidance to create curriculum.