NAIS 2012: Design Thinking & Schools

The 2012 NAIS Annual Conference, held in the beautiful Pacific Northwest town of Seattle, represents my fifth straight annual conference, my fourth as a presenter and my second as an official conference blogger capturing the conference's highlights.

Yesterday, I was fortunate to attend a pre-conference workshop led by Laura Deisley (Lovett School), Christian Long (Cannon Design), and Jeff Sharpe (Be Playful Design) titled "Design Thinking: Unlocking the Keys to Innovation." As a connected educator who uses, regularly, a personal learning network, the challenge for me at the annual conference is finding sessions that will help shape and define my thinking further as it pertains to teaching and learning in the 21st century. This session did just that as design thinking is something I've heard about, but never engaged in as part of my work.

What I enjoyed most about this particular session is that it was not your standard "sit and get" you might normally encounter. Rather, it was a true workshop --- interactive, engaging, and collaborative. During the first few minutes of the session we were introduced to the facilitators -- I like that term better than presenter -- each explaining what they would bring to the session and how we would proceed.

The first portion of the session we were broken down into teams of two -- my team had three as we tried to break the mold of what we were told -- and were provided a story board. In the story board there were a series of panels in which the first contained a drawing of an iPad and some chalk. We then had 90 seconds (that is not a typo, it does read seconds) to complete our story. What I liked about this exercise is it brought together groups of people to design something quickly without much consideration for whether or not the end result would be a success or failure-- that's a key component of design thinking. All of the stories were different and compelling as to what transpired when you had an iPad and a piece of chalk. While I was happy with our outcome the one I found most interesting is the group which used the iPad to have kids connect globally while using the chalk to connect kids locally, as in the playground.

The next portion of the design thinking challenge placed us in teams of 5 or 6 people. We were charged with crafting a space that we, as a team, would find to be conducive to working together. We are able to stay in the room, go outside in the hallway, or find other spaces in which to work and discuss with the only premise being that "yes, but" would be replaced with "yes, AND" when speaking about other people's ideas. In 20 minutes the teams used post-it notes, legos, markers and more to create a concept that would provide the best possible working space that we would most like to see in our offices and schools.

The final challenge kept us in the same teams but this time we had 30 minutes to determine a problem in our schools, discuss how we'd add failure to the process, and then determine who we would present the issue. My team and I elected to leave the room and stand while we engaged in the brain storming process which helped with the free-flowing of ideas. We challenged ourselves with changing how courses in our schools are proposed -- think "Shark Tank" and venture capitalists with the students giving feedback to the teacher proposing the course and then agreeing to help the teacher develop the course before it is pitched to the academic or administrative team. We called this new endeavor the "LEAF" Program -- Learning, Engaging, AND Failing. Again, you are not able to succeed without failure.

My experience through out the afternoon piqued my interest in design thinking and believe that it can be an incredibly useful tool to bring to areas in our schools such as strategic planning, department meetings, and in our classrooms.

To learn more about design thinking and the resources available you can visit: