Explaining Empathy

In the process that is Design Thinking, students are asked, initially, to empathize with the problem at hand.  Articulate the problem.  Look at it from different angles. Gain new perspective on the problem.

Empathy is not an easy point of view to take on so, while reading the news the other day, I found an example that really stands out for me.  It so happens that my first cousin is CEO of the Ottawa Hospital and in his position feels that he is responsible to oversee 21st century medical care for those patients and families who are served by the Ottawa Hospital service.  Jack is also married to an amazing cook!  This information will be important soon.  In the Ottawa Citizen article dated July 17, 2016, the managers and CEO of the hospital announced sweeping changes to the food served.  “Interesting,” you may say, “What would prompt these changes?”


Top level managers including Jack, were given hospital food to live on for a week.  Talk about empathy.  Imagine the distress when you are regulated to eat at 8am, noon and 5pm with no snacks or other treats.  And the food is …less than palatable.  Eggs were referred to by one patient as “a yellow puck of sadness.”  Here, managers experienced exactly what patients see, smell and taste at the hospital.  Now that’s empathy.

No amount of statistical analysis of product vs. waste or photos of suggested meals would have had the same effect that this 5-day experiment had on the outcome.

In many design thinking challenges, students must put themselves in the shoes of the person experiencing the problem to really empathize with the situation at hand.  Tasks that are authentic problems encountered by students are the best fodder for each step in the design thinking process. Students who are close to the problem and can “get in touch” with the experience will have a deeper learning outcome in each phase of the design thinking process.



Pokemon Go and Students


Gotta catch ’em all! This blog post is purely an opinion piece because I feel compelled to weigh in on the number of Pokemon Go education related articles that populated my inbox this morning.  And I’m sure some of you will agree with me and some of you will not but that is the risk in having opinions on pop culture.

I, vicariously, experienced all the excitement of Pokemon Go through my son, one of the first generation Pokemon card owners when it was first introduced in North America.  This makes his access to Pokemon Go very interesting.  He owns and pays for his own Smart Phone and I no longer need to know his whereabouts and he is at the age when he can decide to stay out all night to chase Pokemon is he so chooses.  In fact, he lives several miles away in another quadrant of the city.  That makes a huge difference to my opinion.  I can enjoy seeing him search and show me where Pokemon are but I no longer have to accompany him on the journey from gym to gym.

Having said that, he did 14 levels and 18,000 steps in 24 hours during which he also held down a full time job for 8 of those hours.

Please do not make Pokemon Go into an “educational tool!” It doesn’t need to be.  Use other things to create great experiences in school like Geocaching or Nature Walk Journals but leave Pokemon Go for kids in the summer when they are off and can do (sometimes) what they want to do.  Not every app or tech innovation needs to be an educational tool.  Some need to be left to pop culture.

Now there is a public library in the States, dropping lures so that people chasing Pokemon will also enter their library and, perhaps, browse or become patrons but that is another story.

There were also Pokemon at church this weekend.  In fact the church was a Pokemon gym.

So, teachers, leave it alone.  While you are planning to work with it during the school year it is busy whooshing past you giving way to the next cool app.  Leave it for kids to enjoy and those who loved Pokemon the first time around.

As one 20-something mentioned in a news interview, “All of us 10 year old boys were thinking: if this game could be real life…”  I agree, we are all having fun with it so, teachers, don’t touch.

Practicing Design Thinking

Masters and PhD education students are on campus for the next week.  Today they are celebrating the completion of their first week of classes.  In addition to these compact classes, the library tries to offer some PD for them.  This year’s PD is in the form of a three-lunch- hour workshop entitled Think.Design.Make.  Based on the Design Thinking Process and hoping to (in a hurried way) help educators work through an authentic process.

Day 1 – Empathize. Define. Cluster Ideas. Begin to ideate.  Okay that is in one hour with introductions.  Yikes.  As is all workshops, time is a friend and an enemy.  Here’s what we found.

  • Bringing your own problem to solve it much better than working from one chosen from the hat.
  • Empathy is really hard work and it can take more than an hour to empathize with your problem.
  • Working in a group to collaborate and share ideas allows the process to move more quickly and tasks to be done more thoroughly.
  • Sometimes Design Thinking is not a linear process.  Empathy. Define. Clustering of Ideas. And Ideating sometimes happen in a different order or all at one time.


Day 2 – We began with the IDEO news story showing the group going through the Design Thinking process to re-invent the shopping cart.

  • We should have shown this on the first day – many people could see the process happening and could relate to the steps.
  • For those who were unfamiliar with the process the video showed the actions associated with the particular vocabulary used in design thinking.

Then participants were asked to re-think their problem and use the information they now knew to change or continue to work on their problem.  Unfortunately, this is where the hard work begins so we had one student who tenaciously pursued his problem but others bailed.

Fortunately, we had a special guest who brought a 3D printer.  Many people talked with him about the benefits of having one at their own school so the time was not wasted.

Workshops are tricky things.  Time, in this case, was our enemy.  We needed to meet people where they were in the process and invest some time with them.  Participants were in the middle of an 8 hour class and this 50 or so minutes was, in essence, their only time “off” during the day.

On the positive side, many of the people who attended tried various kits and were mostly attentive to the process.  Many will take away more of a lesson on Making and Maker Spaces.  That’s okay. It is also time well spent.

Day 3 – ????? Remains to be seen.  Catch up next week with what happens.  I think it will be a big conversation about designing and making in various different school settings but then again, I could be wrong.  My workshop spidey sense is not working at all.

P.S. Later on Day 2, I was invited to a very successful presentation about Maker Spaces by 4 Doctor of Education students.  Their presentation, “Building Knowledge: Maker Spaces” made my heart sing.  These professionals are invested in having educational spaces and content that speaks to every student.  Great job.

Classroom Blogs

Creating a classroom blog is a great way to include students in feedback writing and response journaling.


You can begin by following other blogs to show examples of content that is of interest to students.  Perhaps get them to share or investigate bloggers that would be of interest to them.  Perhaps model your own blog that shares classroom content and receives comments on various topics that come up in class.

Educblogs and kidblogs websites both allow for educational blogs with a dedicated audience.

Is a blog just a blog?  A blog is not just a blog in the classroom.  It is a forum to voice differing opinions and to model responsible digital citizenship in a curated environment.  It is tempting to say that it provides an arena to learn to fight fair.  Not only to voice your opinion but to authentically listen and respond to others’ viewpoints.  Feedback from the blog will allow for classroom discussion for students in a relatively safe space.  Try not to correct spelling and grammar but look for interesting content to spark discussions.  Allow groups to contribute blog posts during their discussion of various topics.  Although many topics can be open for discussion, one of the most important lessons you are teaching is about the power of words.

Blogging is a tool to teach so much more than using this social media vehicle.  Blogging is literacy, digital literacy, responsible digital citizenship and debate club all in one.

Over the summer or before the beginning of school, start following a few blogs and get a taste for the content.  Notice what works and the presentation of the content.  Show these examples to your students or use what you are seeing to develop a blog for your classroom.

Ms. Cassidy’s Blog and Learning is Messy are two great examples or, dare I say it, google the top blogs in your interest area and see what you find.