Design Thinking – Wrap-up

We finished up by teaching 11 workshops based on Design Thinking (the IDEO way) to around 225 second year Werklund students and Tammy and I have a few takeaways from the experience.

  1. The sooner the better.  If we could teach “The Three Little Pigs” design thinking scenario to every student in the second year program during the first week of classes in January, everyone would benefit.  There comes a time in the third week where students have already looked at the 5 possibilities (Design Thinking, Discipline-Based Inquiry, Project-Based, Understanding by Design and Universal Design for Learning) to solve their problem of practice where our workshop is really too late.
  2. No matter how much time you give, students want more.  In this case, we actually had students prototype an advertising “pitch” for a product or program that would solve “The Three Little Pigs” scenario.  Last year our feedback was that students wanted to prototype.  We allowed time this year for prototyping and presenting (testing) and then used Today’s Meet to collect feedback from the other students in the class.  Because of time limits, feedback was not rich with information to give groups ideas to change or rationalize why not to change their product or pitch.  Students still felt we did not allow them enough time to digest the feedback.
  3. Instructors in the program should know what they are getting into.  We should have clear information about the workshop we offer since we are now considered to be “the experts” on staff for Design Thinking.  We tried to get students to come independently to the workshop in time away from class time.  We had very little buy-in for students doing the workshop without their classmates.  Given that students want to only come with their class, please see #1.

And we are already talking about changes we would make for next January.  I still think that Design Thinking, the process and the workshop, are valuable tools to give students in Werklund School of Education.  We would love to have a whole day, in the first week of January, with instructors and students to walk everyone through the process fully and completely but we are managing to give a good experience to those who sign up early and immerse themselves in the workshop.

Design Thinking – “The Teacher as Designer”

We often hear this statement during or before any of the workshops we run about design thinking.  Although this phrase appears in 2010 in an article entitled, “The Teacher as Designer: Pedagogy in the New Media Age,” by Mary Kalantizis, Bill Cope, referring to the process of Learning by Design, we use the more general description in our design thinking workshops.

The teacher as designer refers to every educator who designs a classroom, a lesson, a unit, a project, a school environment, a school atmosphere and/or professional development workshops for colleagues.

The design thinking workshops we offer have students work through the five-step program using the “Three Little Pigs” story as an anchor.  This use of the design thinking process is not the only way we see this technique being used by teachers.

Using it to break your students into groups in your class and work through a potential solution to a problem is just one way the process is used in education.  It does reach all the current “c’s” of the modern classroom: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking and communication. It also provides an opportunity for students to practice many so-called “soft skills” as well.

In the secondary stream of our program, we often get feedback about the process not being conducive to the delivery of curriculum content in their grade level.  Lesson and unit design can be developed using the five steps of design thinking.  Starting with the empathy stage where a teacher looks at the lesson from the student’s point of view may be quite eye opening.  Effective lesson and unit development can be completed using the design thinking process.

There may be school wide problems that are presented by other teachers or administration that can be solved using the design thinking process.


Each individual school has its own priorities and culture that is set by the administration, often taking into account staff and students ideas.  As administration creates a certain identity for a school, staff may be engaged in the design thinking process to bring these ideas to life.  Say, for example, a school seeks to be an integral part of the community in which it is situated.  Connections with the community can be fostered through various means and the ideas may come from an design thinking session that features the empathy and definition stages.  Moving towards ideation makes the collected research from these stages result in effective community connection for the school as a whole.  Having many great ideas that don’t fit the needs of the community won’t engage staff and students like something that meets the needs of the surrounding area and makes an positive impact in the community.

In these three separate areas of teaching, teachers can take up the, five step process and introduce design thinking into their school.

Design Thinking 2.0 – Interview with a consultant?

We have had some very successful workshops in the first week of working with the second year students from Werklund School of Education.  We had both elementary and secondary classes working through the famous “Three Little Pigs” design thinking scenario with mixed results although most students came up with a convincing pitch to share with the class.  From the “Cattlepult” to a “wonderful community where pigs and wolves live in harmony,” pitches for a “solution” to the pigs versus wolves problem abound.

Our final workshop on Friday afternoon offered us the least number of comments in the definition phase.  We couldn’t cluster ideas or look for outliers.  We were left with very few ideas to talk about or work through to a solution stage.  Perhaps, students weren’t engaged enough to give back any evidence collected in the empathy phase but it was difficult to maintain any momentum through ideation, prototyping and the testing loop.

So here is the change we made to help with the definition stage.  We backed up to the Empathy phase and instead of having pigs and wolves empathize with each other, we introduced two “consultants” into each group to ask questions and gather information from wolves or pigs.  Each consultant was provided with a package of documentation containing some basic information about the pigs and the wolves that could prompt some entry points to begin to gather information.

This morning we worked through a class incorporating this change.  We did get many more ideas to write up on the board for our definition stage and some great statements to anchor the ideation and prototypes.  And, we gathered statements from each one of the four groups.  We will try this approach again on Tuesday.

The ironic feedback we received on just one form was “…if the student switch roles. …can have a better understanding of different roles.”

We will work with the consultant model for now but we will keep an open mind depending on more feedback that will come with future workshops.


Design Thinking 2.0

Did I mention that it is January again and for us at the Doucette Library, that means Design Thinking?  The second year Education course, EDUC 546, is looking a little different this year, widening it’s scope to include Universal Design for Learning, Project-Based Learning, Understanding by Design, Discipline-Based Inquiry, and the Design Thinking from IDEO and Stanford.

Tammy and I will be, again, contributing to the learning by holding a number of workshops for the EDUC 546 classes following last year’s model based on the Three Little Pigs.  Ah, but this year we have an extra few minutes in which to add PROTOTYPING!  We will be adding the final two steps in the Design Thinking process, prototyping and feedback/re-test into the Three Little Pigs scenario in a way that fits into our new time constraint.


In this iteration of the workshop, we will be asking students to ideate using chart paper divided into 4 sections.  We are hoping that students will come up with at least 2 different, viable ideas within the sections of paper.  They will find that the more ideas you have, the better outcome you will have.

For prototyping, we are asking them to take one of the ideas to prototype but not as an actual artifact.  Students will be coming up with a pitch or a way to advertise their chosen artifact.  It is an interesting way to have each group present an idea and sway the rest of the class to think about their solution.

Feedback will be given by other students in the class though the website, TodaysMeet in a “room” for each workshop we are giving.  A few minutes will be available for them to look over the feedback received in this fashion.  Critique comments will answer questions like, “how well does the prototype solve the problem as stated in the defining question,” and “how effective is the pitch?”

We are still asking for feedback about our workshop.  It helps to change what is happening in the Design Thinking teaching here at the Doucette.  So stay tuned, iterations are happening.


Maker Faire 2.0

We are happy to say that we have successfully held our second annual Maker Faire in the Doucette Library.

Amid the bubbles, limbo, musical instruments and dress up clothing, we hosted about 300 students and their prototypes.  For anyone quick enough to think of the implications of this many prototypes in one place, they photographed lesson plans, materials and prototypes for a file of great ideas that may suit their teaching sometime in the future.

What exactly were we doing?  There was method in this madness for many reasons.  We were showing students what a Maker Faire in their school or classroom may look like.  We wanted students to see what kind of celebration students would take part in after working through their own problem solving using the design thinking process to prototype ideas and various outcomes.

We also wanted students to feel the engagement that is prevalent when design thinking is introduced into a project.  Creativity and innovation abound when few boundaries are put in place and students are allowed to draw on their own strengths to research and work through a problem.

We wanted also to celebrate the amazing work that has taken place over the last two years by these pre-service teachers.  As they launch to schools for their final practicum and to jobs in the teaching workforce, we hope they remember the Doucette Library has amazing resources for them to draw upon and that they return to make use of them.

And at this moment, I would like to thank my “partner-in-crime,” Tammy Flanders whose wonderful ideas and willingness to wear a tutu for a cause are second to none.  If you have a partner teacher like my partner librarian, your work life will be a breeze.  And I would also like to thank Dr. James Paul and his continual endorsement of the Doucette Library.  Our Maker Faire was a success because of all of the people involved.

Design Thinking – Final Reflections

Final Reflection by Tammy Flanders

In reviewing the workshops, we taught over the last two weeks, both Paula and I feel more certain that sticking with the Three Little Pigs scenario for both the secondary and elementary level students will be the way to go in the future. The feedback we got from the two classes of secondary students who had the opportunity to work through both scenarios felt it was the one that facilitated their understanding more. However, I feel sure that we will get push back from some secondary students who will see the fairy tale scenario as being too juvenile.  It will be up to Paula and me to ensure that the focus is on the design thinking process and NOT on the task. We just have to make it known to the students.

Upon further reflection, we feel that offering two examples of design thinking (one being the IDEO video where a shopping cart is redesigned and two, displaying our own work as represented in the workshop) is worthwhile. The shopping cart is a great example because the process results in a concrete object that has obviously undergone some significantly physical changes.  It is easy to see the prototype.

Presenting the workshop as a second example demonstrates what a less concrete application might look like. When students are trying to tie the design thinking process to their own classroom practice according to their curriculum specializations (humanities vs. science, math, and kinesiology) there is often a struggle as to what this will look like.  Prototyping is so strongly associated with producing a product that it becomes difficult to know that ‘thing’ looks like when it is not concrete. In the humanities especially, the prototype or product might not be an actual physical thing. It might be a concept, a program or a workshop.

Final Reflection by Paula Hollohan

After all the Design Thinking workshops we did, I firmly believe one thing.  As student teachers this explanation of the process must be experienced and that experience can be the lens through which you see the curriculum.

Students will be going through a few projects to live the design thinking process.  At the end of these five weeks, design thinking will be a lived experience for each of them.

As students prepare for their final practicum and for their own classrooms in September, it will be interesting to see which parts of the curriculum they view “through the lens of design thinking.”

Elementary specialists may feel they have the luxury of time for their students to really experience design thinking.  Secondary students, who feel their time is more regimented, may have to begin by seeing one curriculum unity through the design thinking lens.

Most articles cite the remarkable engagement of students in every grade who are tasked with learning with design thinking.  The adoption may be slow in secondary but will be fed through the invested, engaged students led by engaged teachers.


We do want you to visit our Research Guide about Design Thinking and Makerspaces.  Also visit our blogs that provide curated resources for various classroom settings.  Tammy’s blog is Apple with Many Seeds and Paula’s blog is Doucette Ed Tech.  We also have a variety of resources showcased through Pinterest Boards and some technology ideas collected on these boards.  All of these resources can be accessed even after graduation and are updated fairly regularly.

It was a great experience to teach the Design Thinking process to so many students and to have so much feedback on the process.  The count down is on for next year’s iteration.

Design Thinking – The Final Day

By: Paula Hollohan

Design Thinking and Project Based Learning

By just after noon today, we had completed our Design Thinking workshop schedule for this year.  And we have learned so much about what students understand about Design Thinking and how we think about it.

One question, today, led us to a discussion about the differences between Project or Problem Based Learning and Design Thinking.  Many students have had the experience of Project or Problem Based learning but have not worked through the process of design thinking in a classroom.

Project based learning starts with a defined question in mind and works towards answering or giving a solution to that specific question.  As students work through their research process, experimentation and learning, they are working towards answering the specific, given question.

In the Design Thinking process, students are looking at a task or a series of resources that frames a situation for them.  They may be looking at, as in our scenario, the story of the Three Little Pigs.  As they took part in the round table storytelling, the empathy and definition phases, students began to formulate what a guiding question that addressed the situation would look like.  The investigation stages of empathy and definition led to the question.  Students did not begin with a question. It was up to the students to define what the problem was depending on the chosen character, Pig or Wolf.

Over the 9 days of teaching design thinking, our workshop evolved to include a pause before the ideation brainstorm to articulate the question or to define (or redefine) the problem as students now see it after living through the empathy and definition elements of the process.

This small amount of time in table discussion given to articulate the guiding question helped to focus the ideation sketches and mind maps.  For our prototype, we included these questions on the 545/550 page in the Libguide and called attention to the process by showing students the questions as an example.  While many students worked from our questions, others came up with other guiding questions to form the basis of their work.

We are developing content and learning along with the students about how Design Thinking looks and feels within a classroom.  For their 2nd task in 545/550 classes, they are developing PD for their practicum school centred around learning Design Thinking.  I think they all noticed that Tammy and I had just worked through one type of this task with them.

Next week, we will do a final blogpost that summarizes our experience with teaching Design Thinking to all the students we saw over the last 9 days. It was a wonderful experience.  We felt confident that we were giving them a solid introduction and the language to begin their design thinking journey.


Design Thinking – Day 5 (Week 2)

By: Tammy Flanders

In reviewing last week’s workshops, I’m still wondering how the students who are headed to secondary schools would have accepted the scenario that we did use with students looking to teach at the elementary level.

Originally, Paula and I had thought to design a design thinking task around the scenario of the three little pigs and the big, bad wolf.  Because we felt that the point of the task was to teach about the process of design thinking and less so about the ‘content’ of the scenario that this would work.

One of the instructors recommended coming up with a scenario for the secondary students that would appear less ‘elementary,’ afraid that they wouldn’t buy into it. We did have other instructors also teaching secondary students who didn’t think this would be a problem.

So with this little encouragement, I’m still tempted (at some future time) to use the scenario based on the fairy tale with the secondary students. I think the advantages would balance the negative perceptions. For instance, we need to manage the expectations and make sure students understand that it’s the design thinking process that is the most important part of this.

Also, we think the ice breaker that goes with the three pigs’ scenario gets the students into talking more quickly and with less hang ups. This is done as a ‘roundtable storytelling’ where every student adds a line or two in retelling the story.

Compare this with the scenario that we do use with the secondary students that is based on current events around refugees coming to a new country and the challenges they face. The session starter for them is Paula and I reading/book talking the picture book, Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley. Next we have them chat about what they know about refugees or immigrants from things they’ve read or know personally. Many of them felt that they just didn’t have enough information about refugees in general and that thinking specifically about the Syrian refugees in Canada curtailed their imaginations. They just couldn’t seem to place themselves in the shoes of any new arrival. They were afraid that they would end up creating stereotypes.

However, the three pigs’ scenario wouldn’t have the same baggage as this is such a fanciful story that we encourage students to extrapolate on and take in any direction they want.

Today we had the opportunity to try this out.

Two classes that came to us last week, went through the workshop again (though not in its entirety) using the fairy tale task instead of the refugee scenario. They certainly had fun with it and came up with some really creative ideas.

Because they were already familiar with the introduction, we skipped that and focused the tasks around the scenario giving them lots of time to work through the empathy, definition, ideation and prototyping sections. This was much more hands on as we had the full 80 minutes to let them really get into the role playing, interviewing, defining and ideating and finally ‘building’ a prototype. Even though we brought out many of our building kits (wood blocks, Lego, foam discs, straws and connectors, etc.) many created prototypes that were programs or written informational literature instead.

Over all, I think these second workshops went over well with students but I can’t say for certain whether they would have bought in to it the same way if this had been their first exposure. We did ask if they would have felt it too elementary and some said yes. They also acknowledged that they could see how it would work using the fairy tale.

As I said before, maybe it’s all about managing expectations of the students from the first and reminding them the focus about the process not the actual task.

Thoughts, anyone?

Design Thinking – Day 4

By: Paula Hollohan

“I must govern the clock, not be governed by it.” – Golda Meir

Well, after 4 solid days of Design Thinking workshops, while I agree with the sentiment of this quote, I feel we are still governed by the time allotted to us by the set timetable.

But we did make one noticeable change that helped us all relax and enjoy the workshop so much more. As yesterday evolved and we started the first of the two elementary workshops today, we took the pressure off the students.  They don’t know it but we did.  That’s the great thing about 25 new students in each iteration, they don’t know what they are missing or what they have gained.

Tammy mentioned it right after the first workshop today.  “I like it more when we don’t say, you have 4 minutes to complete this task!!!!” And I agreed.  Saying to the students, “we are gong to give you a few minutes to discuss this part with your table group,” helps focus them but doesn’t pressure them with a deadline.  And it worked.  We looked for when the conversation started to lag or the writing and drawing started to slow down and we moved on from there.  Most impressive was the fact that, even though we had timed it to the minute on our outlines, when we left it to students to pace the discussion, we came in on time in both sessions.

Two things might be at play.  We have done the workshop ten times now so our pacing will naturally become easier to fit within the 80 minutes we are working with but, and I still think of this as magic, students are suitably engaged to have short, deep conversations and move through the process in the time limit given.

We are tired but in a good way.  We have walked about 200 students through the steps of Design Thinking.  We have 8 more workshops next week so stay tuned…

Design Thinking – Day 3

By: Tammy Flanders

We had four workshops today – two for secondary level students and two for elementary level.

It was great having an opportunity to work through the elementary scenario of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf a couple more times. There is definitely a marked difference in the tone of activity between the elementary and secondary students. Whereas the secondary students worked through a more real life example (helping an immigrant/ refugee settle in a new country which they took very seriously) the elementary student teachers were able to let their imaginations go and have some fun.

Paula and I still think there’s merit in having the secondary level students work through the fairy tale scenario just to introduce a bit of levity into the workshop and highlight that the work is about the application of the process not the specific scenario we’ve centered the task around. We just have to screw up our courage and try it out.

Paula and I, in reflecting on today’s teaching, have noted that we have added an element in the definition component of the design thinking process for the sake of clarity. If you read through the literature written about the design thinking process it never actually suggests coming up with a defining problem that will then be ideated. But we found that students struggled to get down to the ideating part, the part about coming up with ideas that look for possible results to help move forward with whatever problem they might be working on. Giving the students a couple of minutes to focus on an actual question or problem made the process a little more apparent.  They had something to ideate or focus on.

Another recommendation that has come up in several of the workshops for the secondary level student teachers is providing them with ‘character cards’, that give them an immigrant character to become when doing the interview with an aide worker.  Some students did get into the role playing and came up with characters who had children, who had never worked before, had specific job skills (ie. Doctor, engineer) they were looking to transfer, etc.  Other students felt like they didn’t know enough about immigrants to make up a character.  Paula and I have resisted this idea so far thinking that using the imagination was of value. We’ve since reconsidered and will make up a few characters that students will have the choice to assume or not.

Stay tuned for tomorrow – two more sessions.