A Journey in Design Thinking

by Ariel Jankord

About three years ago there was a little spark ignited inside of me. It started when my district adopted a 2:1 iPad initiative. I was excited, who wasn’t? But the spark didn’t come until I began seeing iPads as a gateway into creativity and ingenuity. Many people, especially educators saw iPads as a great babysitter. It made small group learning possible; while they taught 4–5 kids, the iPads kept the rest busy. I will admit I was guilty of this. But there was something more to it. As I began loosening the leash on my itty bitty first graders and then second graders I saw that their fearless approach to technology opened doors I never imagined. But iPads were just the beginning.

This past year I began delving into STEAM… What is STEAM? How does it apply to 2nd graders? Are they capable? How do I teach STEAM? How do I make sure I am also covering standards? Do I have time for this? These were all the questions swirling around in my brain. By reading books and blog posts, connecting on Twitter, experimenting with my students most of them had been answered. The icing on the cake was the moment I connected with Ginger Lewman. I attended her session on project-based learning and she helped wrap up the last of my questions. That little spark that had been steadily burning was now gaining momentum.

I’m committed this year to empower my students. This sounds scary to most educators who are planners, organizers, and like to have control. However, we have got to realize that our students are not growing up in the same world we did. Companies are seeking professionals with the four C’s: collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication. Guess what? None of those skills are cultivated sitting at desks quietly and listening to a teacher. They aren’t cultivated through centers that are repetitive activities easy enough for the kids to learn directions in less than 5 minutes and keep them busy and quiet for at least 15. None of those skills are cultivated playing math fact fluency games on the iPad. I have done ALL of the above, but that spark, which is now a blazing fire, is saying NO MORE!

I’m diving in head first.

And if my legs are flailing in the air for awhile I’m okay with that. Will people laugh when I make mistakes? Maybe. But I refuse to continue swimming like everyone else just to fit in, instead I’m choosing to take the risk and do what I believe is best for students. I have already experienced the common teacher reaction when you are doing something cool or different in your classroom: “Ugh, way to make us look bad.” There is still a tinge of anxiety about my coworkers reactions. However, AJ Juliani tackled this fear with a pleasant solution. His suggestion was to document everything, and show the process. Too often when teachers see another class’ polished, final product they chalk it up to showing off. Document the process and focus on the journey that led to that polished, final piece. This is important to encouraging teachers to jump aboard versus making them feel inadequate or creating a competitive nature.

So where to start? Why not the 4th day of school? My students on the 4th day of school are going to start the process of design thinking. I’m going to hook them and challenge them to think outside of the box.

Design our classroom.

This seemed like a huge task and I have very little experience with the design process (okay, so I have NO experience). There were so many inspiring authors and bloggers who said get out in the community and ask the experts for help! Through a series of perfectly placed events and people I landed on Gould Evans, a design firm in Kansas City, MO. I reached out and was connected with David Reid. Just two months ago he co-authored a book on design thinking based on their experimental classroom in downtown KC, STEAM Studio. I was inspired and captivated by their reflections on their process. They too have a desire to cultivate students through design thinking. After connecting, we met to discuss the basics: timing, materials, their involvement, 3D models, and ideas for brainstorming. I was encouraged to watch If You Build It (a documentary on Netflix) and was again energized by the impact of design thinking in the classroom.

The vision is coming together. And I’m bursting with excitement to document my journey of discovery in creating a student-centered classroom.