Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Design Thinking is Everywhere at EHS

“Design thinking isn’t one thing...but a bundle of mindsets and philosophies all wrapped up in one term, which obviously has the potential to lead to ambiguity and misunderstanding.”  - Neil Stevenson, IDEO

Design thinking has been fundamental to our work at EHS since we opened our doors last September - although there are numerous iterations available in both business and education environments, we have used the CBE-preferred model that begins with building empathy, identifying and reframing needs into problem statements, generating ideas, experimenting/prototyping and testing/refining solutions. We introduced design thinking to the whole school through our 'box project' in the fall, when students devised prototypes of devices that could make the world easier for an identified person/group. Sometimes projects like this lead us to believe that using design thinking processes is all about inventing a physical something - the process is, however, an effective strategy for improving multiple areas of learning - reading, writing, science, inquiry, art and music - virtually anything one can learn can be enhanced through the application of the design thinking process!

One of the strongest features of design thinking is that it is solutions focused - using the process helps learners identify their particular need - or the needs of others in a particular situation - and then begin to narrow the needs towards a solution. For a child learning to read, the empathy building process includes understanding what they are already able to do (eg. identify letters/sounds, identify some sight words) and they begin to frame the next steps that are problematic to decoding, reading fluency or comprehension. Once the problem is identified, brainstorming/sharing ideas offers a wide variety of opportunities rather than just one that might/might not work - and testing these ideas leads to success or a re-framing of strategies. Reading becomes manageable in small parts rather than a daunting, formidable task.  The same strategies work well for writing too - and for exploring a science or Social Studies concept.

Strategies like mindmapping, brainstorming, using sketches/sketchnotes, post-it notes, asking questions, using a 5-question strategy to break down problems, webbing - are all familiar and have been used by learners for a long time. Bringing these strategies together in a deliberate way, based on a deep understanding of personal needs through an empathetic lens, invites students to apply a familiar process in a wide variety of learning situations that guarantees learner commitment and success grounded in personal decision making rather than completely designed and executed by the teacher. 

Using design thinking in these ways exemplifies personalized learning and is a key component of how teaching and learning is consistently approached - overtly and covertly - at EHS. As students become increasingly familiar with the process, their confidence and independence increase too - leading to deliberate success that is customized to their personal learning needs.

Education is a continually evolving process - deeply dependent on research, evidence and calculated risk-taking. The design thinking process brings together these elements using strategies even the youngest students are able to make sense of and apply. For learners and teachers at EHS, design thinking will hold a prominent place far into the future as it invites curiosity and fosters creative solution-building for every child.

New thinking making the most of enduring strategies - found in every classroom, every corner and every learning experience at EHS!

Lorraine Kinsman, Principal