More Sticky Notes

Today was a big day for our Paideia students because today was the day we interviewed users!

It seemed as if we might not even have any users to come in to be interviewed with the amount we had to search to find people interested in tiny houses and sustainability who were also available to meet today during the class time. However, somehow we managed to get 4 interviewees, one of which was virtual, who came in today for 15-minute interviews with each of our two teams.

I was incredibly impressed with how far these kids have come with their ability to ask questions. On day 2 during our Flashlab, we were a bit worried because there were a lot of yes or no questions and short, often changing, conversations happening. However, after just a week and a bit they have grown so much! 1334x1000.jpeg.f4cd3a6a28024abe9c5c51eb31c06aec.jpg

Today the interviewees left commenting on how much they liked the teams’ questions and we were having to cut off deep conversations happening due to timing, which was hard to do because it was so wonderful to overhear!

Honestly, what I’ve enjoyed most about teaching this course is seeing how design thinking really affects the lives of students.

Most of these kids didn’t know each other before the class and now we know all sorts of random things about each other; from how we got our names to stories about sibling tensions when the whole family got food poising and were sharing a bathroom.

Plus, Sparks have become a daily norm where we all laugh at how confused the neighboring classrooms must be when they hear us chanting “Jump in, Jump out” or reciting different ice cream flavors, or announcing our superhero names.

1334x1000.jpeg.05f3a73409e1486cbad36c70939e688d.jpgOn the way out of the classroom we’re always told thank you and “can’t wait to see you tomorrow” and one student when doing I Like, I Wish, I Wonder feedback said, “I wish we had more than 18 days in this class!”

They have become learners who question everything, even the challenging topics like “Can you vomit in a composting toilet, and would it be a solid or liquid when separating it into a compartment?”

And they can take those questions and turn them into insights, such as realizing how a toddler might actually be the most receptive family member to adopting a composting toilet because of how the mother said the toddler loves helping out and the ability to take ownership of a process.

I can’t wait to see what insights are found during our unpacking session tomorrow, but first, we need to get more sticky notes- we ran out today…


Kick it into Gear

IMG_6161.JPGThis Tuesday we have another client meeting with our partners from the City of Sandy Springs so it’s been a crazy week for our project team. The main things we’ve accomplished since our last meeting are as follows:

  1. added information with all of the Marta train routes onto our map
  2. added detail to our small area comprehensive plan
  3. developed an info-graphic describing the project which will be launched to the MVPS community November 2nd to gain awareness, support, and partners from parents especially (hopefully unless something changes between now and then)
  4. gained insights from several intercept interviews and observations of morning carpool
  5. have gotten into contact with people from the regional Travel Demand Management (TDM) department and have a meeting set up for November 10th to learn more about their work with traffic in Atlanta 

With our second client meeting coming up, I think it’s a good time for me to reflect on how I’ve been doing on a few of our standards of professional excellence that we have in the Innovation Diploma (ID). In ID we believe strongly in our motto “We are not a class. We’re a start up.” With this said, we do not have grades for ID; there is no number you can assign to our progress and performance in the program. However, like any business we have assessments (like our upcoming client meeting for example) and we gain feedback (from ourself, our team, and our facilitators), and we have standards of excellence so that everyone in ID knows what’s expected of them and how to be successful in the program.

Our collection of standards is based on five key skills we call the 5C’s: Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, and Craftsmanship.

I believe I’ve been preforming strongly in the area of Collaboration-Leadership and Initiative. I’ve consistently demonstrated a clear understanding of the teams work and vision, and have served as project manager to help clarify roles and responsibilities to my team members. Furthermore, I’ve been a spokesperson for all of ID during tour days for our school and have learned to clearly articulate the work we have done so far to people who know nothing about ID let alone the work my team specifically is doing.

That said, there is no perfect leader. There are always ways to improve, and I think it’s time that I start pushing myself even more about what it means to be a leader. A leader not only has a clear understanding of the teams work, but a great leader is able to also coach others to start becoming more of a leader. I’ve been starting to do this by slowly having other team members take over as the point of contact for certain external experts, but I’m sure there are more ways I can get better at stepping down sometimes; after all I graduate next year…

I also need to work on growing in the area of Creativity- Openness and Courage to Explore. As a team we’re starting to get into a rut where we’re too caught up on the data and research. We are having a hard time moving into the empathy phase of the design challenge which we need to get to in order to identify the true heart of the problem. I need to work on exploring ideas outside of just the general problem of “traffic” so we can figure out where this project is going. Right now we have lots of numbers and graphs of our population and times when traffic is bad, and I even got to school before 7:15 on Friday to take observational notes on carpool all morning from a haystack outside by drop off; however, we have yet to truly identify the problem as a team. We know traffic is bad, but why? I don’t think we know why yet which is a problem at this point in the game.

I’m excited about the work our team did in the last few weeks, but in the last few days I’ve realized that I don’t think we’re at the point in our project where we should be. We should have more user insights, which we talked about needing after the last client meeting, and the work we did was in hopes of developing focus groups, but we never actually created those meetings. We’ve been working hard on this info-graphic that will be sent out to parents so they learn about the project and hopefully agree to meet with us, but we misjudged the amount of time it would take us to make a high-quality product so those meetings are yet to happen. I am though, still proud of the info-graphic work and think it did need to be iterated since it’s our one big shot to send something out in the newsletter to the community. Looking back, what I would have done differently would be to find a different way to get the information we needed.

This didn’t hit me until a few days ago but now it makes me realize we need to kick it in gear and I don’t know how to communicate that to the rest of my team because I don’t think everyone feels this way.

I wonder if our clients will call us out on this because sometimes I find that adults get too caught up in the novelty of students doing this kind of work and don’t call us out the way they would with adults they may work with.

No More Hesitation

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New faces, new stories, new possibilities; fuse16 day 1 is done and it was such a great hit!

For those of you that didn’t get to join in on the fun this year, here’s a quick summary of today’s flow:

We love to throw people right into the deep end by starting this morning off with a design thinking flashlab, where we went through an entire lap of design thinking in just a few hours. From there we had lots of opportunities to eat, question, and mingle and finished the night with some powerful MoVe (moment of visible empathy) talks given by our 4 non-profit partners and 4 people from MVPS.

One of the things I love most about fuse is the opportunity to meet so many new passionate people in one place at one time. I had so many MoVeing (I crack myself up) conversations with people today about all sorts of things from blogging, to theater, to foreign language, to gymnastics, and then of course many conversations about design thinking and how it’s impacted my life. (Especially after giving my MoVe Talk: Thinking Like a Designer— this is actually last year, but it’s the same talk minus one slide and a years more worth of public speaking and natural improv with the audience.)

I love the chance to network with so many people and I’m honored that so many people care about my opinions. What I’ve realized from today is that even in just the last year, I’ve grown to be so much more comfortable with design thinking and the language that accompanies it.

While coaching I’m not always turning to another to ask a million questions about it I’m going about things right; instead I’m being asked questions. In conversations people have caught me saying “design slang” terms like “I wonder” and “what if” and “discovery and empathy work” naturally in response to questions not necessarily about DT directly. Being one of, if not the only student, in the room has become normal to me; in fact, today I was actually pushing my little sister to go join in with the adults since this was her first time in a situation like that. (I also told her to get use to it since she’s joining ID next year.)

In my MoVe Talk I mention how there is no perfect designer, but the best we can do is to continually practice and you will find yourself more naturally feeling and acting like a designer. I wrote up this MoVe a year ago when I had first noticed myself subconsciously thinking like a designer, and now, a year later, I feel this statement is even more true. Last year I was just realizing that I am a designer and everyone else can be one too, and going back to freshman year I was just learning what design thinking even was. The year before that, I couldn’t tell you the first thing about what it meant to think like a designer. But now, in just 3 years, I don’t think I hesitate at all to say that I’m a designer. All that’s changed is that I’ve had more experiences to build confidence and competence.

It’s always nice to get a reminder that makes you look back on where you were to make you realize just how far you’ve come.


RISE To New Levels

ReSpIn’s journey through the prototypes at iFest 2016.

(I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been wanting to write this post, however I wanted to make sure I wrote it when I wasn’t paranoid about being up too late and still getting other things done. So finally, here it goes. )

For the past several months I have been one of four members of the ID cohort on the ReSpIn team- a team striving to Reduce waste, Spark conversations, and Inspire change so that sustainability becomes a part of the Mount Vernon community’s DNA.

Back in the fall, we observed that the middle school does not have recycling bins in their classrooms due to “not having the space.” Yet if we wish to have our students making conscious decisions about how they are affecting the environment, it’s important for us to provide the means like a recycling bin in order to make positive choices. This simple observation impelled a year long design challenge around how we could provide the middle school with a recycling bin that not only was a piece of furniture that people utilized properly, but also really made people think more about environmental sustainability.

Using the DEEP process as a kicking off point, we were able to create early prototypes that lead us to the overall concept of the RISE Sustainability System. (While not intentional, we recently realized that “RISE” could actually stand for, “Recycling in School Environments,” though I must admit that was not intentional for that reason.)

The system would have two elements:

  1. Part one is the RISE bin container which would serve as a shell for the current bins we have, but the shell would create more vertical and shelf space by providing a way to raise the recycling bin on top of the trash bin.
  2.  Part two is the accompanying classroom component meant to help teach students more about recycling.  We realized, after interviewing an external expert who is a venture capitalist, that trying to make sustainability a part of the MVPS DNA needs both a product and a social innovation; therefore, the classroom curriculum is meant to address the social component of this problem.

These two parts together are the entire “RISE Sustainability System.” However, we have focused primarily at this point on the physical product because it is what was most in front of us at the moment. (What good does it due for students to learn about why and how we properly recycle if they don’t actually have a way to recycle in their classroom?)

Through early empathy interviews, prototypes, experiments, and observations, we discerned that students take an interest in things they have ownership over. So the big question became,

“How might we have students take ownership of the RISE bin with the bin itself still being structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing?” 

Our solution: have the middle school students build and customize their own RISE bin as a class. Our first to scale prototype, which sat in two different middle school classrooms for a week, generated a lot of buzz about recycling, and we learned that the 5th graders in particular were really curious about the RISE. They were asking lots of questions and wanted people to use it correctly even though it was falling a part due to it’s design (being made out of foam and duct tape primarily). So our hypothesis was that if students got to build the RISE themselves they would take even more ownership over the bin and wanting people to use it correctly, which therefore means they’d have to recycle correctly.

IMG_5107.jpgThis new hypothesis brought a plethora of design constraints for us on the ReSpIn team. In particular we were struggling with figuring out the best materials to use, how to attach pieces together, and how to create a simple yet ascetically pleasing way to get the waste into the proper bins. This period of struggle included long discussions with the team, mentors, and experts, several prototypes of different magnitudes, and many hours outside of school declared “ID time” spent working to finish our product. (I now know all sorts of random fun facts about materials and machines, like how you can’t use Coroplast in a CNC machine because the rotation of the machine will just get caught in the threads and make a not so aesthetically pleasing hole. More than just fun facts, I’ve learned how to use a plethora of tools like Silhouette, Fusion360, and the laser cutter while also improving my innovators skills of associating, experimenting, questioning, networking, and observing.)

We were narrowing prototypes based on 8 design specifications and scoring with either a negative, a positive, or a neutral:

  • function- how well are people able to get trash into the trash bin and recycling into the recycling bin?
  • customers-how well can our users put the RISE together? how well can custodians take out the content of the bins?
  • materials- how hard is it for us to get the materials ready for our users to put it together? (“What machines can we use with this material?” was a large factor.)
  • environment- How environmentally friendly is the prototype? (this had to be positive)
  • size- does it take up minimal space?
  • safety- how safely can students put the prototype together with this version?
  • aesthetics- looking for a certain degree of professionalism since we are at school
  • cost- the goal is to make the RISE wide scale someday, so how costly would it be?
ReSpIn team at GT’s lab learning about CNC machines and what materials work with what machines.

After a fair amount of time, we were finally able to decide upon a 2.0 full scale version of the RISE. This version is made out of PVC, MDF boards (wood), and  zip ties and has met all of our requirements.

By iFest (the day at MVPS where all high schoolers showcase project based learning work from the year) which was just three weeks ago, we were able to create one fully finished 2.0 prototype and most of one 2.1 prototype which we had high schoolers and teachers testing with our instructions book while trying to create the PVC skeleton of the 2.1 prototype. (There are only minor differences which we wanted to test such as how 2.1 is taller and has a front piece made out of a different wood which we stained.)  Then after iFest, after we finished up the rest of 2.1 and made edits to our instructions book, we were ready to get our latest prototypes tested by some actual middle schoolers.

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I’m happy to now announce that earlier this week we had a huge success for the ReSpIn team with our RISE Sustainability System! We were able to get our prototype into the classroom and officially test out the design with middle schoolers and it went really well!!!IMG_1763

As soon as I walked down the hall with a pile of supplies, 5th graders started looking at me and asking questions about what I was doing. I quickly assembled a group of 15 student volunteers to help with our test, and from the moment I gave them the instructions booklet they were deep in concentration over their work. I noticed a lot of teamwork skills being practiced with leaders emerging for different things such as the student holding and reading instructions, and the student taking lead with putting PVS pieces together, and the student telling others what they could do to help, and the student asking everyone questions to make sure they were doing things correctly.

From early on I was able to observe that there were still several students not actively participating in the process the entire time, so I changed the test a little by instruction them to split up into a teams. One group focused on the PVC part and another focused on prepping the wood pieces with zip ties for when they’d be attached. Based on this feedback our team is now editing our instructions book to say from the start for the class to break up into 3 teams with two of the teams working on a different section of the PVC and the third team working on wood. This will hopefully help more students stay actively engaged in the process and cut down on how long it takes to put the RISE together.

We also were able to get good feedback about how much people liked the pictures, but we need to adjust the way we talk about the wood pieces because that was hard for them to understand which piece was which. One girl also said, “These zip ties are hard to get in the holes,” and multiple others agreed, so I think we have some design work to make that easier as well. There were a few other wording confusions, but overall they were able to assemble the bin with only asking me a few questions about the wood pieces particularly and also when one PVC piece was not quite fitting in right.

However, the most inspiring piece of feedback of the test that we were given was from a little girl who told me, “This is the best idesign challenge we’ve done, because we never get to see a project like this get this far.”

IMG_1762I’ve fallen in love with our users and I’m excited for the new edits and whatever comes next so that we can provide them with the best solution to this problem. Though, I don’t know exactly what our next steps are, because like the 5th grade girl said, “We’ve never gotten this far.” But all of the smiling faces, “thank you”s, and teacher comments about students asking more questions about recycling is how I know we are doing something right.

Leaping into Empathy


Being as passionate about education redesign as I am, I’ve been trying to make more of a point to think about ways that design thinking can be incorporated into the classroom, and what struggles I notice occurring around trying to use elements of design thinking.

One of the big things I’ve noticed is that we often spend a really long time on the discovery phase. (Referring to the DEEP process we use at MVPS which stands for Discover, Empathize, Experiment, Produce.) I think this is because teachers, and maybe even some students, feel “safest” in the discovery mode.

Discovery is all about research, and it is really easy to “justify” how the discovery phase is meeting the goals of traditional schooling because we have always done research at school. Teachers and students have always done research and therefore, the discovery phase feels more comfortable because it’s not requiring you to really stretch yourself as a learner in terms of how you act and what you learn. Everyone interprets what they read based on what they want to know and already believe. It is much easier to get a piece of text to support your argument then it is to hear a person speak and try to pick a part their talk to validate your own believes.

While the discovery phase is very necessary to a design process, because you need some background information to know what you are even dealing with, I believe the quicker you can make the leap from discovery to empathy mode, the more things will start to “make sense”. The empathy phase is when you are challenged and get pieces of insight that spark your curiosity and interest. This is where both student and teachers start to light up and find themselves wanting to research more to further understand and question what their user said.

I’ve observed first hand the moment when students find themselves hooked on a design challenge because they realize how much it means to someone else that they spoke to. I’ve also observed how excited teachers get to see their students excited about learning. Once you get to the empathy phase, the rest of the challenge starts to get much clearer, and the question of “what in the world are we doing” starts to become less foggy.

The problem is that while the discovery mode feels very safe and comfortable in the classroom, the empathy mode is far from “safe and comfortable”. To get to the point of interviewing people can be really hard in a classroom environment. One of the biggest struggles being that if students don’t yet care or understand why you are doing what you are doing, it is often hard to get them to find people to interview because they don’t know what to do next.

Design thinking is still pretty new to the education world, and while teachers are learning more and more about how to involve design thinking in their classrooms, students are not necessarily having a parallel introduction to design thinking. If a teacher walks into a classroom full of students that barely (if at all) understand why we do design thinking, they can’t just magically flip on the light switch and expect the students to be able to self guide themselves through a design thinking challenge.

The light switch has to be built before it can be used.

You have to have the tool before you can use it.

Creative confidence is something nurtured and grown, not magically summoned upon when you need it for a class assignment.

I know I haven’t even started to talk about the Experiment or Produce stages, but that’s because I honestly don’t think I’ve had a class where we really and truly reached these stages even.

More often than not, we spend so much time on discovery, that we try to cram empathy in really quickly and then have spent so much time on the project already, that we decide to end after our empathy findings so that we can move on to the next unit. I get why. I mean there is only so much time in the school year, and at this point there are still things that teachers have to teach to meet certain standards by the end of the year. And to be honest, if you spend to much time on a design challenge that isn’t moving anywhere, it can eventually seem tiresome and overdone; there is only so much researching you can do before you want to just drop everything.

However, I think if we could move faster into the empathy phase of design thinking, then we would be more likely to see a challenge all the way through. I believe this because after meeting with users is when things really start to get exciting to the point where you don’t want to stop.

So here are some of my thoughts…

What if teachers took more responsibility over design challenges in the classroom? At least until students start to show a great understanding for the process itself (I imagine a future where by the time students reach high school, they are already at this comfort level; however, with design thinking in the classroom still being relatively new, students are not all ready for this responsibility yet. There is a lack of experience that must be accounted for first.)

What if, rather than going through and entire design challenge, teachers set up more design sprints or just mini design challenges that had a very purposeful flow with time constraints? Maybe these could last a week or two max for these challenges. In this challenge teachers would help facilitate students researching about users that the teacher has already found and set a specific time when they would come in to be interviewed by students. This would eliminate the struggle of students trying to find and communicate with people to set up interview times. While this is a great skill to learn, in the classroom this can get complicated because everyone has different schedules and some students may need more help than others with setting up this interview. So I think this skill is something that could wait to be practiced until students have a better understanding of the design thinking process first.

Then after all of the students have gotten the chance to talk to one or two users, the teacher helps guide the class through a series of tools to help unpack interviews and discover what the how might we statement is.

It’s at this point where I would imagine some of my blog readers may start thinking that this sounds like a very familiar process. That’s because I literally think that teachers could facilitate in their classroom sessions similar to how we run some of our big design thinking events at Mount Vernon like the Council on Innovation or FUSE. Sure there may be a bit more of a challenge with time because the sessions would have to be broken up over multiple days for shorter time periods, but I think it’s conceivable. (I mean we even had students create and facilitate an entire design thinking session with a similar flow to this in Davos this past summer for the Global Leadership Summit.)

Students need time to be creative and explore their passions, but when it comes to design thinking, I think they first need more guidance and closer facilitation in order to learn the ropes before trying to sail alone. The best way to learn how to sail is to actually get in the boat, so why not give students more opportunities to experience design thinking by facilitating lots of mini more guided and focused design thinking sessions in the classroom?  This may also help with classroom design challenges leaping over the ditch between the discovery and empathy phases of the DEEP process, and then maybe having the time to then go even further into the process with experimenting and producing. The student boats will capsize a few times, but eventually they’ll get more use to that water, and before you (the teacher) knows it, they’ll be off exploring new lands on their own.

The Importance of an Interview

Design thinking explained in simplest forms is 99% of the time explained as “human centered problem solving” (that other 1% is because there are always people who argue with definitions and the meaning of words.)

In order for designs to be human centered, you have to actually talk to humans. This means you have to set up interviews with real users in order to understand their needs, thoughts, emotions, and motivations if you wish to innovate for him/her.

In history class we have been going through a design challenge for the last few weeks in regards to constitutional debates currently taking place. This challenge has had me doing more research work in terms of why and how to do interviews with people. While I’ve done a good number of design thinking interviews, you can always learn more and a little more research never killed anyone.

I ended up looking at a few articles, a video, and a slide deck that all have to do with interviewing tips and the importance of empathy. Personally I couldn’t help but laugh that so much of my research pointed me back to the Stanford d.School. (I don’t know why this makes me laugh, but just the fact that this one organization has managed to make such an impact on a larger community never to amaze and inspire me. I can’t wait for ID to get to work with Stanford students on a design challenge next spring!!!)

The goal of having an interview with someone is to observe, engage, and immerse yourself in their stories to learn about their needs and uncover insights that can help guide designs. I really like how Aarron Walter described empathy back in September when I went to Creative Mornings and heard him speak about empathy: “to journey into the emotions of another.” If you try to design something without first working with a user, then you could be designing a product that doesn’t actually help anyone and therefore it’s just a waste of time to even design it at all. Innovations are considered to be so great because they help people in ways never before imagined. If you aren’t helping people, then you aren’t innovating: this is why we interview people.

Personally I think the hardest part of interviewing in finding who to actually speak to. The best person to speak to would be an “extreme user” someone who has very strong opinions on a topic. For example, my design challenge is around public art and the freedom of speech, so an extreme user could be one of the government leaders who suggested the new regulations on public art work. However, this isn’t a perfect world, and you aren’t always going to get to talk with an “ideal user”. In actuality, it’s more likely than not that at least one of the people you interview may just be a “dud”- someone who isn’t really great at telling stories and it’s really hard to pull insights from them to help with you challenge. It’s perfectly normal to end up in this situation once or twice, so the trick is to recognize when you may be talking to someone that just isn’t the right user for your challenge, and to be able to politely wrap up the interview.

However, you will never know if you are interviewing a helpful user if you aren’t prepared on your end to be a good interviewer. People’s time is precious, and you don’t want to waste your user’s time. We have to prepare for an interview so that we can help the conversation flow more smoothly in a small amount of time.

To prepare, first you need to make sure you really understand who you are talking to: do some research. The more you already know your user, the easier it will be to ask questions and dig deeper into their stories. Your research also often helps you brainstorm questions.

When brainstorming questions, first you want to just go for volume. Think of as many questions as you possibly can that may help with your challenge. Sometimes it even helps to make a time limit on this brainstorm, just to make sure you keep moving forward and don’t get caught spending all of your prep time brainstorming. You can’t get stuck brainstorming the whole time because after you brainstorm, you need to go back through your questions and start narrowing and organizing your list, since you won’t have time to ask every question.

When preparing for an interview, you have to figure out what questions would be most valuable to ask and figure out an order for those questions. Valuable questions are not yes or no questions, instead valuable questions and those questions that encourage users to tell stories. Stories are one of the most valuable things in the world. One story can inspire an entire design, but you have to hear those stories first.

From my research and experience I’ve learned a couple of tips about types of questions to ask:

  • When asking questions you need to think about asking “simple” questions that don’t require extra explaining.
  • These questions should be asked in a neutral way without any suggested answer so that your user doesn’t feel swayed to just agree with you.
  • Don’t ask questions that start with “usually” because they lend to a very general answer, and you want specific stories.
  • When in doubt, a designers favorite word is “why?”

Preparation can only help so much though, because eventually you actually have to have the interview. When in the interview there is a kind of story arch that I created with the help of a few sources mixed together that may help:

  1. introduce yourself

  2. introduce your project

  3. shift the focus to your user

  4. evoke stories

  5. explore emotions

  6. question statements (as in new questions you’ve thought about during the interview)

  7. thanks & wrap up (Don’t forget to thank your user for their time and stories! Not thanking a person could completely change how they think about you for the future.)

Meanwhile, the whole time CAPTURE EVERYTHING!!! Interviews are great, but you won’t remember everything, so you need to capture the insights you find so that you can come back to them later. Capturing can take the form of pictures, sticky notes, journal notes, video clips, or whatever you can figure out. Furthermore, when you capture, it is important to note not only what a user is specifically saying, but to also look for inconsistencies, physical movement, and potentially consider what they may be thinking or feeling in a given instance. The key is to write down only enough so that you can remember it later, without wasting too much time writing instead of listening or questioning.

Not all silence is awkward though. Sometimes it can be good to have a little bit of silence to allow everyone to really digest their thoughts. Silence isn’t something to fear, so don’t feel the need to fill the silence with some little quick question that takes value away from a conversation. Personally, this is something I really struggle with and know I need to get better at.

I don’t consider myself to be a master interviewer. In fact, I often find myself struggling with the interview section of design thinking while actually in the moment of an interview. Sometimes no matter how much you research the only way to truly improve is to actually practice. So while these tips I’ve suggested can be helpful to know, I’d encourage anyone wanting to improve their interview skills to just go out and conduct a bunch of interviews. Learning from experience, both failures and successes, can often be the most helpful way to learn, and learning how to interview to gain empathy for users is a very important life skill to learn.

Not All at Once


I’ve been starting to notice this year how we have really been trying to incorporate aspects of design thinking into even the more “traditional” classes. Which is great! I mean it’s nice to know that teachers recognize the value of using design thinking as a tool and want to use it in their classes even if only portions at a time.

However, design challenges can really get intense; they are a lot of hard work and you are often exhausted when you finish one. Even just having Innovation Diploma time all Thursday morning can sometimes leave me pretty pooped afterwards because you build up and use a ton of energy mentally and even physically some of the time.

Now I’m that person that loves to get involved in tons of things; I’m a multipotentialite as I say. So it’s really easy for me to get curious and want to be involved in new design challenges when they come. (Just today in ID I was having to make a difficult decision as to what path I want to take for ID now that officially our design challenge module on healthy living  is over; however, I decided to continue working with a sub set of my design team on our challenge but now as an official coVenture.)

The problem is, that due to the nature of design challenges, you can’t work on a ton at once because each requires a great deal of focus and time commitment.

With this all said, I love how teachers are starting to incorporate design thinking and design challenges into their classrooms, but I’m also a little worried. If I was trying to work on a separate design challenge in each of my 7 periods, then none of them would really be all that great. It’s just not possible to spend the amount of time necessary to do a meaningful design challenge on that many different challenges at once.

So as we grow as a school and community of learners, I wonder how in the future classes might start to collaborate more so that students can maybe be working on 1 or 2 design challenges at once, but they explore aspects of their topic through the lens of different classes. Then students could focus their energies more specifically on challenges, and maybe it would also help teachers to have someone else to help plan with for facilitation purposes; I’ve rarely seen a design challenge facilitated by just one person.

A great example of something like this in action is a redesign the bike challenge created by 3 MVPS teachers combining the Engineering and Tech, AP Physics, and Algebra 2 classes. While I’m not in any of these classes myself, I’ve been reading some of the teachers blog posts about it and was a little more than jealous of the students that did get to participate. From what I’ve heard, there were definitely some struggles with it as expected with any first iteration, but it was a great start that I hope to see iterations on for the future that maybe even involve different classes for new challenges next time.

I wonder what the future of designing thinking in classrooms looks like. I imagine a future where one day there doesn’t even have to be the division of “classrooms”.

Saving the Environment and Sparking Conversation


It’s been a great (yet very tiring) week! I’ve had so many late nights that I feel like I haven’t blogged in forever even though I did two days ago…

What I haven’t gotten to do is give an update on my team in ID’s Healthy Living design challenge which has gradually become about recycling. Now while I haven’t blogged about it in a little while, the other night I did create a powerpoint about our journey so far with some pictures and comments that help show our story that once started with just an abandon garden. (If you look at this powerpoint keep in mind that it is a working doc and is constantly being updated now by all team members.)

The last time I blogged about our process on the challenge I had talked about the learning process involved with us creating our full scale prototype of our design and mentioned how once we finished we would start are user centered experiment. As of last Friday we actually put our product design (which should hopefully have a name by sometime next week) in an 8th grade classroom.

The results and findings since then have been amazing!!!

On Wednesday we checked in on our prototype and discovered that the recycling bin had been used 30 times, and when we looked all but one item– a small snack bar rapper– actually belonged in the recycling! This was cool qualitative data that we collected, but the feedback didn’t end there because next we did some observations.

The side door seemed to be slightly opened, meaning that someone, potentially student or teacher, must have been using the door meant only to be used by custodian. This means our design may not be clear enough with how to use it. We also noticed that our makey makey device, that allowed for us to count the number of times the recycling bin was opened, seemed to be messed up slightly so our findings may not be accurate. We also noticed that some of our prototyped hinges were falling off and the doors weren’t completely closed, so physically speaking, the design could be improved to better function.

Next step was to go talk to our users. We very purposefully picked Wednesday as the day we would check in with our prototype because on Wednesday’s the innovation diploma is meeting at the same time that the middle school is eating lunch. So we picked up some sticky notes and sharpies and got to interviewing! We split up and talked to 3 different users: the teacher who’s room the prototype was in, 7th and 8th graders, and some members of the custodial staff.

The first piece of feedback the teacher gave us was, “It’s amazing!” (That felt great to hear!) He then told us about how the prototype started to spark conversation amongst students because they noticed our prototype and were curious then about what could and couldn’t be recycled. He even found himself being more conscious of reminded students to recycle and hopes that after time his reminding could be decreased. Now on the one hand it was great to hear we were sparking conversation, on the other hand though, it means our prototyped sign, which talked in portion about what could be recycled, probably wasn’t getting read. We dug deeper to discover that indeed most people didn’t read the sign, and our user suggested maybe it is too long and would be better if it was on the prototype itself rather than a separate sign. This idea was inspired because he loved our labels on the prototype saying “recycling” and “landfill” because he thought it was a great reminder to students as to wear their waste could end up.

The students also said they really enjoyed having a recycling bin again, and thought our design was interesting. We heard more when talking to students about how they did in fact open the side door–confirming our observational hypothesis. Interestingly, while size had been something our team worried about, the students were the first and only ones to say they actually wished it as smaller because they felt it’s size and positioning in that classroom made the room feel smaller. Our team is keeping this in mind as we start plans for prototype 3.0.

The interviews with the custodial staff were also very insightful. They thought our design was great, but with the current prototype the bins ended up having to be duck taped in as a last minute fix, and thus the custodians couldn’t remove the bins as they could have liked to in order to empty the bins. Also I think the most unexpected thing we heard was that the custodians actually found the room our prototype was in to get noticeably cleaner in just those few days it was in the room. The room had less trash lying around and the custodians hypothesized that it was because our design had made people so interested in waste, and maybe people just wanted to use our prototype, that they actually did a better job of not leaving trash and recyclables lying around. We had never imagined that our prototype could create all of this change!

The thing is, we aren’t actually done with this experiment. After this initial feedback we have wanted to test some of the hypothesizes that have been risen. So we moved the prototype into a new room where the teacher is enthusiastic about recycling, and she even told us how she was not pleased with how messy her room can get (as did the custodians recommend the room). To test the idea that our prototype is actually making rooms cleaner, we moved it into her room this Wednesday (same day we were doing the interviews because we felt we needed to act fast).

We have not yet checked back in with this teacher and her students to my knowledge, but since this Wednesday we actually received an email from a lower school teacher, who we had interviewed way earlier in this design challenge process, that had seen and heard about our prototype and wanted one in her room!!!! That was pretty stinking awesome to be messed about someone wanting even just your prototype!

So recently we’ve actually been reiterating our design by researching and honing in on the best design, materials, ascetics, and systematic parts to our product, while also keeping up the experiment with our 2.0 current prototype. The prototype got moved today after school down to this lower school teachers classroom across campus, and the total recycling count was at 60 from just 2.5 days in this last classroom! This is twice as many times that people recycled compared to the first time which means that people in the 7th and 8th grade building have been increasing their recycling rate since the implementation of our prototype!!!

Throughout this design challenge I’ve never been super attached to our product; it’s not like I don’t care about recycling, that just isn’t what keeps me up pondering at night like it may for others. However, I think I’m starting to become more and more attached to our users through keeping up with this challenge, which is really the whole point of design thinking: falling in love with your user to help them. I feel the need to continue with the process because I truly see people needing and enjoying even our prototypes. We are creating visible positive changes in a system: recycling is improving, conversations and being generated, and less trash is being left around. I hope things only get better for our users/community!

Plus the longer we have continued, the more we have learned and soon maybe we’ll even get to a point of actually getting into industrial production type work. I’m so excited for us to continue this work and can’t wait to see what our version 3.0 ends up looking like, and then 3.1 and 3.2 and so on! All of us on the team are currently researching various components of our product which so far has included looking into 3D printing, laser cutters, CAD Models, word smithing, visual design, vinyl creation, and how to make homemade yet sturdy recycled materials.

Big goal of next week: learn as much as possible in our personal area to start making decisions, name the product, and come up with a more clear and consistent mission.

Putting on a Leadership Hat


Today Kat and I had our first big discussion on #EdJourney after having finished “Part 1: Roadblocks: How Can We Overcome the Biggest Obstacles to School Reform”. Now to be honest, Kat and I both felt that the book is more written for an audience that is either a teacher or educator rather than a student, but that’s ok it just challenged us to change how we read. Personally I’ve been reading the book through the perspective of a leader.

We are trying to make this a timed writing piece so rather than going into depth on our discussion I would like to point out a few key insights I found through our reading and discussion today:

  • Teams and organizations need to break the mold of pyramid structured leadership if they wish to innovate and instead have a richer system of many levels and different people that can be trusted to lead.
  • Leaders must be challenged in order for improvement and innovation to occur. It is uncomfortable to ask teammates hard questions, but it is necessary. This is a cultural change that needs to take place.
  • Decision making should not all be done by one person; therefore, people need to be able to trust others with the responsibility involved in making decisions in order to innovate.
  • Giving people a title helps them feel more empowered as a leader that can be responsible in that area of work, and helps give others someone to go to other than a “top dog” on a traditional leadership pyramid.
  • I wonder when it is right to lead by example versus letting others experience and struggle with something on their own.
  • We wish there was a book like this exploring innovative colleges and universities are the country.
    • And it would be really cool if we could do this as high schoolers or college students… (including writing a book about the findings.)
  • We wonder what it would be like for high schoolers to have more opportunities like those of college students to go on long “breaks” for learning outside of school. Like building a school in the rainforest of Thailand. Or traveling the country talking to different educators. Or trying to find a solution to clean water. Or apprenticing artist for a few weeks. (We both went on college visits this weekend so study abroad, internships, and co-op  opportunities are on our minds.)

Life = Humanities “and” STEM not “or”


MVPS is on fall break currently so we have a long weekend with no school today. It was such a great day!!!

And I spent half my day at school by choice. 🙂

While the students had today off, teachers had a planning day. While I haven’t been to a planning day before, I do know that this was not the normal planning day because it was run by MViFi and set up like a conference. Teachers seemed to really enjoy being able to have the choice of what sessions they attended and also being able to do a lot of hands on work.

The reason I was at the planning day was because I was offered the opportunity to co-facilitate one of the sessions, specifically the recycling session. This was a great and fun opportunity to lead and share our work in ID with teachers from across divisions. After years of talking about recycling problems that need to be solved for, I’m excited with the conversations that have been started and can’t wait to see how things continue. It’s also always nice when people get excited about your prototype. (Which is officially done and in place in a middle school classroom collecting data!!!!)

However, what I think I enjoyed most about today actually was my second session on designing a humanities course that will be launched for freshman to take for 2016-2017. It was a great group and a great challenge that sparked great conversation!

One of the big take away thoughts that I had was around the idea of fun work versus meaningful work.

My table had a conversation about how the humanities are about humans, which also has a lot to do with struggle. (By the way also there was an important distinction with “humanities” not just meaning English and history classes, but also arts and language and being more about culture than just being a combo of subjects.) Both analyzing and communicating the struggles of others, and having to struggle yourself to get work done. The truth is that there is a lot of struggle in life. I might not have the years of experience to really be able to say this, but I’d like to think, while I may not be able to empathize, I can at least understand on some level.

Sometimes you will have work that you simply don’t want to do, but you still have to get it done. In life you don’t always get to do what you want. It’s not always fun. That’s ok thought.

We talked about how you can do really hard work, that might not be the most fun while you’re working on it, but afterwards it can feel so rewarding. Rewarding to the point where students even comment by saying, “This was really hard, but I loved it! I feel like I really learned something.” One of the teachers mentioned our past show “Beast on the Moon”, and how it obviously was not a very up lifting comedy kind of show. The show was very serious, with lots of emotions and moving pieces constantly changing, and in general it was a tough drama, not to mention the amount of lines to memorize. However, after the show, we were thrilled with what we had just pulled off. It was rewarding to know we went through all of the hard work and then could put on a show that truly moved people.

However, the interesting question/struggle comes with how to make the hard work then feel rewarding at the end. In my opinion, this requires for students to be given the opportunity to do meaningful work.

Meaningful work can be fun. Feeling happy about learning something I think is pretty meaningful– being happy is important to a healthy life.

However, meaningful work can also be hard. It can be tiring and stressful and time consuming and still be meaningful.

In AP Lang we’ve been working on our Creativity Crisis papers (in fact I was going to officially share mine today, but I was much too passionate about today’s adventures to not talk about them). Now while we were still writing a paper, and staying up late to meet deadlines, and getting specific feedback that wasn’t always positive, we have been ok with all of it because we know that we have to go through all of that hard work in order to share something valuable with a wider audience. That is how we are choosing to try and make the work we do meaningful in this situation.

Teachers can’t just make work meaningful because for work to be meaningful, students have to find that meaning. However, it is possible for the work to not be given the chance to be meaningful. When this happens, this is when work feels tedious on top of being tiring and stressful and time consuming.

I feel like there is a common assumption that students (especially those of us helping more significantly with shaping our own learning experience) think we should only do work we find to be fun work. Another assumption being that your typical “STEM student” (a bubble to which I find myself often included) thinks everything should be about brainstorming and creating a product.

I’d like to dispel these beliefs at least a little because I don’t believe either of these assumptions to be true.

In fact I don’t want to ever only be doing fun work because after a while it stops being fun if it isn’t also challenging. While “fun stuff” is needed to help relieve stress and keep high energy levels to be able to work on harder stuff, overcoming challenges often feels more rewarding then just doing the fun stuff.

Also I find it interesting, because while I do love STEM and will likely go into a STEM field, I have found myself in a lot of humanities conversations lately. Sometimes it is important to just have a conversation. To not be focused on trying to make an end product, but to just sit and have a deep talk. However, you can’t always just sit and talk because eventually it will start to feel like you are having an empty conversation because it’s the same type of conversation you’ve had before but nothing is changing.

STEM and the Humanities need each other. Humanities, understanding humans, is at the basis of any thing you are trying to design, and you need the STEM skills to then actually design it to help provoke change which then leads to new conversations.

I feel like my thoughts have been all over the place tonight. (Probably doesn’t help with it being so late and my flight to Ohio being such chaos tonight.) I think part of the disjointedness to this writing tonight is because I have so many thoughts about this idea of Humanities and STEM; it feels like they are always working in competition with one another rather than collaboration with one another.

My big thought I guess is that great learning is about overcoming challenges that leads to something where you are able to feel happy and proud about what you’ve accomplished at the end. If you aren’t happy and proud at the end, then why did you do it?