July 29, 2015

Design Thinking for K-12: Boys Designing Barbie Clothes and Other Amazing Outcomes

Ei is more than a school for individuals who design their own education. We are also a design studio that adapts design thinking for k-12, higher ed, and businesses.

One aspect of that work is our Design Thinking collaborations with K12 schools. (You can see these collaborations demonstrated in the video below highlighting our work with the Beavercreek City School District in Ohio!) Another aspect has also included a recent partnership with The Teacher's Guild, alongside team members like IDEO, Riverdale Country School, Google and others eager to tackle challenges in the education sphere.

We're dedicating today's blog to updates on that work from our Director of Programs, Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom.

Without further ado, meet Aaron:


I hope you’re having a great summer, finding time here and there to take off for the woods, jump in a lake, or share a cool drink with a good friend.

We’ve been enjoying our summer here at Ei, while also continuing to explore with teachers and educational leaders how we can leverage the tools of design thinking to empower students to re-design their world and the world around them. Here are some updates on that work:

Bringing Design Thinking to Science and Social Studies Classes in Ohio

In May, Science and Social Studies teachers (who participated in our February Intro to Design Thinking workshop) had the chance to take their classes into newly completed design labs, and dive into activities we'd built for them.

One activity touched on the problem of plastics in the waste stream, and challenged students to develop viable products made from recycled plastic bags. When one student heard about the project, he got his parents to take him to the mall so he could collect plastic bags in a variety of colors. He then designed clothes for his sister’s barbie dolls.

Other students designed sandals, an apron, a prom dress, and a fantastic umbrella hat.

We’ve also been finalizing work on three stand-alone design thinking elective courses for middle and high school students. If you’re interested in seeing any of these resources, let us know. We can get permission from the district to share them with you.

Building Design Thinking Capacity in Kentucky

To go fast, go alone; to go far, go together." – African Proverb

Since last fall, we’ve led six Intro to Thinking workshops through a Race to the Top grant in Kentucky focused on using DT to tackle organizational challenges. In April I led a two-day planning session with five local leaders from the grant to design a workshop to help teachers facilitate the process with their students.

Designing a workshop for teachers is something I could have done internally in less time, but their goal with this grant is to not only bring in Design. Thinking for K-12 expertise, but to develop it among their own staff. Smart. It’s a goal lots of people say they have, but one that very few commit the necessary resources to accomplish.

Over the course of two days, we developed a better agenda than I would have created on my own. It was better because it was informed by their knowledge of local teachers and resources. It also resulted in greater investment and know-how on their part.

A couple of weeks ago, we used that agenda to co-facilitate the new workshop for our first group of teachers. They left at the end of the day with concrete ideas to try out with their students this fall.

IDEO's New Teacher's Guild

Experience Institute is excited to be one of The Teachers Guild’s first partners for their beta launch! The Teachers Guild is an online community for teachers daring to design new solutions for our students, schools, and the greater system. It’s run byIDEO’s Learning Studio andRiverdale Country School’s Delta Group.

Their goal is to bring together teachers to collaborate and solve 30 education challenges in three years. Using the design thinking process, teachers tackle their biggest questions, together. We’re honored and excited to begin collaborating in this new space.

If you'd like to join the community, visit www.teachersguild.org to sign up and start collaborating with other teachers.

Question: How do you assess Design Thinking?

Every time I’ve run a workshop with teachers, someone asks a version of this question. Usually I've shared some of the various rubrics that we've developed or borrowed from others. But this week in a conversation with a teacher, I stepped back from the nuts and bolts of the question and approached it from the more general issue of how to create an environment where feedback and evaluation help learners improve the quality of their work. Ron Berger's book, An Ethic of Excellence, has long been an inspiration and guide in my own efforts to address that challenge, and the culture of critique he describes is, I think, critical to facilitating good design thinking.

What resources have you found helpful? And when you think about it personally (and not just in the context of design thinking), what evaluation tools or experiences have been most valuable to your own learning?

As always, let us know if there’s anything we can do to help you in the work you’re doing. And, if you'd like to receive email updates on this studio work, which would also enable us to dialogue more easily, sign up here.



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