This graphic by Sylvia Duckworth and George Couros (http://georgecouros.ca/blog/archives/5135) started us thinking and reflecting on our year of design to date. The three components that resonated highly with our work were instilling the empathy piece, initiating the idea of “networked” and developing the habit of resilience.
In our third year of really dipping our toe into design tech challenges we’ve noticed that more and more as we develop curriculum, we’re intentionally taking the stance of our students. Initially we were involved in thinking about a basic “high, medium and low” access point but as we immerse ourselves in this work, our thinking lenses have actually become individualized; (i.e. How will Adrian approach this activity? If we present a completed model, will Molly be able to step beyond the teacher fabrication and apply original thinking? How can keep James and Justin from fixating on one idea? How can we support Tessa and Julia”s developing independence?) When we share our thinking about individual students out loud and try to project what their experience might be when involved in a challenge situation, it not only opens possibilities for scripting the challenge but it also helps us to deepen our understanding of who our students are and what they need. An empathetic stance also challenges us to revisit what our definition of “success” is for any given challenge. Success can look hugely different depending on a student’s entry point and skill set. Success can also be a lens we intentionally flip; collaboration, communication and reflection can be streams of success if articulated as clear targets during the launch. Honestly, as we evolve this work, it’s never really about the activity. There isn’t a “product” that we’re aiming for. Success is a narrative embedded in the process and each student’s narrative is unique.
Networked is often a digital buzzword but when tinkering with design challenges, networking often has a different spin. We often wonder when working with eight and nine year olds how they can possibly bring networking skills to a digital platform when they don’t have the ability to walk across the classroom and ask another student, “How are you making that? Can you help me?” Often the initial networking skill is the realization that you’re going nowhere fast. Our kids can developmentally be so egocentric that they never think to look up, glance around the room and notice what’s happening. To support networking, we have to build intentional structures such as: gallery walks, turn and talks, strategic groupings (homogeneous and heterogeneous mixtures), and capitalizing on visible thinking opportunities within a whole group structure. As these structures become patterned, we find students begin to capitalize on opportunities to spontaneously network. Networking isn’t just about getting ideas from others, it’s also about being able to share ideas and help others grow and develop their thinking. When networking is cultivated successfully, it inspires empathy and lays down the foundation for an effective learning community.
If we had to identify one quality that helps students effectively participate in design workshop challenges it would be the habit of resiliency. When students get frustrated or stuck, it is often impossible for them to recover and adjust their thinking. How do we help students to become more resilient, able to adapt when their initial thinking isn’t fruitful? One way is to intentionally explain what resilient learners do, what we might see and what we might hear. We share with our students that we often fail when we do these tasks, (and we do them all beforehand to build our empathy chip). We model how we had to change and adjust our thinking. We share that we expect them to have moments of failure and help them anticipate the need to be flexible with their thinking. We celebrate changes in direction versus endpoints. We have them reflect on their work using sentence stems such as, “One change I might make to this is __________ BECAUSE ___________.”
Resilience is developed over time and honed by multiple experiences. We usually begin activities by quickly sketching possible prototypes. We coach our kids to hold their ideas lightly, not get too attached to one since it is likely that it might not pan out as initially envisioned. We move them through reflection to notice that often, their first idea isn’t the one that worked. In addition, we try to empower the students to follow their own thinking paths, create their own solutions. We’ll quickly prototype some models in order to prompt a starting point but when students ask for additional guidance or support, we’ll often shift the question back to them: “What do you think might work? Talk to me more about that idea. What’s one thing you might try?” In reality, this also enables us to support a roomful of learners. When there’s too much adult support, students are reluctant to trust their own hunches or use each other as “experts.”
Our learning curve with this work is never ending. Just this week we launched a new activity called “Beak Hack,” and we realized midstream how we should’ve pitched the lesson. Even though it didn’t play out the way we anticipated, we learned new things about our students and we remembered that failing always helps us remember to hold learning lightly as we continue to rethink and adapt our own thinking.