Design Thinking for Institutional Change
by Larraine Seiden
Over the past few years, there has been wave after wave of curriculum changes related to the Common Core. These changes represent an overdue shift from content emphasis to thinking processes, moving away from an Industrial Age education model toward so-called 21st century skills.
It makes sense that elementary teachers have borne the brunt of these changes, since they are responsible for teaching most of the core subjects. Among many goals they were charged with leading students to “go deeper” into subjects, even though the basic structure of the day hadn’t yet been adapted to support the new curricular goals.
Using design thinking to adapt the instructional day
In 2014, the tri-school elementary principals assembled a task force made of representative teachers, parents, and themselves to address this disparity. They made the remarkable decision to tackle the Instructional Program Design holistically, by using the design thinking process, which is also known as “human-centered design.”
Sally Aldridge, an entrepreneur and fellow PM board member, was an early parent representative for the group. Having participated in the design thinking process on more projects than she can count, she says that the technology and business sectors recognize the process as the most efficient and effective way to grow. Schools are just starting to use the process to effect change and there’s a lot of education needed by school leaders and their communities.
To their credit, the tri-school principals hired an expert consultant from CreatEdu to guide them through the early stages of the process. By choosing this messier path, they rejected the tendency of most districts to hatch change at the highest levels of administration in a piecemeal way. Often this leaves those most affected—the students and their teachers, almost as an afterthought.
In design thinking–speak, they are called “the end users” and this process actually also starts with them. In an early step called “empathy,” the design team tries to get inside the students’ experience to understand their needs. The principals did exactly that when they followed and talked to students last year to get a feel for the flow of their days.
Then last fall, when the Instructional Design goals were being defined, they came directly out of this empathy step and were conceived to best support student learning in a 21st century context. Of course, there are significant constraints to consider, namely time and budget, but all future solutions had to directly support those defined goals.
Another valuable part of using design thinking, and it may be the most confusing to the uninitiated, is the use of prototypes and iterations. When the principals presented their first prototype schedule last winter, the goal was to present their thinking at that point.
Like a concept sketch, they wanted feedback—from teachers and parent groups. They wanted to know, what’s working here and what do we need to work on more? Then, based on the responses, they refine and come up with the next iteration. Rather than trying to sell one idea over another, that feedback is what moves the process forward. This meant the principals had to be consistently open and responsive to all comments, even when it stung.
So how is design thinking really different?
David Kelley, founder of IDEO and Stanford’s D.School and self-described “design thinking evangelist” describes the process as adding to traditional analytical thinking, not replacing it. Now, need-finding comes before problem-solving in a process that is less linear, more intuitive, empathetic, and integrative. He thinks design thinking IS 21stcentury skills in a nutshell.
While the various iterations have been confusing at times and early information was maybe held too close, this imperfect process has given teachers and parent groups an unprecedented role in helping to craft the tri-school Instructional Program Design. The result will truly be a team effort and it will continue to be somewhat iterative to respond to the needs of students and teachers in the future.
Fortunately, Sally is currently helping infuse some design thinking best practices into the district’s facilities master planning process. She explains that empathy interviews change minds so that goals don’t happen top-down like a “waterfall.” She has learned that the best feedback comes from individual interviews, not big, public meetings. That way, the focus is on the content of the feedback and not selling a particular idea.
Now that you know how important thoughtful feedback is, please be sure to learn about and participate as the facilities master planning process evolves.
Thanks for the awesome photos Dan Collins!
Thanks for the awesome photos Jennifer Fox!
We are so excited to kickoff the 3rd annual Piedmont School Maker Faire on Saturday, April 23 11am-3pm at the Piedmont High School campus! Check out below some of the 75+ projects from Beach, Havens, Wildwood, Piedmont Middle School, and Piedmont High School students along with community makers. Tickets are FREE and available now!
What’s New This Year? Keynote from Pixar’s Tony DeRose, Talks from Cal Professors Alessandra Lanzara & Alex Filippenko, Student Film Festival, Student Bands, STEAM Expo projects, and more!
Community Art Project
Exploring Natural Dyes
Fixit Clinic – Bring your broken stuff to fix & learn
Learn to Solder!
Oakland East Bay Symphony – Instrument Petting Zoo
PAINTS Rube Goldberg Project
So Sew Station
Wind Tube & Flying Paper Rockets
Wreck-It Destruction Lab – Bring stuff to break & learn
Piedmont High School Makers:
Computer Science Class Projects
“The Martian” demonstrations by PHS Chemistry teachers
PHS Makers Club
Physics of Alternative Energy Class Projects
Service Learning Student Films
Piedmont Middle School Makers:
“Lucy’s Home Alone” Student Band
PMS Maker Club
PMS Maker Class Projects
Beach Elementary School Makers:
3D Printed House
Cat Tracker Citizen Science
Comparing Burn Rates of Drought Resistant and Non-Drought Resistant Trees
Holding Cookies Robot 160
How to Make Soap?
The Life of Elephants
Popsicle Stick Bridge
RC Race Dynamics
A Tea Investigation
Vincent van Gogh and His Style
What is the Science of Tennis?
Which Liquid Will Seeds Grow Fastest In?
Havens Elementary School Makers:
Flippy The Tumbling Robot
An Isaac Clone
Lego Master Builder
Nails and Screws: Which is Stronger?
San Francisco’s Amazing Buildings
Stop Motion Video
Wildwood Elementary Makers:
Dry Ice Bubbles
Which dog breath freshener is most effective?
Boy Scouts – Piedmont Council
Chabot Space & Science Center
CHIME Student Concert
Dress Best for Less
Girl Scouts of Northern California
OakLabs Laser Fabrication
Oculus Rift Virtual Reality
Piedmont Student Film Festival
Piper – DIY Minecraft Computer
PUSD Instructional Technology
Streetdog Chicago-Style Hotdogs
Izzy’s Frozen Custard
Why the “A” in STEAM?
by Larraine Seiden
Tonight is the first ever Piedmont Unified Elementary Tri-school STEAM Expo! The Expo adapts the traditional science fair format to be more interdisciplinary and process oriented which reflects 21stcentury learning. Come to the PMS Multipurpose room from 6 to 8 pm to see what it is all about.
Why the “A”?
Parents, you’ve probably heard the acronyms S.T.E.M. and S.T.E.A.M. a lot. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, with the “A” in STEAM meaning Arts & Design. When the Science Fair changed to a STEAM Expo, the science teachers heard the question “Why the ‘A’?” more than once. As an artist and art educator, it’s something I think about a lot. It’s also a question Piedmont Makers asked early on, as we debated supporting STEAM vs. STEM education.
So, yes, why the “A?” I’ll focus mostly on the “A” as visual arts and design, because this is what I know best, but music, writing, and performing arts are also rightly in the STEAM mix.
First, let’s be clear what “STEAM” is not. Supporting STEAM does not mean that other subjects like language arts, social studies, history, and foreign languages are not valuable and relevant to a complete education. It also doesn’t mean that the individual subjects of the acronym are taught only in service of the others. Discipline-based learning is necessary and art is no exception.
There are several points to consider when we think about STEAM in education. One is what kids learn and how they learn. The other is the professional world they will enter after their formal education.
Art and the Brain
Education is moving toward more student led inquiry, and the thinking habits of every discipline are critical resources in the student’s toolbox. To take a couple of examples, drawing is a powerful skill for communication and protoyping. Theatre teaches presentation skills and the nimble thinking of improvisation. Just as we want our children to be able to express themselves through writing, we should enable them to use the arts to design, communicate, and persuade!
Scientists, inventors, entrepreneurs, and others use art tools and processes for planning, investigation, visualization, and communication. DaVinci comes to mind as a great example. Many scientists describe their discovery process in creative and visual terms. In addition to traditional art skills, today’s art and design education also teaches design thinking and the development of one’s creative process. When the “A” is left out of the equation, students miss crucial tools for inquiry and ingenuity.
Recent brain research shows that learning happens best when kids have an emotional connection to the content. The arts provide exactly that, while making abstract technical concepts concrete.Cognitive studies have outlined at least eight types of learners. For many students, art may be their best path to STEM subjects. Making learning visible through animation, video, illustration, or graphics, may also be many students’ best method for synthesizing and sharing their knowledge in those subjects.
Creativity in the Professional World
Beyond school, STEAM reflects the interdependency of academic subjects in the professional world. This is especially true in the technology cradle that is the Bay Area. It’s hard to imagine Apple, Google, Pixar, Tesla, Facebook, Adobe and other tech companies without art and design being woven into their fabric.
Many tech companies now have artist-in-residence programs. At Autodesk (who make software like Autocad and Maya), their intentions for residents go well beyond philanthropy. Working at Pier 9, perhaps the ultimate makerspace, the artists pioneer new uses for the company’s products. Their discoveries in turn lead Autodesk’s engineers toward new developments. In this way, the resident artists are a crucial link in the company’s design process. And as I’ve noted in this column before, creativity is an ability that CEO’s in all industries seek, not just in tech.
Nurturing the Creative Process
The arts provide tools for creativity and STEAM gives it expression through many forms. Robotics, film, built environment, and graphic design are just a few examples of STEAM in action.
When a kid’s creative confidence isn’t nurtured from the earliest grades, they may grow up thinking they’re not creative. That’s a missed opportunity for both personal and professional accomplishment.
The Tri-School STEAM Expo is tonight, Wednesday, April 6, from 6pm to 8pm, at the Piedmont Middle School Multipurpose room.
The Piedmont Makers Third Annual School Maker Faire is Saturday, April 23, 11am-3pm, at Piedmont High. The Faire will feature over 75 student and community exhibits. Get your FREE tickets at piedmontmakers.org. We are excited that Tony DeRose, Head of Research at Pixar Animation Studios, will give a keynote talk on “Math in Movies.” We also look forward to live music from student musicians & bands, student films, and food trucks!
Join us for Inventing, the April Tech Social on this Friday, April 8th at 6:30 pm in the PMS Multipurpose Room. After a pizza dinner, there will be a short fireside chat with Boris Sofman, co-Founder and CEO of Anki (robotic supercars) and Michael Plitkins, an early employee at Nest (smart home devices) with multiple patents to his name. Register in advance at piedmontmakers.org so that we can make sure to have enough pizza and cookies! For $5 a person, you won’t find a better value!
Don’t miss these upcoming Piedmont Makers / S.T.E.A.M. related events this month.
Arduino Day! Makerspace SOLD OUT – Saturday, April 2 1-4pm - Piedmont Middle School Shop Rm. 125 – Our Arduino Makerspace is sold out but Havens Science Teacher Mr. Taylor will be on hand to answer any remaining S.T.E.A.M. expo project questions from elementary school students.
Tri-School S.T.E.A.M. Expo - Wednesday, April 6 6-8pm - Piedmont Middle School Multi-Purpose Room - Whether your students are contributing a project or not, we’d love to see you this week at the event. As students wrap up projects see the STEAM Expo Public Documents folder https://goo.gl/lTTEWL for details. If you can, please volunteer! Here is the link to the tri-school Sign Up Genius page http://goo.gl/4KnfzS. Be on the lookout for Piedmont Makers reps handing out invitations to join us at the School Maker Faire to showcase your project to the community at large!
Inventing! Tech Social - Friday, April 8 6:30-8:30pm - Piedmont Middle School Multi-Purpose Room - We will have social time, a pizza dinner, and a short fireside chat with Boris Sofman, co-Founder and CEO of Anki (robotic supercars) and Michael Plitkins, an early employee at Nest (smart home devices) with multiple patents to his name. Dion Lim will facilitate an intimate conversation covering topics such as 1) technology’s role in their childhoods, 2) stories of inventing cool stuff, 3) thoughts on future trends (drones, driverless cars, robots), and 4) thoughts on how they plan to approach technology with their kids. $5 tickets available here (which covers pizza dinner, drinks, & facilities).
Have a great month!
Please join us at the 3rd annual Piedmont School Maker Faire – a celebration of K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math (S.T.E.A.M.) education in Piedmont schools! We will have 75+ student projects from Beach, Havens, Wildwood, PMS, and PHS students along with community and outside makers.
by Wendi Sue
The other day I was talking with a friend about my interest in a Piedmont Unified makerspace. He asked me, “Why? I never built anything in school, so what?” I had to think about this a little bit. What is the importance of a makerspace and what is its relationship to a strong S.T.E.A.M.(Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) education? And why now?
In a makerspace, kids are learning more than just how to hammer a nail. Through project exploration, they are practicing a process and approach to learning that is fundamentally different from mainstream academics.
When a kid tinkers a robot, or makes a model rocket, or tests the design of a paper airplane, she is in a state of play. She is also developing her creativity, resourcefulness, and planning abilities. Along the way, she may apply physics, math, computer sciences, or even chemistry.
When she does this in a group, she may witness a range of solutions that can be tested and observed. She also exercises soft skills such as empathy, communication, and collaboration.
When her rocket fails to fly, she has the opportunity to learn resilience by trying again. She learns that “failure,” is not to be avoided, but is a valuable part of the process. In fact, it provides key information for the next iteration.
Most important, in a makerspace, she shifts from passive to active learning. By engaging with the physical world, ideas are put to the test over and over. In project driven learning, questioning is a necessary part of the process, not a disruption. The focus is on process rather than knowing the “right” answer, and solutions evolve out of diverse viewpoints.
This kind of active learning is intrinsically motivating and taps into kids’ love of play. When kids get to use their own creativity to solve real problems, they also experience true empowerment. In a makerspace that supports this sort of open-ended exploration, kids learn in a community built through discovery.
Why now? Because now, the possibility and even necessity of having direct impact on the world is within the reach of anyone with internet access. Projects and ideas can be shared and showcased via Youtube and the blogosphere. Sites like Kickstarter even make funding possible. Tools for manufacture, such as 3D printers, CNC (Computer Numerical Control) mills, Arduino and Rasperry PI motherboards, among other tech products, are cheaper than ever before. Ideally, a makerspace would make such resources available to our kids.
A well-designed makerspace, that serves as a hub to support thoughtful S.T.E.A.M.-based programming, would give our kids the tools to become confident innovators and agents of real change in the world. These goals are key to a 21st century education. Ultimately, that is what Piedmont Makers is advocating for in PUSD’s facilities master plan.
If you are like my friend and haven’t yet experienced the thrill of making or tinkering, come check out one of our upcoming events: Digital Music! Tech Social on Friday, March 4, 6:30-8:30pm at Piedmont Middle School’s Multi-Purpose Room. This will be an exciting event featuring Mike Fink of Pandora. $5 tickets at PiedmontMakers.org.
Also, Arduino Day at the next Makerspace, Sunday, March 20, 1-4pm in the Piedmont Middle School Shop Rm. 125. Arduino gives students the power to write code to craft the world around them. Tickets & Arduino kits to purchase will be available later this month.
And don’t forget to submit your project for the 3rd annual Piedmont School Maker Faire! It can be a school project, STEAM Expo project, or your own project. The Piedmont School Maker Faire is a celebration of K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math education. Piedmont Makers will host the Piedmont School Maker Faire on Saturday, April 23, 11-3pm at Piedmont High School. Piedmont K-12 students and community welcome and admission is free!
Happy March! Below is a quick summary of upcoming Piedmont Makers / S.T.E.A.M. related events.
Digital Music! Tech Social - Friday, March 4 6:30-8:30pm - Piedmont Middle School Multi-Purpose Room - Please join us for an exciting event featuring Mike Fink of Pandora. He will give an overview of their Music Genome Project, describing how their musicologists evaluate songs and leading an activity where students will be able to categorize their favorite song! $5 tickets available here (which covers pizza dinner, drinks, & facilities).
Calling all Makers! Submit your project for the Piedmont School Maker Faire - It can be a school project, STEAM Expo project, or your own project. The Piedmont School Maker Faire is a celebration of K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Math education. Piedmont Makers will host the 3rd annual Piedmont School Maker Faire on Saturday, April 23, 11-3pm at Piedmont HIgh School. Piedmont K-12 students and community welcome! Submit your project here.
Arduino Day! Makerspace - Sunday, March 20 10am-1pm - Piedmont Middle School Shop Rm. 125 – Arduino gives students the power to write code to control the world around them - blink an LED, respond to light or temperature, connect to the Internet, and more. Make sure you bring a Chromebook or laptop to the event. Tickets & Arduino kits to purchase will be available later this month.
Have a great month!