Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Teachers as Curriculum Designers

Designing a better backpack.

    I spent some time learning about the Design Thinking process this summer by attending a workshop at the Stanford d-school. This fall, I have been sharing these strategies with some of our students, ranging from second grade to sixth grade. It’s been exciting to watch our students get into the process and take to designing like ducks to water.  Children do it naturally, letting creativity run wild during brainstorming and prototyping. They ask questions and gather information, sort and organize their ideas, and aren’t afraid to start hot gluing things together in search of the perfect end product. When it doesn’t quite look like their original vision, they’re quick to rip things apart and start over or modify and expand their vision as they go. Most of the time they are happy with their final prototypes and usually have some significant insight while reflecting on what could be improved if they were to repeat the process.  
Design Thinking Process
    Putting adults through the same process is interesting. They’re wonderful at asking great questions and gathering information, but letting go and finding their creative groove takes a bit longer. One of my goals this year has been to help teachers see themselves as designers. I’m hoping they will see the connections and the value of using the Design Thinking process to become curriculum designers. We’ve been discussing how pre-assessments can be a way to gain empathy for students and diagnose specific needs of students, just like asking questions and then clarifying help you deep dive into the needs of a user. Once they know where to focus, the next step is looking at the materials that are available and then brainstorming a creative way to put it all together. When teachers see the pacing guides and teacher’s manuals as simply another tool in their toolbox, they can begin to see ways to blend in other tools and craft their lessons to meet that particular group of students needs in that moment. Curriculum guides, technology, websites and applications, projects, delivery strategies, and any other resources you can find are your prototyping tools. This is the tricky part for teachers because it involves risk. For some teachers, there's great comfort in following a guideline and they're a bit reluctant to pick up the glue gun and start putting pieces together. Finding the right blend is creative design work, and sometimes we get the results we want, and other times we need to reiterate and try again. Taking time to reflect and look at the end results of our attempts is a crucial piece to improving and gaining confidence in the process.
  The benefit of this mind shift is that our students are getting a customized learning environment that meets their specific needs. We are leaving the one size fits all behind and using our educator expertise to take control of our curriculum and design and refine our materials to make the best learning experiences for our students and ourselves. 

By: Kami Thordarson, Innovative Strategies Coach

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