Introducing the “Imagination Club”

As a teacher, you don’t necessarily know what makes an impact and what doesn’t. It’s the same as a facilitator.

Being passionate about design thinking, it would come as no surprise that I leapt at the chance to shape a design thinking session for our postgrads completing the Postgraduate Certificate in Applied Practice (Digital and Collaborative Learning) offered by The Mind Lab by Unitec. What was a joyous surprise to me, however, was how warmly it was received by the Wellington teachers when we ran this session in June.

Even more exciting though was when, the following week, one of the teachers kindly let me know that not only had she gone away and trialled a design thinking process with her class, but it had been extremely successful.

The question Imogen posed for her class at Tawa Intermediate was: How might we make Room 9 even better? And out of that, the Imagination Club was born. Two students lead the club, which has been timetabled into a weekly slot. Initially, students were asked to ‘audition’ by drawing something from their own imagination. One of the lead students sidled up to Imogen as everyone was sketching to quietly let her know that everyone would actually be allowed in.

GetAttachmentRecently, the Imagination Club finished their first project: creating a class mascot. Named, rather appropriately, Sparkle, the mascot is testament to the students’ self-direction, ability to sustain their interest, engagement and, of course, imagination, over an extended period of time. I was lucky enough to visit the Imagination Club in their planning phase.

But, even more than this, is the way Imogen reports how this design thinking challenge has marked a real turning point in the learning journey of the class. She told me how it “fostered…spawned…[a] kind of creative force in the class.” Students are now actively encouraged to put their own creative spin on any activity. In this way, creativity and individuality have become honoured. Design Thinking “put a spotlight on a new path” – one of “being creative and embracing their [the students’] own individuality”. Imogen believes that the challenge “changed the culture of a class in an afternoon.”

Powerful, inspiring stuff.

So, what are the implications of this, beyond the obvious reported success of design thinking in the classroom? Imogen herself says that, for her, it was the suspension of judgement, particularly in the ideation phase, that attracted her attention.

  • ‘Yes, and…’ is an empowering phrase.

This story of the Imagination Club has also helped me to reflect on my own practice as a facilitator, and given more fuel to my fire that design thinking is a way to play – to play with ideas.

  • We don’t value the power of play in adult learning, and perhaps we should.

And we can never truly predict, not as teacher, not as a facilitator, what will make an impact on others. Therefore it is always important to treat others with empathy, and to offer opportunities to learn in a multitude of ways.

  • Teaching is about opening doors.

What’s the Beef with Research?

Research is scary. It’s inaccessible, it’s technical, it’s wordy and jargon-filled, it’s formal, it’s cold. And it has nothing to do with me, a practising teacher at the chalk-face. There is a gaping divide between theory (read: research) and practice (read: my classroom). One does not inform the other, and I don’t need it even if I did have the time to conduct or read some research. Actually, on the whole, education as an academic pursuit is a pretty dubious area.

This has definitely been my attitude towards educational research for quite some time, harking right back to my days as a university student studying towards my DipT and BEd. While some of the papers I did were of academic interest to me, basically I saw them as a necessary evil to complete in order to get into the classroom.

So it came as a little bit of a shock to discover that, as a 2015 eFellow, I was expected to conduct research. The application hinted at it, and I wasn’t put off by pitching a project or an area for inquiry, but conducting research… that’s a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. Right?

Right from our first hui I was confronted by language I wasn’t familiar with. Research design, methodology, ethics, qualitative data, action research… everybody else seem to understand these words in context. Not me. I was politely nodding and hoping they’d go away. They were scary and cold. I wanted to change the world, not be herded into scientific boxes of hypothesis, aim and findings. I’d had enough of that during high school science, thank you very much.

But, it was expected, and I’m good at following instructions and doing what I’m told, so here is my research design. And my final reference list.

And then, it just started to flow.

Indulge in the reading I love to do. Listen to the stories of the teachers around me. Think and reflect on my practice. Write blogposts. Talk to colleagues. Wonder. Learn.

This kind of research isn’t cold and clinical. It is very much about people. It doesn’t overwhelm with facts and figures, but engages the heart to engage the mind. I think it’s more transformative because it is a human-centred process.

And this connection for me is key. Research mimics a design thinking process. Immersing yourself in stories (the scary research word is data). Making connections and synthesising wonderings. Considering possible outcomes, what the implications are for other practitioners. Ideating, prototyping, seeking feedback.

I can see now why research is appealing to me. The things that I love about design thinking turn out to be the same things that make me a good researcher: the security and framework of a process, but the flexibility and creativity to go where ever the wonderings take you. It’s messy, but organised. It’s imaginative and constrained. It’s hard fun.

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So I challenge you, if you have thought like me, that research is scary and scientific and irrelevant, to confront those assumptions, and to overlay design thinking mindsets of empathy, of radical collaboration, of prototyping, of bias towards action. The teaching as inquiry cycle in The New Zealand Curriculum is a research design model, and I encourage you to consider it as such and to welcome the process in order to be a creative teacher as researcher.

How might embracing research transform your practice?