iCubed: How design thinking develops lifelong learners

This post was first published on CORE Education’s blog. Click here to see the original.

In an interview with Jesse Mulligan on RNZ last month, Kevin Kelly, founding editor of Wired magazine, said that we have to accept being “perpetual newbies” in this digital era. He argued that “We’re going to have to become lifelong learners. I think this is the major meta-skill that needs to be taught in schools.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agrees: “The capacity to continuously learn and apply / integrate new knowledge and skills has never been more essential.” (OECD, 2012, p. 8)

Handily, for us here in Aotearoa New Zealand, The New Zealand Curriculum (NZC) and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (TMOA) mirror these sentiments. No doubt we are familiar with the call to develop young people who are confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.

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Doubly handily, the NZC doesn’t just leave us floundering with the abstract notion of the ‘lifelong learner’, but gives us the key competencies as the means by which lifelong learners are developed. If you like, the key competencies are the ‘how’ to the ‘why’ of the NZC’s vision; they directly support it.

The ‘what’ is the ‘stuff’ teachers decide to do, guided by the essence statements of each learning area. And while there is a lot of ‘stuff’ competing to be on the list of things teachers could do, I’d like to suggest design thinking as a way to develop the key competencies, and thus nurture lifelong learners.

The ‘what’ is the ‘stuff’ teachers decide to do, guided by the essence statements of each learning area. And while there is a lot of ‘stuff’ competing to be on the list of things teachers could do, I’d like to suggest design thinking as a way to develop the key competencies, and thus nurture lifelong learners.

It’s difficult to capture in a succinct sentence what design thinking is. It’s a methodology, it’s a mindset, it’s a kind of inquiry process on steroids. David Kwek does reasonably well when he defines it as an approach to learning that focuses on developing children’s creative confidence through hands-on projects that focus on empathy, promoting a bias toward action, encouraging ideation and fostering active problem-solving” (Kwek, 2011, p. 4)

I-cubed

I like to think of design thinking as being a way to bring people together to explore, learn and co-develop solutions to real-world problems. I see it as having three broad phases:

  1. Immersion: researching, scoping, thinking, exploring, and, most importantly of all: empathising
  2. Ideation: synthesising, defining, brainstorming, creating
  3. Implementation: prototyping, pitching, gathering feedback, refining, problem-solving.

I call it I-cubed.

And I believe that as learners grapple with each phase of the design thinking process, they actively encounter the five key competencies: thinking, relating to others, using language, symbols and texts, managing self and participating and contributing.

By way of a brief example a few years ago my Year 8 English class was exploring how we might welcome new students into our school. We began by putting ourselves in the shoes of a new student. We close-read some passages, we role-played, we conducted interviews. We were using language, symbols and texts, relating to others, and thinking. After generating loads of creative ideas, we formed groups around those we thought might have the greatest impact. We made prototypes, pitched to each other and to key members of staff. We sought feedback, refined our ideas and worked together to find solutions. We were thinking, managing self, participating and contributing.

And while this is a highly surface overview of both the learning and the key competencies that were being fostered, it was clear to me that design thinking is a powerful way to develop creative, empathetic thinkers. And my students thought that too, as one said: “design thinking helps you to learn how to process ideas into something to help people”.

In other words, my students were being “critical and creative thinkers, active seekers, users and creators of knowledge, informed decision makers” (NZC, p. 8). They are lifelong learners.

I’m also presenting on this topic as part of CORE’s Breakfast programme. I’ll be in Dunedin on 8 November.

 

Bibliography

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Secret Agen(t)cy

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Attribution: CC0

This year I am obsessed with the question of how you encourage / enable / empower (what is the verb to use?) agency.

Why am I obsessed with agency? A couple of reasons. It seems to me that we spend quite a lot of time talking about learner agency, meaning student agency. But I wonder how we develop agency in our young learners if their teachers are not agentic learners themselves?

We also seem to spend quite a lot of time and anguish wondering about how to “shift” teachers: how to get them to take on board whatever initiative is currently on the table. And I wonder if developing teacher, or professional, agency might be a key to adopting innovations, changing practice, and thus transforming education.

So, the million dollar question… How?

I’m wondering about reflection. When we take time to really think about things, we develop our self awareness. We have the opportunity, in the quiet and privacy of our own mind, to analyse ourselves, to critique our decisions, and evaluate our next steps. In other words, when we reflect, we learn.

This reflection and learning, I believe, can lead to an internal ‘aha’ – a realisation. When we discover things for ourselves, this gives us an impetus to act – our own reason to change. Our secret agency. And this is far more powerful than anything imposed on us.

 

#WellyED

You know, I’ve been meaning to blog for a while. I have several ideas about things I’d like to explore. But this is the blogpost that fell into my head while I was washing dishes…

I’m part of the collective behind #WellyED: a connected educators’ network in Wellington. I’m the human who tweets using the @Welly_ED handle, and the person who posts on the blogsite. While I kind of pitched the idea of starting such a group at an Eduignite evening last year, I’m by no means a lone nut. One of many things that’s so awesome about WellyED is that it’s much bigger than one person, and therefore stronger and more vibrant for it. Just some of the awesome educators I get to work with on this project are: Leanne Stubbing, Rebbecca Sweeney, Nathaniel Louwrens, Stephen Eames, Paula Hay, Diana-Grace Morris, Tony Cairns, Lisa Bengtsson, Matt Ives, Brie Jessen-Vaughan, and more! (The problem with naming individuals is that invariably you leave someone out. Sincerest apologies if this is you – let me know, and I’ll add you!)

Well Ed Logo

And I’m proud, so very very proud of what we have achieved. We aim to connect Wellington educators so that we can share and learn from and support one another. We aim to hold at least one event per term. We launched off with a hugely successful #educampwelly in February (over 100 registrations!), and, since then, have showcased 18 educators on the blog, socialised over a beer, and listened to inspiring speakers at last month’s Edugnite (with over 50 in attendance).

The numbers of local educators we have continued to attract to our events shows to me that there is a groundswell of support for future-focused education in this country. What we’re taking about here is nothing less than grassroots revolution. There is also increasing pride in Wellington as we prove ourselves to be as innovative, imaginative and curious as our colleagues up and down the country. And I get to play a small part in this. Awesome.

Marsden Professional Learning Session 13 (‘un’Lucky Last for 2014!)

Whew – what a year of learning and growing together! Today was our final professional learning session of the year, so we used it to reflect and review. Here is the guiding structure we followed:

You can see we used a Design Thinking process. We wanted to ensure that while staff had time to think about the high- and low-lights of their future-focused pedagogy learning journey, we actually moved on to offer solutions to continue to grow, learn and improve for 2015.

In this regard, I feel as though this afternoon’s session was successful. The short time frames and targeted tasks kept staff focused and productive. The final pitches highlighted key themes, such as ways to give staff more time, ways to work in smaller, more focused groups, and ways to explore successful models of future-focused pedagogy in practice.

Likewise, the anecdotal feedback has been positive. I think we’re all aware that sometimes when we’re asked to give an opinion on something this can easily turn into a negative whinge session. Whereas following a process of reflection, definition, ideation, feedback, refine and pitching really worked to move people out of that mode into problem-solving instead.

For me too, I really enjoyed introducing staff to a design thinking process without saying, ‘Now everyone, let’s learn about Philippa’s edugeek passion: Design Thinking.’ Nah, just get on and do it. At the end of the session when I congratulated everyone for participating in design thinking, I invited staff to visit my Year 8 class who are in the midst of an extended design thinking-based unit. And – awesome sauce – a taker!

Marsden Professional Learning Session 12

The theme for today was critical thinking, and it was mostly about having two staff members highlight activities they have used to encourage critical thinking in their students.

Here is a copy of the wrap-around presentation I used:

I enjoyed talking about thinking, particularly the opportunity to share how I feel I have been guilty of having quite a shallow understanding of the ‘thinking’ Key Competency specifically, but all the Key Competencies of the New Zealand Curriculum more generally. When I put the slide up of points about what ‘Thinking’ entails from Bolstad et al’s book ‘Key Competencies for the Future‘ (2014) there was quite a buzz that suggests to me that I was not alone in treating the competencies lightly. We need to ensure that we don’t play lip service to thinking, but are offering explicit strategies to our learners, and to highlight to them times when they are thinking to build this awareness.

It was fantastic to hear from a PE/Health teacher and a Science teacher about their practice. The staff were impressed by the health advertisements some Year 9 students had produced. It was great to see Health content, English and Performance Media skills coming together. A challenge would be to do this in a more explicit way for cross-curricula links to be forged. I also loved how the teacher spoke thoughtfully and honestly about worrying that her students would ask her for technical support and she wouldn’t be able to offer this. She learned over the course of her unit that it doesn’t matter if she doesn’t have all the answers. Powerful stuff.

A Science teacher spoke about the collaboration I have blogged about here – whereby we teach the same Year 8 class and the girls used their forensics knowledge from Science to write ‘whodunit’ plays in English. I appreciated that she highlighted the usefulness of Google tools such as Docs and Slides to allow the students to more easily move across the learning areas and tasks. She also commented that she thought the task was a challenging one, but the students showed resilience and critical thinking in having to interweave the skills and content needed. I’m pleased that she’s keen to use the unit again next year!

My workshop was one offered previously on Edmodo, and the helpsheet for this is available here.

Redundant Adjectives

This post is my contribution to a collaborative project initiated by Sonya Van Schaijik that aimed to unpack and question the various ‘buzzwords’ currently in use in education. This collaborative book was launched at the end of Connected Educator Month. I am proud to have taken part in this challenge, and am grateful to and appreciative of the warm but demanding support of Kathy Scott who was my critical friend.

Redundant Adjectives: Pedagogy’s built-in understanding of being future-focused

To all intents and purposes, the New Zealand Curriculum’s opening words are those of the overarching vision for the document: “Young people who will be confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners.” Note the use of the future tense. This verb tense continues over the page where the stated vision is fleshed out into five bullet points including: “Our vision is for young people who will be creative, energetic, and enterprising”. Thus, the intention of the curriculum document is to “set the direction for student learning” and that direction is one pointing firmly into the future.

A further way that the New Zealand Curriculum explicitly sets its direction as being future-focused is through its principles which, “embody beliefs about what is important and desirable in school curriculum – nationally and locally.” One of these principles is that, “the curriculum encourages students to look to the future by exploring such future-focused issues as sustainability, citizenship, enterprise, and globalisation.” It is clear then that the New Zealand Curriculum is an aspirational document and one which seeks to address the future needs of Kiwi kids.

Pedagogy, while a separate concept to ‘curriculum’, is similarly forward-facing. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the noun as, “The art, occupation, or practice of teaching. Also: the theory or principles of education; a method of teaching based on such a theory.” If you like, curriculum is the ‘what’ of teaching, and pedagogy is the ‘how’. Generally speaking, the meeting point of the two is schools and the main medium for delivery is teachers. Therefore, while not synonymous, the two concepts have the same basis of intention: to shape young people into the kind of adults a society deems desirable.

Thus, in my opinion, the phrase ‘future-focused pedagogy’ is redundant because the future is already inherently implied and understood in the use of the word ‘pedagogy’: schools and teachers are naturally focused on developing students’ capacities and capabilities. And these are the capacities and capabilities that will best serve them as adults and future citizens in society. Needless to say there are considerable value-laden assumptions behind what kind of adults and future citizens are seen to be necessary by curriculum writers and the research they draw upon. But all of this, in my opinion, begs an important question to explore: what kind of future is implied by our pedagogy?

One of these visions for the future is an industrial, production-based model. Most recently Sugata Mitra has argued that our current school system was designed with elegant efficiency by the Victorians who wanted to produce future workers for their industrial age factories. Students in this era experienced a factory-style pedagogy appropriate for molding factory-style workers. Young people were viewed as empty vessels to be filled with the knowledge they would require when they needed it. Curricula prescribed the knowledge that young people ought to know, and, to some degree, ought to be able to do with that knowledge. All students learnt the same thing in the same way for the same kind of future.

But we are no longer in the Industrial Age. We are now in the Knowledge Age where “knowledge and ideas are the main source of economic growth”. This change also signals a shift in what ‘knowledge’ is. We also understand a lot more about how learning occurs. Students no longer need a sole diet of ‘just in case’ learning but rather need ‘just in time’ learning: knowing how to learn when learning is required; how to critically navigate a glut of information. This is an entirely different vision of the future. Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert talk about knowledge as having metaphorically shifted from a noun to a verb: “as a resource to do things with, not an object to be mastered.” Students need to know how to interact with, and build knowledge. And the pedagogy needed to empower this capacity in students is fundamentally different.

The 2007 New Zealand Curriculum document reflects this difference. While, as already noted, curriculum is not pedagogy as it is not a description or formula for how to teach, there is substantial overlap between the two. The focus in the New Zealand Curriculum on the five Key Competencies of managing self, understanding language, symbols and text, participating and contributing, relating to others, and thinking, implicitly requires a different pedagogy from that operating in an Industrial Age model. I urge New Zealand educators to concentrate their focus on this ‘front half’ of the document as a signal to shift attention away from content and instead onto skills and dispositions.

But let us now return to the question posed at the beginning: What kind of future is implied by our pedagogy? While the very nature of the future is that it is definitively unknowable until it is the present, we tell stories of what the future is ‘likely’ to be all the time: hover cars, robot overlords, post-apocalyptic wasteland, living on Mars under a great glass dome… Keri Facer, in her important book Learning Futures, explores some of these potential futures ahead of us. In doing so, she emphasises that these stories of potential futures are precisely that: narratives. And the nature of narratives is that they can be manipulated and changed, that they are not set in concrete. The future is the consequence of a whole series of decisions that are made right now. As Facer says, “The future is not something that is done to us, but an ongoing process in which we can intervene.”

Pedagogy, with its in-built understanding of being future-focused, is one of those intervention methods. We don’t know what kind of future lies ahead of us, but we are pretty sure of what it isn’t likely to be: a Victorian manufacturing plant. Therefore we must ensure that our pedagogy is future building, a term that, “implies we have power and agency to create the future we want.” Certainly the intention behind the New Zealand Curriculum, and its Key Competencies in particular, reflects this.

I believe that teaching is an expression of hope for the future. That our learners not only become “confident, connected, actively involved, lifelong learners”, but adopt this vision as part of their current identity. That our learners do not become citizens, but see themselves as citizens already. Thus, while the adjectival phrase ‘future-focused’ is indeed redundant to qualify the noun ‘pedagogy’, we must make sure that our pedagogy is an expression of this hope. Bibliography (To access a version of this blogpost with footnotes, please click here.)

  • Claire Amos, “Futures Thinking and the Future of Education.” Accessed online 20/9/14
  • Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert et al, “Supporting future-oriented learning and teaching – a New Zealand perspective”, NZCER, 2012
  • Rachel Bolstad and Jane Gilbert, Disciplining and drafting, or 21st century learning? Rethinking the New Zealand senior secondary curriculum for the future, NZCER, 2008
  • Keri Facer, Learning Futures: Education, technology and social change, Routledge, 2011
  • Rosemary Hipkins, Rachel Bolstad, Sally Boyd, and Sue McDowall, Key Competencies for the Future, NZCER, 2014
  • The New Zealand Curriculum, Ministry of Education, 2007. Accessed online 20/9/14
  • Sugata Mitra, “We Need Schools…Not Factories“. Accessed online 20/9/14
  • OED, Accessed online 20/9/14

Want to read more? The other chapters of the collaborative book are here:

Ring In

Yahoo! Today is Day 1 of Connected Educator Month – and I got to participate! This amazing, global, event champions collaboration and networking amongst educators. Unfortunately Danielle Myburgh, our wonderful #edchatNZ host, was unable to present in the ‘Connected Professional Learning: Stories from NZ‘ so I was her ring-in.

I thought it was really important for #edchatNZ to be represented because of its role in inspiring and empowering New Zealand educators. As I said during the session, to me #edchatNZ, and particularly our amazing conference in August, truly embodies the spirit of Connected Education Month. It is a community which aims to support and foster ‘lone nut‘ educators who seek to engage with professional learning in order to bring the best of the cutting-edge pedagogy for the benefit of Kiwi kids.

It was also interesting to be presenting alongside representatives from the Ministry of Education, NetNZ, Secondary Literacy Online and Te Manawa Pou. As one astute presenter commented: the thread really was collaboration. It’s amazing what we can achieve together.

Oh, and I earned a badge 😉

CEM

Marsden Professional Learning Session 11

Today’s professional learning session was awesome! We were exploring creativity in practice. Teachers presented examples of how they develop creativity in their students. It was fantastic to see the outcomes students have produced – some really amazing stuff – but, more importantly, to hear about the means by which creativity has been encouraged.

One of the primary school staff spoke very thoughtfully about why creativity is so important. She touched on ideas about it being a higher order thinking skill as it aims for synthesis, building on prior knowledge and understandings. She used Albert Einstein’s quote, “creativity is intelligence having fun,” to talk about a culture of thinking flexibly and failing forward – things that don’t always come easily to our students. The emphasis was clearly on developing creativity no matter what the subject matter or context – that creativity doesn’t just mean art.

A senior manager also spoke to us about how her students have developed their creativity skills in her subject area. My favourite idea was that of constraints: that by putting tight barriers in place lateral, ‘outside the box’ thinking can be fostered.

it was also interesting that both speakers noted the benefits of BYOD – that by students having their own devices, the flexibility of learning and capturing learning was possible.

The only downside to the showcase was running out of time to have the workshops usually on offer. However, to hear concrete examples of pedagogy in practice was worth it.

Here is a copy of the wrap-around presentation I spoke to as a starter to this afternoon’s learning:

Marsden Professional Learning Session 10

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Always seeking to improve, in today’s Professional Learning session, I started with a ‘hook’: make a piece of jewellery from two pipe cleaners in 60 seconds. It always amuses me, and it’s something for me to remember, that adults are just like kids: we like to have something to fiddle with, and the soft, pliable nature of a pipe cleaner is no exception. (Next time – note to self – playdough!)

The purpose of this task was to introduce the future learning themes of creativity and critical thinking. I enjoyed the opportunity to make passing references to design thinking, and also to acknowledge some of the very recent learning I have been doing about the maker education movement. The accompanying presentation is here:

I felt a bit incoherent today, and I’m not at all convinced that my presentation was as fluid as I would have liked it to be. Luckily, the presentation is freely available for staff to refer back to, and there are lots of hyperlinks to allow people to continue to explore and learn. And also luckily, the next professional learning session in two weeks’ time also focuses on creativity, but this time showcasing examples of it in our classrooms.

The workshop I offered looked at the presentation tool Haiku Deck. The ‘help sheet’ I produced for this is available here. The lovely people who attended were very quiet, so I choose to interpret this as meaning they were thoroughly engaged in playing with the tool 😉 I enjoyed the clear link between the themes of creativity and critical thinking to this workshop. I also liked the question that I was asked as to what a concrete application of Haiku Deck in the classroom could be. I could think of two. This also reminds me, that like the pipe cleaners, all learners like to have ‘real world’ connections.

I would like to acknowledge Steve Mouldey’s work in creativity and curiosity. He is extremely well versed in this area, and I shamelessly plundered his blog (especially this post) for inspiration for this professional learning session. Why reinvent the wheel?!

Marsden Professional Learning Session 9

Because I’d had some positive feedback about a previous session where I’d put more emphasis on skills for building professional knowledge and skills, rather than tools to use in the classroom, always under the umbrella of pedagogy and the Marsden vision of course, I decided to present this week’s theme in a similar vein. So, in focusing on the future learning themes of communication and collaboration, I chose to think about this in two ways: ways we can collaborate as professionals, thereby modelling life-long learning skills for students; as well as how to encourage communication and collaboration with our students. After all, we’re all learners.

I was hoping to have a teacher Skype into this session, but it wasn’t to be. This is an option I really want to explore further though, as I think it’s invaluable to hear similar messages from other voices. Nevertheless, I was particularly pleased with the collaborative Google Doc staff contributed to, to build a bank of ideas as to how to go about promoting or encouraging collaboration in the classroom.

The workshop I ran was on Edmodo. Staff seemed interested in how this can be used. It was very helpful to have staff members in the workshop who have been exploring Edmodo both for its potential in enhancing the classroom, but also for its potential for connecting with other educators. The help sheet I produced for this session is available here.