Finally Experiencing Design Thinking

I like the way Design Thinking is explained in this video:

However, I’m not sure that I agree everything in the video:

  1. I think that Design Thinking does have a map… there are steps to guide you on your way (though how you achieve each step can certainly vary)
  2. In Design Thinking the destination is not completely unknown… determining your design question describes where you want to go even though you may not be exactly sure where that is or how to get there!

However, in what could perhaps be the story of my life(!),  my favourite line from the video is:

Design Thinking is a powerful tool to tackle the unknown. It’s a means of going on an expedition… with the confidence that you will end up somewhere great.

From Theory to Practice

I have long been interested in Design Thinking and found the resources in the IDEO Field Guide to Human-Centred Design to be very compelling. However, I had never been guided through the process and had only a hunch about its power…

My experience at the second Face to Face meeting for Cohort21 was a great way to experience the power of a Design Thinking process first hand. Working with so many passionate educators was at once compelling, exhausting and rewarding!

TYS F2F #2

Defining My Design Challenge

In 2013, all K-7 teachers provided input and wrote our first ICT Philosophy document. In 2015 we invested in a review conducted by edtechteacher and as a result of the findings we wanted to elevate our use of technology to a tool for thinking rather than it’s predominant use as a tool for organization or to practice math and spelling skills.

Last year we revised our ICT Philosophy document. As part of this process we clarified what we wanted to teach, updated some of the language and crafted the following statement:

How we intend to achieve the UCC Mission through technology

At Upper Canada College, we use technology to nurture creativity, spark imagination and learn from failures. We strive to develop highly effective, self-directed, and ethical learners who make a difference to their life or the lives of others. Devices such as laptops and iPads are used as tools to take an active role in constructing understanding, demonstrating learning and interacting with the world. Teachers and students seamlessly integrate technology as objects to think with, to deepen understanding and innovate in ways not previously possible.

Despite the fact that our original document was several years old and teachers had invested time to write and revise it, it felt like the sentiments reflected in the Technology Vision statement could be more top of mind amongst teachers. I don’t mean to complain, teachers do A LOT of terrific work!

Creating a Design Question

In my first attempts at solving my problem, I came up with the following possible design questions:

  • How might we develop an understanding of how technology can be used for inquiry and to deepen understanding?
  • How might we be more transparent about how/ why / what we do with one another and parents?
  • How might we be more willing to take risks and fail while learning from and with one another?
  • How might we create a culture of innovation?
  • How might we be more “PYP”?

As I was trying to come up with my design question, I realized that:

  • In IB Primary Years Programme we are meant to teach kids to be risk-takers and thinkers who reflect and take action. How can we teach that if we don’t actually it ourselves?
  • Technology is ubiquitous in our lives and the lives of our students. How can we leverage tech tools to help us deepen inquiry and understanding?
  • In my role as a Technology Integrator I try my best to ensure that my classes focus on deepening understanding of concepts being addressed in other classes through the use of technology. I am unsure how much this approach continues when I am not in the classroom
  • Teachers are not all comfortable taking risks which means their students may not take risks. What can be done to help teachers feel more comfortable with their ow failures?

Connecting, Extending and Challenging My Work

  • I already knew:
    • There are a lot of other people dealing with similar issues – in other departments and in other schools
    • There is never enough time – there are always other interests competing for attention
    • Change is constant and stressful for many
    • A lack of vision is challenging – can we just do nothing while waiting for a new Strategic Plan to be developed?
    • Risk-taking/ innovation is not really celebrated
  • New ideas that pushed my thinking:
    • I need to focus on PYP goals as first principles in the absence of whole-school guidance (via a new strategic plan)
  • Challenges:
    • Any plans I make could be derailed by the new strategic plan
    • I don’t know how much teachers care about being innovative or integrating technology
    • Creative solutions need to be found for finding the time to help teachers integrate technology effectively in order to help students


I gave some thought to how teachers might feel about technology integration and realized that, no matter what my design question ends up being, the average Primary teacher needs to feel like a valued professional because they have a wealth of insights and experience from working with students for many years.

Consolidating Thinking

At the start of the day, I thought that I needed to know where I was heading but by the end I came to the conclusion that we should follow an inquiry-based process ourselves and practice reflective learning.

Initially, my thoughts were all focused on the use of technology as a tool for learning. And although this remains my ultimate goal, throughout the day I realized that a safe environment for change needs to exist before change can actually take place.

Brainstorming Possible Solutions

I came up with a few possible solutions on my own:

TYS F2F #2

TYS F2F #2

Getting More Ideas from Others

I had some wonderful conversations with others who were addressing similar design challenges. This wasn’t my work but I wanted to remember many of the ideas suggested to Adam Ross and xxxxx.

Learning from others

It is very tempting to phrase my design challenge as “How might we utilize technology in a way that deepens student understanding?” But I think before asking teachers to do different things with technology, I would like to see a more cultural shift… so my current design question is:

How might we leverage a design thinking process to build a culture of innovation amongst Primary faculty?

My Next Steps (Which are Really Just Iterations of the Above Again):

  1. Empathize With My Users
    • I have not yet officially interviewed a real user but have finally scheduled a time on January 16 to get at least one interview done!
    • However, all has not been lost. I am co-chair of an IT Advisory Group at my school and as part of our work, I was able to ask them “How might we make the ICT philosophy come to life when everyone complains about meetings?” The group members offered the following suggestions that, ultimately, can become part of my Action Plan.
      • Electronic communication
        • Create a special section on the Technology Powerschool page
        • Send email reminders
        • Post on TV screens around the school
        • Share video announcements for students and teachers
        • Utilize social media
        • Hold virtual meetings (could also include our high school or other schools as well)
      • Paper-based
        • Post signage around the school
        • Just leave the document laying around e.g. in the Faculty Room
      • Face to Face exchanges
        • Re-schedule some Curriculum Co-ordinator meetings or Department meetings to become Technology Integration meetings instead
        • Hold a smaller version of our annual Technology “Conference” on a PD Day
        • Make it a requirement to provide info to others after attending a conference
        • Host optional roundtable discussions
        • Create a time to talk about technology at faculty meetings
        • Encourage visits to one another’s classrooms
        • Re-instate “Professional Conversations” that could be held a couple times a year and documented
        • Share at school Assemblies
        • The favourite: allow for a morning or afternoon to be spent with an integrator
    • I need to spend more time talking to individual teachers about what they already know about the contents of our ICT Philosophy, find out what is easy for them, discuss what they struggle with and find out how they would like to be supported
  1. Find Patterns In the Data Users Provide
    • What are the themes (topic) and insights (details) I can glean from whatever they share?
  2. Determine Design Principles
    • Turn these insights into goals.
  3. Ideate and Make Ideas Tangible
    • Go back and ask teachers “How might we achieve these goals?
    • Together, determine how best to share ideas, what new things to try, how to learn from failures and how best to share successes
    • Support teachers so that they can spend time observing or collaborating with others by covering their classes, ‘releasing them during ICT classes or doing some marking for them
    • Spend some time outside the classroom with those who want to delve deeper into implementing something new to create a space for thinking
    • Publish regular newsletters or blog posts with ideas for teachers to consider
  4. Iterate Relentlessly Based on Feedback from Others
    • Pause occasionally and find out what we still want/need to find out – determine how to best answer those questions together
    • Reflect on what we are learning
  5. Implement My Plan
    • Together, decide what to do with our new learning – how can we take action?
    • Celebrate!

I’m not sure where we will end up but I trust that it will be somewhere great!

PS. Many of my fears have been lessened as a result of work that has been done on our new Strategic Plan. We are still in the very early phases but after gathering input from the entire school it seems that a focus on education and changing trends, innovation and managing change are all topics that interest many of us. Phew!

11 comments to “Finally Experiencing Design Thinking”
  1. @ljensen Having your new strategic plan align nicely with your Action Plan is a really nice win. It might be the perfect opportunity to see if you can convince admin to add a innovation or tech/learning goal to the teacher growth plan process. That level of accountability will help move the ball forward. The way in will be to connect it all back to the PYP and Programme of Inquiry. Happy to share what we do at TYS.

  2. We have had some success adding a Technology Goal to our Professional Learning Plan over the last two years. This December, we followed a Design Thinking protocol from the middle of the process and it was met with great feedback.

    While you’re working (admirably!) through the DT phases on your own, bear in mind that Innovation and Technology may or may not be related. Innovation is about solving problems and Technology is about extending capabilities.

    There will be many instances where technology solutions will aim at the heart of a teaching-learning challenge. For example, if students aren’t building on formative feedback provided to them during in-person conferences but are also ignoring printed/written feedback, we might try simply structuring an opportunity for students to reflect on how they plan to use prior feedback in a new application, but we could also try distributing voice-recorded feedback for them to review on demand.

    In your case, teachers will be able to lean on your ICT Philosophy as a rationale for why integrating technology into your solutions may kill two birds with one stone.

    • You picked up on many of the circular arguments I had with myself while writing that post – innovation may indeed have nothing to do with technology and I really do have the development of an innovative culture as my goal BUT that’s huge. I do find that asking WHY is always important. Why do we do things the way we do? If it is for pedagogically sound reasons then great. If not then maybe it’s time to be innovative and develop other ways of doing things. Hmmm – we’re back to design thinking and noticing a problem that needs solving…

  3. A very sussinct and detailed account and journey of your action plan so far. You have really flushed out the question and started heading down a path that will surely lead to an informed direction. A quote that you mentioned above that really stuck with me was “Teachers are not all comfortable taking risks which means their students may not take risks. What can be done to help teachers feel more comfortable with their own failures?” – Developing a culture that allows for risks and failures and allowing for students to see and experience these are so important. The question becomes, ‘How might we build a culture through a technology lens that promotes learning and risk taking for both students and teachers. Certainly it will be important for your strategic plan to align with your action plan but what do you have to lose by trying to move forward anyway – a risk, per se. Great post, Lara!

    • Thanks for the suggestion, Tim! Maybe by including technology back into my design question I can keep things manageable… Not to mention that it will be related to my job so I can do it with ot without Strategic Plan direction.

  4. Lara, your plan and post in general really spoke to many of the challenges I”m facing as well. I’m filling in for a member of our faculty who is on mat leave as Tech integrater. One part of my job is to connect with the junior school and try to meet their needs, although their culture and technology resources are quite different. For example, they are 1:1 iPad environment, where the senior school is a 1:1 MacBook environment. Google is slowly creeping into our culture, but collaboration and innovation with technology is not as prominent (however, that is not to say that those two key elements are not already present). I respectfully disagree with Tim (trust me, it happens all the time) and I prefer your original question WITHOUT the tech included. Although cliche by now, I do buy into the argument that tech is simply the tool, a means by which to leverage the learning, the questioning, the problem solving that is clearly happening at your school. Your post is truly a model for the rest of us. Thank you so much. I can’t wait to see where you go with this.

  5. Lara,

    I really like the way you outlined your design think process to tackle the challenge of integrating technology amongst PYP faculty. I think you are well on your way to a successful action plan. It reminded me that I should use many of the principals that you outlined when undertaking my own action plan, specifically empathizing with users and collecting data. Have you thought about tackling empathizing and data collection with a google forms survey or something similar? It may further guide your questions.

    I can definitely see that there are challenges taking risks, especially utilizing tech. It is way too easy to give up on tech at the first challenge in the classroom and go back to time and tested methods. So I would agree with Tim, and disagree with Brent, that I would keep tech in the title. I think teachers, especially at UCC, are not opposed to taking risks, but can sometimes be more opposed when using tech as the tool for that risk.

  6. Hi Lara,

    One of my most favourite aspects of the UCC Mission as noted above, was the notion that we learn from our failure. Technology makes that SO much easier. I wonder why that is?

    Teaching our children that failure is part of the learning process and a CRITICAL one, is an extremely important idea for 21st-century learning. It is applicable in every facet: learning, loving and trying to be better. If we don’t fail, how can we take risks and challenge ourselves to be more than we are today?

    I am also impressed with how carefully and thoughtfully you have moved through this process – good documentation of the process!

    See you tomorrow (do you need a ride?)


  7. Hi Lara,

    I think many teachers want to try new technology in the classroom. The will is there but as you said, finding the time to learn and someone to show it to you can be tricky. My biggest success with learning new tech has been when time was taken during PD and dedicated directly to discussing and practicing new tech. Sometimes we get an open time where we get to choose our activity, with a specific tech tool being one of them. This works so well because it’s hands-on and immediately applicable, and is set during a time when we are there anyway, so it feels very productive and creatively inspiring.

    I hope this helps,

Comments are closed.