A Design Challenge

So despite all my other goals, my Cohort21 HMW question and other things I am working on, this happened earlier this year:

In true Cohort21 style, I thought that I should try to use design thinking to explore possible responses to this question.


1. Problem Identification

I started by exploring our recently released our Strategic Directions. Included in these are 5 Values:


Under Learning it states:

A UCC education will be enhanced with opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and the introduction of a Design Thinking and Digital Innovation Program offered with three streams: Digital Media, Coding and Programming, and Innovative Product Design. Through this program, boys will develop knowledge and skills in design thinking, collaborative work practices and project management, and will gain the experience necessary to continue their study in these three areas at the Diploma level. The program will build students’ capacity to embrace ambiguity, learn from failure, empathize with others, be resilient and think big.

Our Middle Years (grades 6-10) will have a Design course that all students will take. It will lead into film, computer science and design options they can take in grades 11-12.

In grade 5 we have a Design Technology class coupled with Science but don’t talk much about design in other Primary grades. In my scheduled ICT classes we explore both coding and digital media creation at least once in every grade. In Art and the Homeroom students do some product design.

Design is not currently a topic of conversation in Primary yet is meant to become a signature programmme at the school. How could/ should we address it?

2. Explore multiple perspectives

I had a great time meeting with each of the following people to try to better understand what ‘’we’ mean when we say design:

  • Head of whole school
  • Head of Primary Division
  • Head of Middle Division
  • K-12 Curriculum Co-ordinator
  • Middle Curriculum Co-ordinator
  • Primary Curriculum Co-ordinator
  • Les McBeth with her Future Design School hat
  • Two teachers who recently attended Design Thinking sessions at an EdTechTeacher conference
  • Twitter…
  • Students


3. Defining the Problem

Through my conversations, I learned:

  • As an institution the immediate focus will be on getting the Middle Years Design course up and running
  • The goal of our Design programme will be to develop skills that help with future problem solving (real-world, personal applications)
  • Three strands will be taught: coding, media, and product design
  • Design thinking as a pedagogical approach will become a focus in the future
  • There seemed to be a connection between a desire to use a design process and desire for innovative approaches
  • There will eventually be a K-12 continuum

Several questions arose in my mind:

  • Would it be age-appropriate to adapt the required Middle Years Design Cycle for younger students? And/ Or, could that cycle be tweaked to be our inquiry cycle?
  • How might design skills benefit lower elementary students right now?
  • What experiences would deepen skill development and conceptual learning in K-5?
  • What skills are essential for students to develop prior to grade 6?
  • What experiences should students have before grade 6?
  • If we say we want students to be able to use technological tools to solve problems, what does that mean for a 5 year old?
  • How do we ensure that design is transdisciplinary?

As with so many things, time seemed to be a big issue…

My challenge with incorporating more design in my current ICT classes is that they are only an hour long and scheduled once every 8 days. That means that coding projects, for example, often take months to complete. Because these scheduled classes are so short and far apart, it is difficult to really inquire into the various forms or media and if I am with the students I feel guilty if they are not spending time actively creating something. Although teachers can schedule me to consult with them or help between these scheduled classes  I have often heard that they “don’t want to bother” me (even though I would love to be asked!)


4. Ideate Possible Solutions

I started by “keeping the end in mind”…

At the end of our Primary Years Programme we want the grade 5 students to be able to independently demonstrate all the transdisciplinary skills they have learned and take action in a way that is meaningful to them. It seems to me that if they could navigate a design process independently to address a real-world need, this would meet our criteria.

In order to do this, they will need to develop and foster:

  • Subject-specific skills
  • Transdisciplinary skills (like thinking, communication, research, social, self-management)
  • Curiosity
  • Independence

My K-4 Proposal

  • rather than scheduling my 20 hours of contact time per year, I would like to devote the same number of hours to each class but as “projects/ explorations/ inquiries” (I’m not sure of the best word yet). This would mean a minimum of:
    • 5 hours for coding
    • 5 hours for digital media
    • 5 hours for product design
    • 5 hours for digital citizenship,  research and device use/maintenance
  • This doesn’t seem like much but by keeping the same time allotment it is an easier shift for the teachers I work with and it will allow us to see if/ where more time is necessary…

I will work with other teachers to:

  • determine how we could best use coding, digial media and product design in their curriculum – perhaps it would be to deepen conceptual understandings or perhaps it would be to present something
  • schedule our classes to best help students – that might mean all day long, or every day for a week – whatever is best for student learning
  • still be available to help outside those scheduled times

For each of the streams, I want to ensure there is:

  • a team approach with the teacher so that the work can continue when I am not in the room
  • completion of projects in a more timely fashion
  • consistent use of provocations to kickstart  critical, creative and compassionate thinking
  • time to have students help determine success criteria
  • a chance to debrief the process and reflect on learning

What I Still Need to Do/ Learn

  1. I think I will need to go to each teacher with some suggestions for what we might do since they currently have differing degrees of comfort/ understanding of coding, media and production. I will be working with a K-12 team to build a continuum from which I can flesh out specifics.
  2. Figure out grade 5 – they currently have a stand-alone science/design technology class… should this incorporate all of what was formerly ICT? should there be additional time for these design strands? should they just have additional time for digital citizenship and research and the rest in science/DT? Does science and DT need to stay together?
  3. figure out where and how product design will happen
  4. Gather Feedback – April/May
  5. Iterate relentlessly  – May/ June
  6. Test 2018-19

I am really excited about this plan because it feels very organic and more age-appropriate!

If you have my suggestions for improving this idea or what to call our chunks of time together, I would love to hear them.