K12 Design Thinking Competition

I got accepted into the Georgia Tech K12 inventure prize challenge! I’m so excited to be able to bring this experience to my students.  The inventure prize is televised on GA public TV every year, and I’ve watched the finalist the last couple of years. I’m really impressed by the creativity of the Georgia Tech students that compete for the $20,000 grand prize. Some of my favorite designed projects were a biometrics app that only allows you to unlock a cell phone; a universal phone charger that folds into the sized of a credit card; a redesigned crutch; robotic dog toys; and this year’s winner the Safi Choo Toilet. This year’s winner was particularly cool because 1) it was social entrepreneurial in nature, 2) was designed by an all female group of engineers, 3) tackled an issue that may otherwise have been swept under the rug (toilet and water sanitation in refugee camps).

Here are the cool benefits of the K12 challenge (narrative still reflects last school year’s pilot):

During the 2012-2013 school year, the pilot program was tested at Peachtree Ridge High School and Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology. Seven lessons that guide teachers and students through completing an engineering design and entrepreneurship project were implemented. Students received feedback on ideas from professors during a Pitch Day at their schools. They also witnessed undergraduate innovation and voted for a K-12 prize at Georgia Tech’s Fall Capstone Expo. Students then made and tested their own prototypes. The top 3 student teams from each school were invited to present their work at a VIP reception prior to the InVenture Prize. An additional 100 InVenture Challenge participants were audience members during the InVenture Prize. For the second year, the goal is to expand the program to an additional six to eight schools.  (https://inventureprize.gatech.edu/challenge/aboutus)

The materials and training provided by Georgia Tech are fantastic and I’m most excited about students pitching their ideas to GT professors. We piloted something similar at our school last year and the high stakes environment surrounding the “pitch party” was really eye opening and beneficial for students. The suggested lesson plans provided by GT are an adaptation of Stanford d.School’s design thinking process. I feel good about that as I know that myself and my students are familiar with the process and have done several design challenges.

The K12 challenge does not compete with the college level entrants (pheeew), but I’m still really anxious about getting started. The main source of my anxiety is trying to determine which group of students to invite to participate. My plan was to do it as part of my new Technology, Engineering, and Design course, but I’m nervous about adding one more thing on top of what I already like as a course design. I also could do it with my makers club, but because we only meet briefly after school once a week. I’m nervous this may not be enough time to “make a dent”. My essential question, then, is “Which best enhances student centered learning and creativity: work inside of class or outside of class (via clubs)? Are CTSOs like the TSA and FIRST Robotics an indication that the best student centered learning innovation happens outside of the classroom?


Engineering Design vs Design Thinking

I have been posed the question before, and was most recently solicited on twitter: What is the difference between engineering and design thinking. As most of my colleagues know, I’m a fan/student of design thinking. My intuition tells me it is right for use in school. However, this particular conversation really forced me to lean in and think about specific differentiators between the two.

One bit of information that I left out of my “argument” was perhaps my all time favorite definition of designing thinking as proposed by Roger Martin – @RogerLMartin – of the Rotman School of Business. Martin describes design thinking as the overlap between analytical thinking and intuitive thinking.



His visualization of design thinking is so elegant to me – perfectly capturing the tension between the analytical (ie. engineering design; “prove it”) and the intuitive (ie. trust your gut; “love it”).

Matin's Definition of Design Thinking (1)

Anyway, I captured the previously mentioned twitter convo using Storify.  How did I do? How would  you differentiate between engineering design and design thinking?

For student engagement, drop a challenge and get out of the way

My bio classes just wrapped up one of my favorite projects.  As part of our unit on structure and function (physiology), I have students create a functional prototype for a replacement limb organ.  As part of the project, students also present an 8 min TED talk where they must 1) build empathy for a particular user or set of users 2) describe a problem with existing solutions 3) demonstrate their own prototype.

I’ve blogged about this project before, but this year was a little bit of a different experience.  I introduced the project much later in the school year than in the past and within days of attending my 5th TEDx conference.  Experiencing TED in person reminded me to spend more time in class on presentation skills.  So, we watched about 8 TED talks – including Mike Ebeling (below), Dean Kamen, Tom Chi, Anthony Atala – over the course of the project and discussed as a class how effective the talks were and for what reasons. 

The class concluded that talks with a real user (ie. empathy was developed) as well as those that demonstrated some product were their favorites.  This was apparent in their own talks as students did a great job of generating empathy, highlighting a problem, and story telling how their prototype could make a difference.

The second change this year was that I was behind the eight ball in terms of trying to cram this project in before exams.  It was not an ideal scenario, but I felt the experience for students was worth it.  In fact, I did not even grade the project as I felt it was too close to exam time for a large project grade to go in (I did, however provided feedback to students).  What was crazy was how engaged students were in the process.  At a time of year where it can be hard to capture the attention of students who are looking forward to summer break as well as being bombarded with other school stress, I took special note of students’ willingness to work when confronted with real and tangible problems.  Students brought in materials and tools from home.  They suggested improvements to other groups’ prototypes.  They (apparently) rapidly iterated ideas at a weekend sleep over.  They wowed each other with their stories and working models.  This was with much less direct instruction and guidance than in years past.  All I had to do was get out of the way…..



It’s a fixin to come one

Translation: things are changing or there is a storm headed this way.  I love this phrase! I learned from some relatives, but I’m still unsure if I am using it right.

It is fixin to come one on this blog.  I’ve been ridiculously absent for quite some time.  Let’s just say that teaching, coaching, renovating a new house, and other school related passion projects have taken priority over my blog this year.  With summer approaching I’m trying to get myself back on the horse.  I will be posting more often, however you may notice a different feel to the posts.  I will still use this as a sounding board for design thinking and technology education in K-12, but you may notice a tone that is more akin to a journal than a clearinghouse of information.  

This largely reflects my current state of mind in regards to my teaching career.  I’m finishing up my 3rd year of teaching after a career change.  I was previously a process engineer and then small business owner/operator.  At this point I feel like I’ve graduated from the “Discovery” mode of my teaching career where I took heavy doses of empathy along the way.  So, following my schools DEEP design thinking methodology – Discover, Empathize, Experiment, and Produce – I seem to have found myself in the experiment phase.  I’m pondering questions like: How might we formalize design thinking into school curriculum?  How might we assess the “soft skills” associated with design thinking?  What are the similarities and differences between design thinking and engineering design which is often associated with Technology Education?  and lots more to come.

So here we go….my own experimental thought journal on issues surrounding design thinking and technology education.  I expect there will be lots of questions and few answers.  Yes, this is totally self serving exercise, but perhaps you share some of my same questions.  My hope is this new change in format will prompt some discussion and feedback.  I’m looking forward to the ride!

Is the the buzz around Design Thinking buzzworthy?

I’m really excited and anxious for the opportunity to attend a workshop at Stanford d.Schools K12 Lab this week.  It’s a fantastic opportunity to network and learn how to truly make design thinking actionable in a k12 classroom.  Be looking for notes from the workshop and in a follow up post (part 2 of making DT actionable).

In the meantime I’m curious of different opinions regarding how relevant DT really is.  DT is one of those terms that seems to be reaching a saturation point.  It’s a buzz word.  While I’m cautious of the buzz around DT, I’ve also observed tremendous demand.  The Design & Thinking movie was funded entirely through kickstarter and had its premier this spring.  Resources like  IDEO’s educator toolkit and offerings from Stanford d.School are gobbled up with continued ferocity.  d.School now has a heat map to track interactions with their virtual crash course and twitter buzz.

Design Thinking is not without critics, though.  I was struck by a recent blog post by William Storage on The Multidiciplinarian entitled Design Thinking’s Timely Death.  The article is a  thoughtful criticism on DT…one that gives me pause.  After reading Storage’s piece I found Cameron Norman’s response: The Hyberbole and Exaggerated Demise of Design Thinking.  Please consider reading both.  They are excellent point-counterpoint examples that include recent and relevant literature reviews on design thinking.  The heart of the debate is whether all the buzz around design thinking is indeed buzzworthy.

My response to Storage’s post on whether we should bury the term “design thinking” below:

Defining DT is a bit of a conundrum. From Harvard Business Review Blog: Start-ups, Skunkworks, and Your Next Big Product:

“Much of this confusion stems from applying one term to too many contexts. Most businesses are actually pursuing two types of innovation; product innovation and process innovation. Product innovation focuses on the experiences the company offers to the customer and process innovations refer to the internal improvements to improve operations and delivery. Both are important, but organizations should approach the two types very differently.”

The “letter” of DT is the process proposed by Stanford d.School and Ideo.  The “spirit” of DT is making positive change.   The DT process itself is more conducive to product development in my opinion.  I use DT in a high school environment and it is very difficult for students (and adults!) to apply DT to a process or experience.  So, going through the DT iterations is not necessarily the best route for organizational or process innovation.  By the way, I think DT is often misinterpreted as a linear approach…it is most definitely iterative.

On the other hand, I do feel that designers have a knack, namely creativity, for affecting change.  So the spirit of DT can indeed benefit organizational or process change. It’s a willingness to look for alternatives to the status quo.

Ultimately, I appreciate your willingness to challenge design thinking. I’m squeamish about the way design thinking has been thrown around as a panacea for all our ills, but I don’t think it needs to die…we just need to be real about what it is and what it isn’t.

Quick Post: Closing the gender gap in Tech / Sci / Engineering

Stumbled upon the Makers website this morning.  If you are a teacher looking to promote girls’ participation in science and engineering (or many other careers), then look no further.  I’m intrigued by this topic because in many ways it was the impetus for pursuit of how (and why) to make design thinking happen in K12 education.  Almost a year ago to the day I presented a paper for my Diversity in Education class as required for a masters program.  The idea is that there are many cultural implications that inhibit girls and young women from pursuing careers in science and engineering.  After a year of reflection and research on Design Thinking, it is apparent to me that closing the gender gap in science and engineering is more critical than ever.  In my opinion and experience, women are more innately able to empathize – a key component to design thinking methodology.  If we want to create a culture of innovators (as Tony Wagner proposes in his new book) – particularly social innovators – then the gender gap conversation is an important one.

Back to Makers.  There are lots of website out there promoting girls and STEM, but I find most to be too “kiddy”.  Putting up a website with a pink themed background and linking to interviews with female astronauts does little to inspire in my opinion.  Nothing against astronauts of the space program, but it is not what is once was.   Is it?    Makers profiles successful women in a professional and straightforward way.  No pink bows, no frills – just inspirational stories of entrepreneurship, empathy, and what it’s like to be an agent for change.  Below is a clip of civil engineer with a passion for sustainability and environmental stewardship.  More sci/tech profiles here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A taste of the Design Thinking Summit 2012

This spring the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation based out of a independent school in Sandy Springs, Ga hosted a Design Thinking Summit.  Innovative educators from Atlanta’s independent schools, public schools, and universities came together to learn about the power of design thinking.

This is a taste of an inspiring day of innovation, collaboration, and fun!