Design Thinking Hangout with Dr. John Nash

I’ve been a fan of Design Thinking ever since I was introduced to it by Dr. John Nash a couple years ago. You can read a bit more about that experience here. Fast forward a couple years and I am now teaching a design thinking course for Eduro Learning.  Dr. Nash is actually the director of graduate studies for the PhD program I am currently in so I see him quite regularly. He often tells me about the cool projects he’s working on and I thought it might be cool if we could do a Hangout so others might hear about what he’s up to. He does quite a bit of work with US based as well as international schools so he has a solid understanding of how design thinking can be beneficial to schools.  I also wanted to pick his brain on the different aspects of design thinking and ask him some questions that my students had. I was super lucky that Dr. Nash had some time and agreed to meet with me for a Hangout!

Thanks to Vivian for tweeting out nuggets from the Hangout and creating a Storify of the Event!

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Should We Be So Focused on Sending Kids to College?

I have been a total slacker on the blogging front! Our last COETAIL Cast (#25!!) was just the motivation I needed to get a post out. Lately I’ve been thinking about this idea of pushing everyone to go to college. I’m not sure I agree with that. I got to thinking… what if I took half the money it would cost to send my child to college and gave it to them to try and build a business. What if I took 1/4 of the cost and let them travel the world. I think about all the opportunities they could encounter along the way… volunteering/working/exploring. Via Flickr Via Flickr

I’ve personally met people who can travel on $12,000USD a year. What would college be giving them that other experiences couldn’t? If we assume that the reason we go to college is to learn… and not just for the diploma… what’s the big benefit of college?  How just justify paying to be a freshman in a class of 250 kids when can probably(dare I say definitely) find the exact content online and learn it from your couch… for free. More specifically what is the cost/benefit ratio for knowledge/experience acquisition for different scenarios.

Don’t get me wrong.. I think colleges and universities are wonderful places. I am currently pursuing my PhD and I work at a university! I just look at some of my friends who are in their 40’s and still have the black cloud of student debt hanging over them. I look at some of my friends who chose to forgo college and they are doing just fine. I also think we may fall into the trap of wanting to equate success with monetary gain. There are many types of success.

One thing I think I hope to see is the proliferation of Nanodegrees. What if we were able to enroll in targeted course sequences that would allow us to demonstrate a discrete set of skills through some sort of project. I have a friend who is interested in computer science. Do they really need to go through almost two years of “core” (stuff that everyone takes no matter what their degree path is) classes before they really get to the meaty stuff. I don’t know if I agree with that.

Am I crazy?

**Shout out to @Phillip_Cowell & @jasongraham99 for getting me going with a twitter convo.

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Schools Are Not a One Trick Pony

The other day I ran into a gentleman who is one of the administrators at the school my two boys will attending next year. I introduced myself and let him know my boys would be attending the school he works at next year. The first thing he said is that it’s a good school and that the test scores are “good”. I don’t mean to sound flippant but this totally bummed me out. Why was this the first and pretty much only thing he put forth as measure of the school? I’m sorry but I could really care less about test scores. Why didn’t he tell me about the blog the Spanish teacher has created so her students can extend the learning that goes on in the classroom at home. Or that the school was live streaming the 2nd grade musical celebration? Or the fact that the specialist teachers have created their own website to help parents feel connected to the awesome things they do… or that the school is in its second year of focusing on STEM skills in a STEM lab… or that they have an after school robotics club… and I’m sure I could go on and on. Sigh….

I guess my point is why not showcase the things schools are doing that really make a difference in the lives of our students. The type of things that maybe a single score on a single test can’t measure. Standardized tests are very good at measuring a very narrow band of skills. What goes on at school is the opposite of narrow. It touches almost every aspect of a young persons life. We need to recognize this reality and showcase the things we do in schools to meet the diverse needs of our students. We can’t keep saying that we shouldn’t focus solely on test scores and then provide nothing else as a measure of success. We need to be thinking about how we (parents, teachers, students) can accurately represent and disseminate what schools truly accomplish.

Not sure why but when I was jotting down this post this Ted talk from Sir Ken Robinson popped in my head. You’ve probably already seen it but if not enjoy!

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So What Is So Great About Finland’s Education System?

Right now I’m full tilt into the first semester of my doctoral studies here at the University of Kentucky. I am studying educational leadership and technology. It’s pretty cool. Right now I’m taking a class where we are looking at the ISTE leadership standards. Here is what has been guiding our inquiry:


If we are going to move beyond standardized tests of low-level thinking skills (and, no, the PARCC/SBAC assessments will not do this), then we have to replace them with something. Places like High Tech High, the Big Picture Schools, the New Tech Network, Expeditionary Learning, etc. all use performance assessments to get at what their students know and can do. We will be exploring what performance assessments currently look like across the world, how they’re assessed, how they might be scaled up to the state/national level, whether they might be a feasible complement and/or substitute for current accountability models, how technology systems can be used to manage the data, etc.

 ISTE Leadership Standard(s)

4B. Collaborate to establish metrics, collect and analyze data, interpret results, and share findings to improve staff performance and student learning.

As I have been poking around learning more about performance assessments and how they are used I started looking at which “high performing” countries are using performance assessments and in addition I wanted to learn more about how they were being used to measure student success. This is where it gets tricky because first you have to determine what “success” looks like. If you where to use the current model in place in the US you would say that a student is successful if they score well on the state administered end of year standardized assessment.  But I seriously don’t know one single educators who believes that is an accurate measure of success. This is why I was so interested in learning how different places where using performance assessments in place of standardized assessments.

2007 Monaco Grand Prix

What I have been learning though is that not only do they approach assessment differently but they approach the entire educational experience differently…. for everyone involved. A name that has been popping up frequently in my readings is Pasi Sahlberg. He is the author of the book Finnish Lessons, which I have to admit I haven’t had the chance to read. (It’s been ordered and it’s adding the growing stack!) I first turned on to his message after watching a short interview where he speaks on topics like:

  • How Finland supports their teachers
  • What is the difference between the Finnish national framework and the Common Core State Standards
  • How does Finland use assessments

When I was listening to his responses I couldn’t help but how different our countries approach education. I really don’t think we could apply the system Finland uses without completely shifting our thinking and approach to education. This piece he authored came across my twitter stream this morning. I found it really interesting. He touches on topics that range from teacher preparation to factors influencing student achievement. I’ll share some excerpts from the piece here:

“Research on what explains students’ measured performance in school remains mixed. A commonly used conclusion is that 10% to 20% of the variance in measured student achievement belongs to the classroom, i.e., teachers and teaching, and a similar amount is attributable to schools, i.e., school climate, facilities and leadership. In other words, up to two-thirds of what explains student achievement is beyond the control of schools, i.e., family background and motivation to learn.”

Wow, let that sink in for a minute.

I’d love to hear what others think about what he says in this piece.

*Image credit Mark Hintsa via Flickr.


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Your Best Idea X 100

When I was at the 2013 Apple ADE institute in Bali we all began work on a “One Best Thing” iBook (link launches iTunes). At the time I didn’t really grasp the idea and sort of passed it off as a bit trivial. Nevertheless I was excited about some collaborative projects I had been doing in my classroom so I decided to focus on that as my OBT.

One Best things screen shotQuite a bit of time passed and I didn’t hear anything from Apple. My thoughts on the project joined all the other half baked plans and ideas I have had but never seen to fruition that now reside out in the ether somewhere. Low and behold months and months later I get an email from Apple letting me know they are about to unveil the project. My book was chosen as one of the 100 “One Best Thing” iBooks. All the books were created using Apple’s iBooksAuthor software which is actually a very powerful yet relatively simple app to use. If you are new to iBooks I recommend seeking out some tips and tricks before you begin a new project in earnest. There are definitely some time saving tips and tricks that will make your life a lot easier.

I finally got around to spending some time looking over some of the other titles in the One Best Thing series and I was blown away with the quality and breadth of topics. All these books center on classroom practice and how to use technology in fun, innovative, and meaningful ways. I kept finding myself saying, “Heck Yeah!.. Sweet!… Awesome!. If you find yourself with a moment why not head over and check them out. I almost guarantee you’ll find some nuggets to enjoy.

If you like, you can check out my book, Connecting Classrooms: Activities to Promote Global Collaboration“.

As always any feedback is welcome!

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Back in the US…S…S…A

My family and I have relocated back to the good ole USA. I’ve enrolled in an educational leadership and technology PhD program at the University of Kentucky here in Lexington, KY. So far I really like it. I’ve thought about working towards a PhD for quite a while but hadn’t found the program or the people that I felt were a good fit. I had the opportunity to work with Dr. John Nash and Dr. Jayson Richardson this past year when they came to work with the school I was teaching at in New Delhi. I was very impressed with how knowledgable and professional they were and at the same time super approachable. I also had the opportunity to meet Dr. Justin Bathon last year while I was in Singapore helping out with the Learning2.013 conference being held at UWCSEA. After only being here for a short time I knew that I made the right choice and I am in the right place.

I’m not going to lie and say it’s been easy though. It’s been one of the bigger shifts we’ve been through. We are used to moving to a new country and getting set up but this move has had some big differences. First off, every time we have moved in the past it has been because we had been offered jobs at a school and we were going to go to work there. When we moved to Lexington my wife didn’t have a job and I am working part time as a graduate assistant. My wife worked her butt off to find a job teaching at a public school in Lexington. What was a bit frustrating for her is that she has been working at great schools with great people for the last 10+ years but her international experience doesn’t really translate well to people here. It’s almost like starting over which can feel a bit frustrating to a veteran teacher of 15 years with a masters degree in school counseling. Also we’ve always had our kids with us at the same school or at home with a nanny. It’s been a shift sending them off to school each day and not really knowing a ton about what goes on. The channels and amount of communication between school and home is quite different than what we are used to. We’re getting ourselves up to speed and overall feeling good about it.

Our kids are overall happy about things. It is quite different from what they are used to but they are masters at adapting to new environments. One is in private day care and the other is in 2nd grade at a neighborhood public school. I have some issues with some things that I see happening (or not happening) at school but I am trying to be patient and go with the flow. I have a lot to learn about how public education works here in Kentucky and more specifically Fayette County public schools. The teachers seem to be very dedicated and truly caring people which I feel very lucky about.

I am excited that my GA focus is working with the UK Next Generation Leadership Academy. Through the academy UK has been able to work with schools and districts here in Kentucky to help kick off transformative change. Working together an entry point is identified and a reform project is developed and implemented. It’s nice to be fighting the good fight and positively affecting education and kids in a tangible way.

For the last ten years I have been focusing pretty heavily on international schools as that’s where I have been living and working. Now that I’m back in the states I’ll be sharing more of my thoughts on what I see happening in education and schools here in the US. I’ll still be keeping an ear to the ground on what’s happening internationally but I’ll be paying more attention to what’s shaking stateside than I have in the past. I hope to continue to look at what awesome things are happening in classrooms and how teachers and students can help each other do amazing things.

Random… rambling post but I just needed to get something out!

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Full Tilt Into Design Thinking

Getting our ideas (many!) on the wall as part of the Design Thinking process.

Getting our ideas (many!) on the wall as part of the Design Thinking process.

This past week I was lucky enough to participate in four days of Design Thinking workshops given by the University of Kentucky DLab (ukydlab) director John Nash. In addition to myself, the people who participated in these four days were; Stacy Stephens (curriculum coordinator), Jessica Krueger (assistant curriculum coordinator), Dave Beaty (tech director), Maureen Cullen (HS Tech Coordinator), Gary Coyle (ES tech coordinator), Phil Rynearson (ES tech integrator), Ruchira Kochar (ES tech integrator) and Robyn Ibrahim(ES curriculum). We spent the first day learning about the Design Thinking philosophy and structure. We explored this structure with a hands on exercise and tried to create a better wallet for our partner. I have to say this was right up my alley. Two key elements of Design Thinking that I connected with immediately were the human centered approach and the onus on action.

Trying to design a better wallet.

Trying to design a better wallet.

The second day we spent using the Design Thinking process to look at creating a model for staff professional development around technology. We were going full tilt for the entire the second day. By the end of the day our brains were fried, but at the same time our spirits and motivation were high. I think this speaks not only to the exceptional facilitation by John Nash, but also the engaging and relevant nature of using the Design Thinking approach.

The third day we were lucky enough to have one of our stellar teachers come to work with us. She brought to the table something she was grappling with in her classroom. As we worked through the day using the Design Thinking process we broke out to interview some of the teacher’s former and current students.(remember the human centered nature) This was so valuable on so many levels. It reminded me that sometimes we educators get so wrapped up in content and standards that we forget about the human element of teaching. I was also reminded that sometimes we need to slow down and take this into account.(Because it’s so important!)

Sharing a prototype.

Sharing a prototype.

As we moved into the afternoon we had come up with some really cool ideas. One stumbling block was that we kept falling into the trap of trying to make sure our ideas were bulletproof. (Which I think is an easy trap for educators to fall into.) I had to keep reminding myself that this was merely a prototype and that once we implemented it we would gather more feedback from the people it affected to tweak and improve as we learned more.

As you may have noticed I have used “we” quite a bit in this post. That’s because Design Thinking involves collaboration. John Nash even says it requires “radical collaboration”. The process followed more of a “yes and” rather than a “no but” approach. If you know me at all you know that I am a big fan of collaboration so this is a natural fit for my working style.

If only it ended there! We still had one more day to work with John and to learn more about Design Thinking. This time we brought in 20 middle and high school students! The first challenge we explored was for them to redesign their partners morning routine. This involved building a prototype of whatever tool they were going to use to help create this new and improved routine.

I feel like I’ve been blabbering away long enough so take a moment to enjoy some Vine’s that hopefully will give you some insight into what we did!

The kids getting some of their ideas on paper.

John Nash explaining what the students had to work with to build their prototype.

The kids working feverishly on their prototypes.

The kids all explained how their prototypes would improve their partners routine.

All in all I was super pumped on the four days we spent learning about Design Thinking. This week some grade 6 teachers approached me and asked if I would help facilitate a Design Challenge around service learning projects. I’m very excited to give this a go. I’m a little anxious about diving into this for the first time on my own but John Nash left us with so many top notch resources and we were so heavily immersed in the process for four solid days that I’m pretty confident the day will prove successful.

Have you used Design thinking at your school and/or in your classroom? If so what nuggets of insight can you share?

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Stop Motion Remix Examples

My kindergarten students made a stop motion movie that they shared with the world (which you can read about here). They asked people to take the video that they had made and to create their own version, or remix, and share it back with them. We had a very good response with people sharing examples and resources for creating stop motion movies. If you are interested in making a stop motion movie definitely check out the comments to my previous post as people have shared a number of stellar resources.

We have gotten a couple versions that I wanted to share with you.

Here is an awesome version made by Miss Pana’s kindergarten class at ISS International School in Singapore.

Definitely check out her blog for great ideas and examples of the stellar things she and her kindergarteners are doing in their classroom.

Here is a very hip and musically eclectic version by a student named Chris at Korea International School Jeju campus. Definitely watch to the end…

Here is the version my kinder students came up with.

We have heard from a few more classes that they are working on creating a version of their own. I will share more as they come!

I also wanted to mention again the series by Kirby Ferguson called “Everything Is a Remix“. You can check out his website to learn about the work he is doing.

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