Thursday, May 3, 2018

Design Thinking to build a unit with a Science Colleague

It likely comes as no surprise to know that as a library media specialist, my most frequent collaboration is with Social Studies and English teachers. This week I ventured into new territory co-planning a unit with a Chemistry teacher. She contacted me because, as the teacher of AP Chemistry, she will have some found time between the administration of the exam and the end of our school year. She was hoping I could help her plan something meaningful and interesting for her students.

This conversation became a two-fold exercise in applying design thinking! First, I put aside the different ideas that were bouncing around my head, things I thought might interest the students. Instead of offering suggestions (which is what she hoped I would do when she came to me), I started asking her questions. What outcome would make her think the time was well spent? What difficulties did she have this year when teaching the class? Or what difficulty had the students had? As I listened to her share about her year, I gained empathy with her as a teacher, as a teacher of a specific discipline, and as a teacher of a particular high stakes course. That helped me to hear things she was saying, like: “It’s more my Honors Chem students (an entirely different class) who have trouble with some of the concepts of their class, but I don’t have time for a big project with them.”

I asked her, “Do you have enough time to ask them to share what areas or concepts caused them the most difficulty?” She said that she didn’t have to ask, she knew. I pushed again by saying, “Your insight about their struggle is really important, and could you put together a form that asks them to tell you? It would be interesting to see their self-awareness.” She agreed that would be an interesting comparison. Then I asked, “How might we harness the found time in AP to empower the AP students to help the Honors class finish the year strong and prepare for their final exam?” And a project was born!

We started, organically, thinking 10X and growing the idea with “Yes! And…” It went like this:

- “We can start with a survey of the Honors Chem classes…’
- “Yes! And, we can ask each AP student to choose to work on one of the problems identified.”
- “Yes! And, they can interview the students in Honors to understand why that concept was difficult.”
- “Yes! And, the AP students can build new teaching materials for the students to use to practice the concept.”
- “Yes! And, next year those materials can be used again to differentiate for the new class!”

So that was the first layer of design thinking. The cool thing is that the product of that planning session was to put the AP classes through a design thinking exercise as the path to developing their solution to the learning problems of their peers! My colleague asked for reassurance that I would be with her (and her students) throughout the process. She also asked a bunch of “what if” questions. Mostly they were about what if something goes wrong. I asked, what do the AP classes lose if their projects flop? Not much really. What does the Honors class lose? Again, nothing. They don’t gain anything, but very little of their time and energy is invested in the project. They are the beneficiaries if all goes well. I then asked if she would lose anything if all goes awry. She didn’t hesitate to say, not really. She likes her students (and they like her), she considers them eager learners, thoughtful people, and she trusts them. Ultimately, she realized that if this flops, they will be rather forgiving. That is when I felt safe to tell her, it won’t flop. It may evolve differently than we anticipate, and that is OK. Ultimately, everyone stands to gain much more than anyone stands to lose. And then she asked if I could write up the unit plan.

So here is the project outline that the students in AP Chem will follow: 

The exam is over. (Phew!) 

The final lab is complete. (YES!)

Now we have the gifts of found time, sophisticated chemistry expertise, and a cohort of innovative risk-takers. Here is how we will use these gifts to solve problems and keep learning ourselves:

To start, we will survey the grade 10 students in Honors Chem. What we want to know about each student is:
What was the hardest content or skill for you to master this year?
Or, looking ahead to the final exam, what potential questions or problems most concern you?

This is where YOU, the students in AP Chem enter the equation. Each of you will choose one of the issues identified by your 10th grade peers and design a learning module to help them overcome their struggle.

You will use this guiding design question to frame your work:

How might we create learning experiences to help students who struggle with _________ concept?

These are the steps we will follow to design and answer to that question:

User Discovery (Also called stakeholder interviews)
(Anticipated date of completion: June __)
This can be a one-on-one interview with the grade 10 student whose problem you are trying to solve. If multiple students identify the same area of difficulty this can be a focus group. In the event that you can’t coordinate schedules, this can be done via a Form, Doc or Google Hangout. (protocol outlined below)

Ideate: Crazy 8’s
(Anticipated date of completion: June __)
Ms. Whiting will visit the AP classes to guide you through an ideation (think: brainstorming) exercise and then thinking 10X by using the “Yes! And…” protocol. (outlined below)

(Anticipated date of completion: June __)
You, each of the students in both AP classes, will choose your best idea, perhaps partnering with someone solving the same or similar problem, and build a rudimentary prototype of your idea that can be tested with your stakeholder or stakeholder focus group.

(Anticipated date of completion: June __)
Once you have received feedback on your design, you will revise your plan and begin to build your final product.

(Anticipated date of completion: June __)
If all goes according to plan, you will deliver your learning support materials to the Honors classes so that the students in honors can use the materials to study for their final exam.

Rejoice! (never stop rejoicing :)

FYI: Ms. Whiting will be vlogging this exercise to share with the our faculty and beyond.


The best way to learn about your users is to ask questions. Meet the students who identified your problem; if there are multiple people try to talk to all of them. Use this space to develop questions to ask them. It is ideal to go out and talk to the Honors Chem students, but if you can’t, you could also send an email with a few questions, or send out a survey in a Google Form. Don’t forget, you can Google Hangout with them as well.

USER Info: Honors Chem student (who is this person?)
Assumed Problem: What do you, the student in AP think is causing the difficulty?

Interview Notes: What does the student from Honors Chem tell you?

Now consider:
  • WHO are you users?
  • WHAT are their needs?
  • HOW do they behave?
  • WHY do they behave that way?
Who Am I: Did I have this same problem? Am I challenged to understand why my stakeholder struggled?

We will give you a large piece of blank paper -- it won’t be blank for long!

Fold it in half 3X, when you open it up, it will look like this:

You will draw 8 different possible solutions (one in each box); for each box you will have 40 seconds to draw your idea.

There are NO bad ideas!

Think BIG! Imagine if you had access to all the information and resources that you could need.

Following this exercise, we will think 10X by using an exercise called, “Yes! And…” to expand and improve your initial ideas.

1 comment:

  1. This reflection is amazing, Jacquelyn! Thank you so much for sharing!