Turn Your Classroom Into a Design Thinking Studio: 20 tips for first-timers

Turn Your Classroom Into a Design Thinking Studio-20 tips for first-timers

Often times I am asked, “How do I go about turning my classroom into a Design Thinking Studio?” and while it’s a much bigger process, here are 20 tips to get you started:

  1. Make way! Clear out any and all teaching materials you have not used in 3 years. New teachers will be happy to take your cast-offs!
  2. Open up! Find a way to provide abundant workroom/studio space. Find collapsible tables or card tables. Slide desks toward the outer walls. Reserve and work outside on picnic tables.
  3. Waste nothing! Start collecting recyclable materials, building materials, and art/construction materials. Organize these materials onto those freshly cleared out shelves. Students love to do this organization.
  4. Start simply! Get a basic toolbox with hammer, saw, screwdrivers, mat knife, fasteners, and measuring tape. Buy, or have a parent donate, a hot glue gun.
  5. Know your content! Study your school’s curriculum and find a topic that interests you. Science and social studies/history topics are rife with “human centered” challenges that invite design.
  6. Integrate! THINK about building, construction, or model making activities that may enhance this topic and engage students in deep thinking. (See suggestions in tomorrow’s post.)
  7. Select a challenge! Determine an age appropriate, curriculum-inspired design challenge. Ask, “How might we…[fill in the outcome].”
  8. Be ready! Plan ahead! THINK contingently. Prepare guidelines and gather materials for the multiple directions students will go as they respond to the challenge.
  9. Make connections! Plan ‘teachable moments,’ when direct instruction of specific skills, within the context of the design challenge, emerge. (e.g. Scale model building usually requires coordinate plane, ratio, and/or proportion mathematics.)
  10. Hang on! Reconcile your teaching style to accommodate increased noise and studio-like chaos. Evolve your curriculum delivery style to that as a mentor, questioner, and guide.
  11. Execute! 1 EMPATHY: Teach or have students research background information that will be required to define the human- or user-centered difficulties outlined by the challenge.
  12. Execute! 2 DEFINE: Help students understand the challenge in terms of the “human need” embedded in the topic. Help them determine the users’ point of view.
  13. Execute! 3 IDEATE: Provide time (class periods) for students to sketch several designs and to choose the one they wish to construct.
  14. Execute! 4: PROTOTYPE: Provide time (days/weeks/multiple class periods), tools, guidance, and ‘just-in-time’ teaching and questioning while students build, test, and experience their design solution. Question the viability and quality of the design. Does the design fit the challenge?
  15. Take a breath! Step back. Enjoy the students’ enormous engagement.
  16. Call a halt! Prototyping cannot continue forever. Provide a clear deadline date and for collaborative clean up. Play music. Remind students if they put things back where they belong, they will be able to find materials for their next design challenge. (Yes, there will be another.)
  17. Execute! 5 SHARE: Have students share their designs in some open forum. A 90-second elevator pitch works well. Teach the vocabulary and techniques of critique. Allow students to re-work the designs one last time after feedback from classmates.
  18. Reflect! Listen to (or read) what kids have learned or discovered about the topic, and about themselves. Listen to yourself. Share with colleagues what have you learned or discovered about yourself.
  19. Broadcast results! Contact parents, administrators, and colleagues. Invite them to view student presentations and/or designs. Enlist their help in refreshing recycled materials bins.
  20. Smile! You did it. And you are ready to try it again.

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