Design thinking: in & out of the box

creative design center

ASIJ opened a new Creative Design Center this year. The new space provides a focus for students to develop a maker mindset, and it provides an opportunity to distinguish between design thinking and design technology. We chose to adopt design thinking because it is human-centered and action oriented. As David Kelley points out, “Being human-centered is at the core of our innovation process. Deep empathy for people makes our observations powerful sources of inspiration” (Creative Confidence, Chapter 1, para 1). Over the past two years, we have started to develop a common language to support students to think and work like this. Design thinkers approach and respond to situations in a particular way. They switch between different phases or parts of the cycle. These phases include discovery (immersion), making meaning (synthesis), brainstorming (ideation), and try it (prototyping). Collaboration with others and feedback loops are also essential elements of design thinking.

CAD buildingTeachers have been designing learning experiences that allow students to practice all or part of the design thinking process in different subjects and at all grade levels. This approach to learning is not new. For example, there are many similarities between this approach and project-based learning. We chose design thinking because of the focus on generating empathy for others. The intention is to introduce new strategies to students throughout their educational experience to help expand their capacity in think and act with creative confidence in each of the phases. Learning new tactics and having time and opportunity to practice the art of, “Noticing that something is broken is an essential prerequisite for coming up with a creative solution to fix it” (Creative Confidence, Chapter 4, para 1). Which bring me back to the new design center. Although design thinking is often associated with tangible design solutions (products and systems), ASIJ sees that it has wider applications and that it is complementary to other learning approaches, e.g. the research process, the writing process, scientific inquiry. For this reason, it is important that our focus is on the dispositions and mindset that all students will develop by working this way rather than limiting design thinking to our maker courses or spaces.


Colleges are experimenting with a variety of ways to scale and democratise learning in higher education. Some really big name schools are involved. The article Heard: MOOCs Growing From Standford to Georgia Tech to MIT to Udacity to Udemy describes the rise of Massive Open Online Classes (MOOCs.) A number of high caliber colleges have been experimenting with this model and there have been some surprising repercussions including things like well known professors leaving to join start-up companies who want to connect successful ‘learners’ with prospective employers. Is this model going to test whether ‘college’ is the only pathway to highly desirable careers ?

Coursera is a venture described in the article. Coursera’s aim is to make “the best education in the world freely available to any person who seeks it.”  As of writing this post it offers 198 courses from a stable of 33 colleges and universities world wide. There are just under 1.7 million people currently enrolled in MOOCs through Coursera as stated on their site. You can watch Daphne Koller’s TED Talk, cofounder of Coursera, to hear about what she and her colleagues have been learning from their work.

I started my first MOOC course on Oct 22.

While I’m not new to design or using design processes I value the opportunity to keep learning and expand my knowledge. I jumped at the chance to enroll in this course on design partly because of the topic but also because I am curious about MOOCs. In this Coursera course I have about 5,000 or so other classmates from countries all over the world. This morning I have spent time not just doing my homework but browsing the forum and connecting with people. There are all sorts of activities and extra-curricular connections springing up from Facebook groups, twitter hashtags, and even Video blogs (like this by a student living in Germany who is keen to share how she’s tackling the challenges we are set.) I find myself in an interesting collective, a term described in the book A New Culture of Learning and one I keep thinking about as my experience in a MOOC progresses. It is quite the adventure and its only been two weeks!

Here’s a short reflection about my design first project.



Design Thinking

ASIJ is in the middle of a Strategic Planning process. We are attempting to use Design Thinking to accomplish this work and since we are all novices it hasn’t always been a clear or comfortable process. ‘Teachers’, as one team member pointed out, ‘don’t necessarily tolerate chaos or messiness and have a tendency to want to make things tidy’. But Design Thinking is not a linear process hence our discomfort. One of the best resources I have found to help unpack Design Thinking for an educational context comes from some folks from the Hasso Platter Institute in Germany. In their paper titled Is there a Need for a Design Thinking Process? they propose an Adaptive Design Thinking Workflow that has eight working modes. I would say we are oscillating somewhere between the Grasping External Knowledge and Knowledge Pooling modes right now.

There is lots to understand and unpack about this topic. How is Design Thinking different from other problem solving approaches? What’s the best way to learn how to use Design Thinking to solve wicked problems? How do we both use it and teach it without loosing what is intrigue to it? Just to name a few…

We’ve only scratched the surface so far. Luckily there are plenty of people out there that we can go to to better understand what, why and when Design Thinking can be applied. IDEODavid Kelly and Tim Brown are a few names that keep coming up.



‘Setting the table’ for the new school year

Along with updating my Blackboard site, my unit plans and assessment tasks, I thought it might be time to upgrade the look of my blog was well.

I’ve been trying to catch up on reading my RSS feeds and I took note of a post from e1evaition on ‘Top 10 Free WordPress 3.0 Ready themes’ via I ended up with Suffusion which I like because it is quite flexible enabling me to customize the look. It’s clean and has options the older theme didn’t offer. So Voila! Here is the new look blog.

Time is runnning out

Time is running out and graduation is just around the corner. As part of their post-exam activities my AP Studio Art classes are staging an exhibition of their portfolios this week. They have also each designed a clock to sell to raise money for charity. I have been impressed with their enthusiasm for the event and feel like we struck the right balance in combating ‘senior-itis’. Part of the fun has been having them use Illustrator to design an individaul invitiation to the show with at least one of their artworks on it. The plan is to invite friends and teachers along on Thursday during lunch and after school on Friday when they will be available to talk about their work with their guests.  What could be a more authentic culminating event for these young artist than an exhibition they have organised!

Green Design for Yearbook

Cover design by Kaori in AP Art

This year ASIJ as a school has made a conscious effort to ‘go green’; we have had solar panels put in, we don’t use heat or cooling for a month of the year, and the worm farm is consuming scraps from the kitchen. Likewise the Yearbook has followed suit. Our attempts to make small changes with an eye for the environment have included reducing the total page count to 178 from last years’ 208 pages. We will also be printing on 100% recycled paper and the cover will also be a recycled product (called Tyvek) made from PET bottles.

It sometimes feels like the problems to do with the environment are too big to make a practical difference to, and that our individual efforts are isolated attempts that don’t amount to much. There is, however a growing community of artists, designers, scientists and educators who care about the environment in practical ways. I was very inspired by WilliamMcDonough & Braungarts’ book, Cradle to Cradle; an account of how they, an architect/designer and a scientist, are changing everyday designs for a sustainable future. The book itself is not made of paper (it’s a polymer) their desire is to make things that have a continuous cycle–that the product can be broken down and be fully recycled with a minimum amount of degrading of the components.

I hope that each year we can move closer to this ideal. In the mean time my class captured some of that sentiment for the front page of Chochin.

A book with a theme to match the one of the school year. A book created to preserving your memories of ’08-’09, a year dedicated to preserving the environment. Even the less awake of us, or those suffering from senioritis, may remember the lack of heat, the wind turbine spinning, and for those in cooking, trips to the compost. But after you say goodbye to ASIJ, these memories may not stay with you. Even if you don’t remember, the earth will; these small contributions annoying to some of us, have had significant results.

I’m glad it’s finished for another year 🙂

Going Green

The next few post will be about how ASIJ is tackling the ‘Green’ theme.

Having students take the initative is always inspiring & so when a group of students sponsored a ‘Green’ Fashion show to reinforce the recycling campaign it was one of those moments. An assembly period was given over for the high school to see student designers present garments made from reclaimed and recycled materials such as paper, plastic bags & recycled fabrics. It was a fun and creative way to raise awareness.

Next, what Yearbook is doing for the environment.

‘Kuler’ patterns

I’ve been enjoying using the color mixing tool Kuler.Adobe (screen grab below). I have been playing with it to help sort out color options for some pattern designs I am working on. What I like about it that it offers you a selection of themes others have already come up with, as well as the option to create your own schemes. Colors specs are offered in HSV, RGB, CMKY, Lab and HEX. It is a neat tool to offer student too.


Video ‘recording’ or ‘recoding’?

Today my Visual Communication class presented the ‘Pop-up Illustration’ book that they created for one of the Grade 2 classes. It was a complex collaborative project that took in paper engineering (problem solving), layout & illustration (creativity & technical skill) and audience, purpose and context (the grades 2’s are studying Africa: the subject of the book). It was a buzz seeing the younger students getting excited and to see hard work recognized.
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Yearbook work flow

In 2007 we shifted to an in-house production of the yearbook at ASIJ. I found the artificial deadlines that a ‘yearbook company’ imposed frustrated the process and the opportunity for students to gain a ‘real world’ experience of producing a publication. Making the switch resulted in huge benefits; we had more control over the production, and the printing quality improved while reducing the overall costs. Obviously printing companies don’t want everything arriving at the same time. If their main work is yearbooks then they have to collect work periodically to spread out the flow. There have been no regrets with making the shift.

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