When introducing Design Thinking to children, it’s important to include the “empathy” part of the process. Sometimes, it is easier for students to practice this with fictional characters before they begin applying it to real people. I’ve curated a collection of both free (green) and paid (purple) resources that offer character cards you can print out to distribute to students so that when they are designing they have a “client” in mind. If you would like some suggestions for books and videos to help teach empathy, Joelle Trayers has several blog posts that address this topic.
Khandu is a set of cards that I purchased awhile ago in a crowd-funding campaign. Like Extraordinaires, it includes characters and challenges. My set also includes “Ideation,” “Inspiration,” “Action,” and “Prototyping” cards. It’s a pretty comprehensive pack of 70 full color, thick cards. Although the pricing is in euros, you can also purchase it through PayPal.
Mark your calendar for May 2, 2017, this year’s Global Day of Design. This project, spearheaded by educators A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, encourages classrooms all around the globe to participate in innovative thinking and creating during one 24-hour period. According to Juliani, over 40,000 students participated in last year’s Global Day of Design, an impressive number that we could surely double this year.
Ideally, every day should be one that includes innovation for our students. However, the reality is far from this. Hopefully, just as Hour of Code has promoted awareness of the need for more computer science education, the Global Day of Design will encourage more educators to integrate Design Thinking into the curriculum.
Juliani’s post gives a link to register for the Global Day of Design, as well as many resources. The official website for the project also has a registration link and the bonus of at least 12 free design challenges with the promise of more to come.
In a related post, my colleague Sony Terborg recently wrote about the concept of “The Producer Mindset,” and also linked to the Global Day of Design. Like Terborg, many forward-thinking educators agree that it is imperative that we move away from the factory-based system of education to instead provide students with opportunities to create and think for themselves. Design Thinking is a great framework for educators to refer to when embarking on introducing innovation in the classroom, and I would recommend the Global Day of Design as just the beginning that will hopefully eventually lead to a new generation that is comfortable designing 365 days a year.
At the end of last year, right before Christmas, I saw a tweet about The Extraordinaires. After visiting the site, I was intrigued by the product and ended up buying one of the smaller sets to try out with my students. Since my 2nd grade gifted students are studying structures, I chose the “Buildings” set.
All of the products in The Extraordinaires line revolve around Design Thinking. Each set includes Character cards, Design projects, and Think cards. The sets also include a drawing pad, and at least one pen. The Buildings Set includes 6 each of the Character and Design cards and 10 Think cards. Larger, more expensive sets, contain more cards.
Each of The Extraordinaires Studio projects allows you to choose a character and a design project. For example, one of my students got the “giant” character and “sports venue,” so his assignment was to dream up a place for his character to play a sport. You can, of course, mix and match the cards, which makes for interesting combinations. The think cards can be used to help refine the project and add details.
Fortunately, I only have 5 students in this particular class, so the set I bought is the perfect size. (Some of the larger sets have higher age recommendations. The company assured me in a tweet that the 16+ noted on the box “only refers to the guidebook and the depth of content,” so this leads me to believe that the cards would still be fine to use with lower ages.)
My students were extremely motivated by the Character and Project cards. The graphics on these definitely generated enthusiasm. Before passing out the cards, we had talked about empathy. I emphasized the importance of designing for their “clients” instead of themselves. For about 20 minutes, there was complete silence in the room as the students got to work.
I had already told the students that this was just the beginning, that they would go through many drafts before settling on final designs. It’s good I prepared them, because I realized that I hadn’t done a very good job of teaching them about empathy. As they shared their first drafts, it became clear that they drew buildings that were familiar and just added a few details (like kelp, for the mermaid’s house) to align the structures with the characters.
Fortunately, the website for The Extraordinaires includes some resources for teachers. We will be using the “Graphic Organizer for Getting to Know an Extraordinaire.” After all, it’s difficult to have empathy for someone you don’t know. This is actually all practice for our final semester project, for which they actually will be designing something for someone at our school. (More about that in a future post.)
If you like the idea of teaching Design Thinking to your students, and would like some other resources, Jackie Gerstein has a wonderful collection of design challenges here. For a great free Design Thinking curriculum, City X is another alternative. To see why you should even consider incorporating Design Thinking into your curriculum, this video from The Extraordinaires allows students to explain. (Be sure to watch all the way to the end if you really want your heartstrings tugged 😉
My elementary students enjoyed the mindset videos from Class Dojo last year, and even ask to watch them again. Since empathy is part of the Design Thinking process, and something we regularly discuss in our GT classes, I definitely plan to show this series as well.
Deborah Lee Rose is an author who recently worked with a raptor biologist, Jane Veltkamp, to write the non-fiction book, Beauty and the Beak. The book will be published in 2017, but you can already access related S.T.E.M. materials here.
Beauty, who had much of her beak shot off by a poacher, was almost euthanized because of her inability to survive. Jane Veltkamp and her team collaborated to save Beauty, and the eagle is celebrating her 15th birthday this year.
One important part of Design Thinking is empathy, and the story of how Beauty’s rescuers cared for her and found a way to replace the eagle’s beak using the technology of 3d printing is an excellent illustration of empathy at work.
There are so many lessons to be learned by the story of Beauty, from the perils of poaching to the fantastic feats that can be accomplished by those who work together to beat the odds. This is a tale that is relevant and inspiring, and sure to make an impact on your students on multiple levels.
I would like to give Krissy Venosdale (@krissyvenosdale) credit for the awesome image below, and possibly for coining a new term: “iterationist.” When I saw the image tweeted by her the other day, I knew right away it would be a new mantra for me. Considering the experience I described from our robot camp on Monday, Krissy’s quote perfectly states what I need to encourage more from my students (and myself).
“Iteration” is a word that is used quite a bit when people discuss Design Thinking. Anyone who has created something of substance will agree that a new work goes through many drafts before the maker feels satisfied. Those iterations are important to the process; in fact some even argue that they are more important than the final product.
What I learned from my robot camp experience is that I not only need to make students more aware of the importance of iterations, but also how to learn from them. As I mentioned, some of the teams had no problem trying again when their designs didn’t work. However, they didn’t spend enough time on trying to figure out why they weren’t working, and subsequent iterations tended to be just as inefficient.
In school, we usually don’t give students time for multiple iterations, unless we are preparing them for a standardized writing test or telling them to correct failed assignments. If we could make “iterationism” a habit, rather than a consequence or forced strategy, students would be more comfortable about taking risks and we would see a lot more “bravery.”
Speaking of considering a maker space, Laura Fleming (author of Worlds of Making, and one of the pioneers of school maker spaces) tweeted out a link to this video today, which is an awesome overview of the maker space revolution. Laura’s excellent suggestion is to share it with teachers and school leaders for PD.