The Wizard of Oz Prototype

As I was doing some prep work for my Facebook Q&A on Design Thinking next Monday, I came across the term, “Wizard of Oz Prototype.” I realized that we had done prototypes like this in the classroom, but didn’t know there was a term for them. As you know, the Wizard in that famous book and movie uses the art of illusion to appear much larger, louder, and smarter than he really is. When making a Wizard of Oz prototype to test out, you may want to find out if the end experience is going to be worth all of the work needed to create it. For example, you may want to design a robot that dispenses fortunes to people. Before spending time on programming a robot, you might dress up as a robot and present fortunes when someone presses a button to find out if this is a product people will like. So, it’s kind of a twist on “Fake it ’til you make it.” You can read more about it in this handout from Stanford’s d. school.

Image by Beri Garrett from Pixabay

Get in the Game

The If/Then Collection is all about featuring women in STEM. If you teach or you’re a parent, I highly recommend doing a deep dive into all of the materials offered on this site, including profiles of female scientists in various fields like sports and entertainment, videos, posters, and toolkits. I saw the “Get in the Game” resources, and wanted to share them since I mentioned the Game Design Contest from Google Play yesterday. According to the site, “Get in the Game is an “unplugged” activity–exploring concept usually associated with programming and computer science without the use of a computer.  The Tech Interactive Museum in San Jose presents six activity videos featuring AAAS IF/THEN® Ambassador Dr. Siobahn Day Grady where students design their own board games and learn how Dr. Grady applies computational thinking skills as a computer scientist researching autonomous vehicles.” Although this activity focuses on designing a board game, it would be a great jumping-off point for anyone interested in the Google Play contest, or who are just looking for engaging activities during the next couple of months.

Interested in the idea of using Design Thinking in your classroom, but not quite sure how to do it? I will be live on Facebook on June 14th to talk about Design Thinking (which comes in handy for game design and lots of other subjects!). You can find info on how to join us here.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Be a Game Changer!

Do you have students (or children) who are 13-18 years of age, live in the United States or Canada (except Quebec, sorry!), and who have great ideas for video games? If so, they have until July 31, 2021, to enter Google Play’s “Change the Game” Design Contest. They do not have to know how to code in order to enter, as you can see from the online form. Judges will be looking at entries as they are submitted to select 100 people to participate in an online workshop where they will learn how to make real games, and receive a certificate and Chromebook if they complete the course. You can get more information and some guiding questions to inspire participants here.

And, don’t forget, I will be live on Facebook on June 14th to talk about Design Thinking (which comes in handy for game design and lots of other subjects!). If you missed my blog post giving you the scoop on this event, you can read all about it here.

Photo by Garrett Morrow on Pexels.com

Save the Date!

My good friend and colleague, Donna Lasher, has a wonderful website I’ve spoken about before on this blog, Big Ideas for Little Scholars. In addition, she has a Facebook Group that does book studies and exchanges resources. She has invited me to speak with the members of the group this month in a Facebook Room about Design Thinking. This will be a live Q&A period on June 14th when you can ask (and I can hopefully answer!) questions about using Design Thinking in various environments — GT pull-out as well as regular classrooms from K-12. We would love for you to join us for this event, and participants will also receive a handout of resources following the session. Whether you would like to attend the session, or just be part of an ongoing wonderful group, here is the link to the private group. The date and a few more details are below. Also, if you are interested in having me speak to your school, district, or other group, feel free to contact me at engagetheirminds@gmail.com.

Think Again

I know that it’s hard to imagine doing anything “extra” after this crazy school year, but some schools like to do book studies over the summer – and some teachers, like me, get reinvigorated by reading professional books. I’d like to toss this one out there as an idea for those of you searching for a book for one of those purposes or even as just as a non-fiction book to read for enjoyment.

Think Again is by Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and professor at Wharton. I received this book as one of three that arrived in this quarter’s Next Big Idea Book Club subscription box. When I read the intro on the book jacket, I thought this book was ideal to read given the current state of our world. “The bestselling author of Give and Take and Originals examines the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds, which can position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life.”

Before you read, you may want to take the free quiz to find out which type of thinker you most resemble: Preacher, Prosecutor, Politician, or Scientist. This tends to influence the methods you use to open the minds of others when you disagree.

If you have never read a book by Adam Grant, I can assure you that he is a talented writer who engages the reader with anecdotes sprinkled with relevant facts. I was prepared to find some good nuggets of advice in Think Again, but didn’t realize I would use up all of the ink in one of my highlighters as I turned each page to discover more and more guidance that would be helpful in my everyday life.

Even though the entire book is valuable, I want to summarize some takeaways from one specific chapter because it addresses “teaching students to question knowledge.” As this is primarily an education blog, “Rewriting the Textbook” is probably the most pertinent to you, the educators who read this blog.

Grant discusses the importance of questioning information no matter the source, being willing to take risks and accept being wrong some of the time, and students taking ownership of their learning – all precepts that I have also encouraged in my classroom and on this blog. He, of course gives evidence to support why these are vital skills and interesting examples of teachers (including himself) using student-centered techniques that encourage this type of thinking. One of the observations he makes from a collaborative lesson he taught in his college classroom is that the Straight-A students often struggled on the open-ended project, quite possibly because the obsession with being “right” was interfering with any inclination to take creative risks.

Among the teachers Grant showcases in the chapter, he mentions Ron Berger who worked summers as a carpenter and during the school year as a public elementary school teacher who “devoted his life to teaching students an ethic of excellence,” which includes “constantly revising our thinking.” I liked reading about Berger’s habit of posing “grapples” to his students that were multi-phase problems rather than beginning every lesson by presenting information. As Grant described more of Berger’s unconventional methods, I was impressed by the iterative mindset he instilled in his students, prioritizing revision and increased mastery rather than racing to completion. It should not have surprised me (but it did) that Berger became the chief academic officer of EL Education, one of the schools in which the famous video, Austin’s Butterfly, was filmed.

From the Black musician who confronts members of the KKK to an epilogue that analyzes the communication of leaders during the pandemic, Think Again is a book that parents, educators, leaders, and followers in all walks of life would find meaningful and timely. I plan to thumb through those pages often to remind myself of the power of re-thinking.

Think Again, by Adam Grant

Design for Change

The single most impactful adjustment I made to my curriculum in the later decades of my teaching career was to make room for students to work on issues they chose that were interesting and relevant to them. This was scary for me because I never had any idea where the year would lead me. But I learned so much along with the students that the risks I took and mistakes I made were definitely worthwhile. One year, my small 3rd grade class decided to investigate overfishing for their Genius Hour project. (I always did a group Genius Hour project with my 3rd graders because it was their first year doing major research in Gifted and Talented, and my classes in that grade level were generally tiny.) If you had asked me at the beginning of the year about my interest in overfishing on a scale of 1-5, I would have said 0. But these students were all passionate about the ocean, and that is where their interest took us. Weeks into their research, I was just as committed and concerned as they were – especially after our Skype session with a journalist covering the issue.

From that project to many others that I could describe where students were making plans to solve real-life problems, the message was clear – when students see the value of their work, they are much more engaged and ultimately become more empowered. This is where the Design for Change website could help you. Instead of starting from scratch as my students and I did, you can begin with a framework that is chosen by your students. With racial justice, educational equity, and climate change as the three main topics to select from, they can then find out more from podcasts and other materials that have been curated to guide them on paths toward making positive contributions toward our world as they learn. Whether you want to do a long-term unit, or focus on “Empathy Warmups,” “Design Sprints,” or “Community Action” individually, the free resources on this website – including a teacher platform to monitor progress – will give you much more support than I ever had when my students initially began passion projects.

Design for Change has a site for the United States and a global site. Both boil down the Design Thinking process to these four steps: Feel, Imagine, Do, Share. The global site even provides toolkits written for specific countries in their major languages. There are also options for using the materials virtually or in face-to-face environments.

Though we can’t always do this in education, I found that engagement comes quicker if you start from a place a student already values rather than working to convince a student, “this is what you should value.” But students often need to investigate a bit to realize what is important to them, and this is where Design for Change can help.

Photo by Polina Kovaleva on Pexels.com

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