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Policy to practice: Design thinking in K-12 education.

Authors:
  • Urban Discovery Schools

Abstract and Figures

Design thinking (DT) is both a method and a dispositional approach to problem solving, organizational development, and learning. The traditions of DT go back to the 1950’s and have been used in a variety of fields. Some defining features of DT include focusing on need definition before problem solving, abdication of preconceived outcome, being situated toward ambiguity, being human-centric, and having a reflexive process that seeks to increase contextual knowledge using empathy as the basis of understanding. The use of DT in education has included applications for organizational development and the activation of constructivist pedagogy.
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LEADERSHIP
INNOVATION
POLICY TO PRACTICE
2019
INSIDER
PG. 2
IMPLICATIONS TO POLICY:
Explore the policy consideration for
educational institutions.
PG. 3
APPLICATIONS TO PRACTICE:
What changes in practice might
need to occur to facilitate design
thinking in K-12 education?
PG. 4
REFLECTIONS:
Thoughts from practitioners on the
frontline who have adopted design
thinking in K-12 education.
By Shawn Thomas Loescher, Ed.D.
Chief Executive Officer, Urban Discovery Schools
DESIGN THINKING
IN K-12 EDUCATION. AN OVERVIEW OF IMPLICATIONS AND APPLICATION.
Design thinking (DT) is both a method and a dispositional approach to problem solving,
organizational development, and learning. The traditions of DT go back to the 1950’s and
have been used in a variety of fields. Some defining features of DT include focusing on need
definition before problem solving, abdication of preconceived outcome, being situated
toward ambiguity, being human-centric, and having a reflexive process that seeks to increase
contextual knowledge using empathy as the basis of understanding. The use of DT in
education has included applications for organizational development and the activation of
constructivist pedagogy.
This is an overview of the findings of Loescher, Morris and Lerner (2019) with a focus on DT
implications to policy, application to practice and reflections from those using DT to transform
their K-12educational institutions. These are just a few of the ways that those that are using
DT are seeking to empower students, faculty, staff, and communities to develop the next
generation of innovative thinkers by advancing student opportunity and achievement.
IMPLICATIONS
REIMAGINING THE EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE
DT has been operationally defined as having several key components.
The first set of components is that DT requires reflective practice, is a
non-linear process, requires culturally responsive empathy, and uses a
mix-methods approach to data gathering. There also must be modeling
of prototypes of ideas, systems, or products as part of the organizational
and learning growth cycle. DT is human-centric and seeks to promote
the democratization of any process making it ideal for K-12 educational
institutions, schools, and classrooms. DT seeks out disruptive
innovations that can introduce fundamentally new systems and
processes for schools. As DT seeks the reconstruction of systems, it may
require policy makers and practitioners to reimagine the who, what,
when, where, why, and how of nearly every aspect of the educational
experience of students, faculty, staff, schools, and our communities.
TO POLICY
DRIVING CHANGES IN OUR SCHOOLS
Policies to support DT at schools should focus on: (a) creating systems
for organizational growth through prototyping; (b) seek to disrupt
current educational funding models that rely upon seat time for school
funding; (c) include assessment systems that apply a mixed methods
approach, and (d) the formation of regional or national networks. In
creating systems for organizational growth, policy makers should allow
for human resource development systems that promote innovations by
supporting faculty and staff through multiyear cycles of evaluation.
Policies that allow for flexibility of seat time and the master schedule
should be established to allow educators to implement DT in schools.
Policies for assessing school progress may need to look at mixed-
methods approaches to examine the depth of adaptive learning and
creative thought students are engaged in. To drive policy initiatives,
regional or national networks and partnerships comprised of public
universities, T/K-12 innovation zones and centers that specialize in
school redesign would advance policy coordination and initiatives.
Discover
Create
Evaluate
Ideate
Connect
Figure 1. Urban Discovery Schools adaptive DT
model for organizational development and learning.
APPLICATIONS
FOCUS ON ORGANIZATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
It has been recommended that the adoption of DT in
K-12 educational institutions should occur at all
levels of the organization. This includes the use of DT
outside of the classroom. As DT is based in a
culturally responsive empathetic process, it may be
ideally situated to advance a more inclusive school
culture to engage a wide variety of stakeholders. For
example, at Urban Discovery Schools they have
established Community Design Sessions as a DT
forum for parents and students to engage in complex
social issues such as racism, human sexuality,
substance abuse and how cultural biases are formed.
Within human resource development this has
included systems that focus on embracing change,
tolerating ambiguity, and engaging in new practice.
Evaluation systems have been created that have
these core attributes as part of the evaluation cycle.
Therefore, employees are evaluated on their
teamwork and willingness to try new innovations and
learning from them rather than on the success of the
innovation. School and district leaders need to be
prepared to strike a delicate balance between
establishing the expectation for DT while allowing for
the co-creation of the processes and practices that
operationalize DT within the institution.
TO PRACTICE
FOCUS ON INSTRUCTION, CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT.
Recent research has cited DT as a model that provides a methodology to activate constructivist practice. This has specific implications for
instruction, curriculum and assessment. The primary implication to classroom practice is that DT moves beyond progressive project-based
learning methodologies to a system of exploring complex socio-technical real-world problems with no fixed solutions. This is part of the
embracing of ambiguity which requires teachers and students to look not only at the problem as presented, but to their contextualization
and positionality within a wider ecosystem. Within DT, teachers are engaged in Freirean models of learning whereby they explore an
overarching topic by learning with students.
While systems such as Wiggins & McTighe’s Understanding by Design have introduced frameworks that can be adopted within DT, the
curriculum model may require further considerations. For example, essential questions need to be carefully framed to set parameters to
the learning activities, embrace ambiguity, and allow for a dynamic and generative process of facilitated learning. Curriculum development
and refinements should be inclusive of students to ensure that their experience is added in the process of empathetic reflection.
For assessment, DT uses a mixed methods approach. Practitioners of DT utilize current assessment systems as part of the multiple modalities
required for interpretations of results. Rather than solely relying upon test data, DT layers on qualitative data, feedback loop cycles, empirical
observations, and written reflections as part of the process of evaluating a student’s learning. It is the collective data set that establishes
student achievement and demonstrations of the desired outcome of continuous learning patterns.
REFLECTIONS
FROM PRACTITIONERS IMPLEMENTING DESIGN THINKING IN K-12 SCHOOLS
The purpose of implementing DT in K-12 educational institutions is
to foster environments of dynamic change that will drive innovation
cycles to advance student achievement and address equity, access,
and opportunity gaps. From classroom application to whole systems
redesign, the human-centered process supports new ways to
approach complex problems and a framework to reimagine the
educational experience for all those involved in it.
A science teacher that has implemented DT in their classroom and
leads student design teams for curriculum refinements stated:
“I feel like as teachers we sometimes fall into thinking about what
works for us rather than what works for students. Design thinking
helps us get out of our comfort zone with systems that make is safe
to try new things. This is important as if you want to fully embrace
design thinking you will be taking chances and need to know that
failure is part of the process of learning.”
A humanities teacher that has implemented DT challenges as part of
their interdisciplinary design shared changes they found in students:
“What I like about using design thinking in my classes is that it
provides a meaningful way for students to get outside of their own
perspective. They explore the world in a deeper more meaningful way
through learning by engaging in an empathetic process that explores
cultural attributes.”
A school leader that is transforming their school with DT by
promoting higher levels of engagement observed:
“As a Principal, what design thinking has done is increased the
possibility for solving problems and meaningfully engaging in
organizational development. It has made it possible to approach
problems with fresh eyes and come up with solution that we would
not have previously considered.”
A director of operations that utilizes DT for systems design noted:
Design thinking has supported us in us redesigning our service
delivery systems. It has allowed for us to look across our entire
ecosystem, understand our user experience and develop
infrastructure to serve them. It has helped us create new ways to
maximize supports in the service of our students, teachers, families,
and communities.
A curriculum design and lead teacher that has experience in a DT
approach to organizational development, leading and learning,
revealed: “The ability to design, implement prototypes and to learn
from experimentation is the most important gift that you can give a
teacher or student. We are innovating education and seeing student
results in our classrooms.
For more information about design thinking in T/K-12 education visit www.sloescher.com, www.urbansd.com, www.id8high.com, or www.dtecsd.com. © Shawn Thomas Loescher. Based upon:
Loescher, S. T., Morris, M., & Lerner, T. (2019, February). An introduction to Design Thinking: Implications and applications in K-12 educational institutions. A conference paper session presented at the Center for Secondary School Redesign annual meeting, San Diego, CA.
WE ARE INNOVATING EDUCATION AND
SEEING STUDENT RESULTS IN OUR CLASSROOMS.“
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