Faculty Collaborate in 'Design Thinking Challenge'

During the week of workshops and training sessions before the start of the 2018-2019 school year, Shore teachers came together for a "Design Thinking Challenge" dreamed up by Innovation Lab Manager Cam McNall and Technology Integration Specialist Jill Codding. The purpose of the activity was to give faculty members hands-on experience with design thinking philosophy, a creative, step-by-step problem-solving approach that is emerging as a new area of interest for teachers in every area of the school.

Though it has been given numerous expressions in the many fields of education, design, and technology in which it's been adopted, design thinking at its most basic is a roughly circular process of discovery, brainstorming, testing, and iteration that can be applied to almost any problem or challenge. Key qualities underlying this process include empathy—curiosity and openness about the world outside the self; creativity—brainstorming and challenging assumptions; risk-taking—the ability to experiment and be resilient in the face of failure; and reflection—an honesty about one's work and the willingness to share the results with others in order to improve. The approach first emerged in the professional fields of design, engineering, and the sciences. It has since been adapted in many settings, including elementary, high school, and college education, where design thinking is seen as a way to promote creative thinking, teamwork, and student responsibility for learning.

At Shore, one of several faculty task forces that met during the summer months had considered the relevance of the design thinking philosophy to the school's overall program, and once teachers returned to campus in August, they had the chance to experience first-hand the alignment between design thinking principles and the inquiry-based, student-driven learning that is a hallmark of Shore's program. According to Cam McNall, the benefits of understanding the application of design thinking in elementary and middle school classrooms are clear. Education that sees students as "makers" at the center of the learning process "builds a sense of agency and ownership of inquiry." It also, he says, "encourages children to investigate and find solutions to questions and problems relevant to the community. It builds both competence and confidence, and it fosters resilience."

So it was on a Monday afternoon that some 70 faculty members gathered in the Kiva in the Center for Creativity to try the approach for themselves. In the challenge, the teachers were divided into four groups and allowed a few minutes to study model marble-mazes created out of pegboard, wooden dowels, rubber bands, and paper. Then, working with a randomly selected partner, they had a little more than an hour to create their own mazes built from the same simple materials. Finally, each group of teachers attempted to join all of their marble mazes into a single course that they could navigate collectively, and in a grand finale, the entire faculty attempted to create a single Kiva-spanning maze.

The experience, according to participants, was energizing. Several teachers acknowledged it was eye-opening to experience the same type of problem-solving challenge they regularly offer their students; others explained the excitement they felt when they realized they could stretch their creativity. According to Head of School Clair Ward, "It occurred to me during the experience that the more time a person spends doing this sort of activity, the more comfortable they become. This is an important lesson for all of us as we consider what our children need for their futures."
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    • Teachers worked together to send a marble through multiple mazes.

    • Teachers observed one of the maze models.

    • Simple materials were available in the Kiva.

    • Jill Coding gave advice to fourth and fifth grade science teacher Whitney Morris and third grade teacher Sam Hamlin

    • Katie Sullivan, Upper School math teacher and a member of the summer design thinking task force, helped Kindergarten teaching assistant Elisabeth Villa and Upper School math teacher Kent Vienot.

    • Cam McNall gave advice to Grade 1 teaching assistant Sara Snadecki and Upper School Spanish teacher Gretchen Bowder.

    • Head of School Clair Ward worked with Lower School math specialist Kim Sofronas.

    • The final challenge was navigating a maze that spanned the Kiva.