How design thinking makes for better prepared students

How design thinking makes for better prepared students
What is student-friendly design process thinking?

According to John Spencer, student-friendly design thinking follows a cycle that he calls the LAUNCH cycle. Students look, listen, and learn. Then they ask tons of questions. They understand the process or problem through deeper research which leads them to navigate ideas and create a prototype. Finally they highlight what is working and fix what is failing.

Another key characteristic of design thinking is giving equal value to the process as to the product. It’s not about the destination. This can be tough in any field where you often are judged by the tangible results of your work, such as standardized evaluations where the number on the page is the end all and be all. But, much of the learning children do is totally invisible. It isn’t all about the facts kids recite or the number of books they read in a semester. It’s about the kind of person they are becoming.

Nurtures Greater Resourcefulness

Design thinking is the key to navigating the maze of jobs and problems of real life after school. According to Spencer, design thinking teaches students determination, workarounds, good citizenship, and adaptability. The old model of getting good grades, graduating college, and climbing a corporate ladder simply is no longer a reality.

A great example is Abby Schukei’s article about how art education can foster better digital citizens in which she shares actual tools and lessons that teachers can use.  Like Spencer says, design process thinking “doesn’t show up on the test, but it shows up in life!”


Develops Resilience and Skills for Real World Situations

Many teachers will be able to tell you that kids practice design process thinking already if you let them; they play. Research such as Dr. Peter Gray’s has shown just how essential play is in reducing student depression and anxiety. According to Gray, increasingly product-driven schooling give students the sense that they don’t have any control over their futures.

Unfortunately for students, play is often cast aside as a waste of time, but it is essential to practicing for real world situations. If we let students self-direct, they develop the resilience and skills they need. This is true for learners of all ages. Tim Brown’s TED Talk Tales of Creativity and Play is full of fun examples about the relationship between play and creativity.

Adaptability and Open-Mindedness Encourages Creative Life-Long Learning

“Teachers are content experts, but they’re also kid experts,” says Spencer. They know what kids need and should be given space to design learning processes around their students’ needs. Design process thinking brings together structured problem solving and student-driven play, but it only works if teachers and students are given space to take risks. Spencer’s LAUNCH cycle is a great framework but he also says, “the beautiful thing about frameworks is you can modify them.” Creative life-long learning is all about being adaptable and open-minded in the ways we teach and learn.

Learn more:

For you busy bees who want to learn more but don’t have time to wander around the internet searching and reading, this 30 minute long podcast episode, Design process thinking with John Spencer produced by Bedley Bros Edchat is perfect for your commute or doing dishes.

Check out these concrete examples of how to integrate design thinking for students in the classroom in eight steps and download the Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators from IDEO.


How to Cut The Clutter and Gain More Focus

How to Cut The Clutter and Gain More Focus

The beginning of a new school year is a great time start anew but sometimes it also brings in a little chaos. Parents are hustling to get extra supplies for their kids, the city has an extra bustle to it, and even the park squirrels are busy getting plump. Taking the time to pare down and make space for what is to come can help.

(Fun fact: The word pare comes from the Latin parare, to prepare.)

Clutter distracts our mind

With years of experience dealing with complicated or down-right shocking situations with kids, teachers and parents have mastered multitasking. With long work weeks, children to raise, and bills to pay, we could all use a little more clarity and a little less distraction. You know what I’m talking about – the stack of unread books on your nightstand, the old clothing you keep meaning to donate, and those receipts you thought you could claim on your tax return in 2012.

Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D’s writes in Psychology Today, “clutter bombards our minds with excessive stimuli (visual, olfactory, tactile), causing our senses to work overtime on stimuli that aren’t necessary or important.” Among all the things that distract us , clutter is relatively easy to fix, on our desks and in our digital lives. Computers, apps, cloud storage and everything in between are great tools meant to simplify your life; however, if they aren’t managed mindfully, they can also bog you down.

Aside from the more obvious roadblocks of clutter such as not being able to find documents or losing track of meetings, according to Bourg Carter, clutter also fills up the physical and mental space that we need for creative brainstorming and focused problem-solving.

There are three key steps you can take to clear your desk and your mind.

  1. Decide what you really need

Imagine what you would absolutely need if you lived in a 100 sq ft apartment. What can’t you live without? You’d probably keep your smartphone and not those Disney VHS’s from the 80s. Life Hacker’s Alan Henry recommends day dreaming. Sit in the park or in a café (not at home or at work) to write out those essentials objects that you absolutely need.

Not everything can be reduced to its usefulness. Make another list of things with which you have an important emotional attachment. It‘s a good idea to keep that little ceramic pot your niece made for you when she was five if you love it, but not the card from that weird guy that no one knew at your last holiday party.

  1. Sort and purge

Now is the time to sort. Take your time. Go room by room, or inch by inch depending on how wild your desk has grown. Start by dividing your things into four categories: keep, donate, trash, and store. If you’re finding it hard to let go of something, give it a second life by donating it. Henry also suggests digitizing photos, paperwork, books, and music. There are plenty of cloud storage solutions like Google Drive or Dropbox to help you out.

Once you’ve sorted, check back in with that list you imagined earlier. Do you really need the things that weren’t on that first draft? Are you are keeping them because you can’t decide if you need them? Be honest with yourself.

  1. Put things away immediately

Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. emphasizes that clutter is also about habit. “When you take something out of its designated space, put it back immediately after you’re finished. Sounds simple, but it actually takes practice and commitment.” Always leave a place better than you found it. We teach this to kindergarteners, but sometimes forget to apply it in our personal work spaces, both digital and physical. You’ll be less stressed and less distracted as a result.

4 Remarkable Teachers That Deserve Appreciation

4 Remarkable Teachers That Deserve Appreciation

In communities worldwide teachers are dedicating their lives to improving the futures of their students with incredible energy and often too little recognition. In honour of World Teachers’ Day, we would like to spotlight a few of these remarkable teachers.

Practicing Compassion

When we think of learning in school, we think of large core subjects – math, reading, science, art, history, etc. Yet some remarkable teachers, like Toronto-based Stepan Pruchnicky, also integrate habits and strategies in the classroom that foster something just as important; compassion. In a recent post, Stephan explains why helping your students find a partner for classroom activities is important: “There’s nothing worse that not being chosen. There’s nothing better than being invited to join a group just as that feeling is setting in.” When students are tasked with finding their own partners, he reminds them to always be conscientious and invite partnerless students to join group. Pruchnicky regularly writes and tweets about how we can listen better to one another and have conscientious conversations.

Thank you Mr. Stepan!

Touching and Changing Lives

On top of volunteering as a teacher in two schools, serving as a member of the Kilifi County Education Board and running her non-profit Lifting the Barriers which supports students outside the classroom, Jacqueline Kahura coaches and motivates fellow teachers to take on the role of caregivers for students who face issues outside of school that affect their learning. Kenya faces the problem of low regard for teachers and unrealistic testing requirements that plagues many other countries, as well as a lack of infrastructure and furniture for schools in rural communities. Mrs. Kahura speaks about her work in a BBC interview: “It has had its own challenges frankly; however, at the end of the day when I look back and say, I have touched and changed this number of lives, that I find very fulfilling.” She was a Top Ten Finalist for the 2015 Global Teacher Prize. Take a look at the fascinating video about her work. Could she be more inspiring?

Thank you Mrs. Kahura!

Connecting with Students


Rita Pierson taught for 40 plus years and is a brilliant example of one of many remarkable educators who truly changed the trajectory of many young lives. She is well remembered for her TED Talk, Every Kid Needs a Champion (watch it, it’s worth the time!), in which she explains the importance of connecting with students on a personal level and of acting the part of success despite the challenges of the classroom and institution. “We come to work when we don’t feel like it and we listen to policy that doesn’t make sense and we teach anyway.” She tells her audience, “Is this job tough? You betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this. We are educators. We are born to make a difference.” Mrs. Pierson passed away in 2013 having touched the lives of many students and continuing to inspire many educators with her message.

Thank you Mrs. Pierson.

Innovation for the Community

Guy Etienne is a man with a passion for science and pragmatic education. His work extends from his school College Catts Pressior in Port-au-Prince, Haïti where he pushes his students to aim high and stay curious, to his teacher training programs, broadcast throughout his country. “I tried to work as an engineer, to build a building but, I don’t know. I am very happy when I share my expertise, when I share my knowledge and when I share my competence.” According to The Global Prize, for which Mr. Etienne was a 2015 Top Ten Finalist, he left behind his PhD studies in engineering in 1982 to become an educator and has been so influential in the education system in Haiti that the government has asked him to Minister of Education five times. He has other preoccupations and projects though, so he continues teach and use his knowledge to develop his community and country.

Thank you Mr. Etienne!


Now it’s Your Turn, Thank a Teacher


This is just a snapshot of the variety of challenges and victories teachers face, but you can do your part to recognize that work and raise the status of teachers by taking a moment and commenting below, to say thank you to a teacher who has changed your life and spread the word, loud and proud!


How to Overcome the Organizational Burdens of Teaching

How to Overcome the Organizational Burdens of Teaching



For the great majority of teachers, a 40-hour work week is a laughable concept. Between classroom time, lesson planning, formal assessments and testing, handling behavioural problems, keeping regular contact with parents, and a slew of administrative responsibilities, the average Canadian teacher works 50 to 55 hours per week according to a Canadian Teachers Federation report.

Teachers recognize that their ability to support students directly and to maintain a work-life balance suffers under their need for multitasking. Despite this, educators are a resourceful and idealistic bunch. Some practical organizing and forethought can help ease planning and administrative duties and bring the focus back on kids.




Make back-ups and templates

In lessons and communications with parents, teachers are skillful improvisers. A big part of handling urgent and unexpected situations well comes from having good back-up plans. That includes backed-up files and templates for your handouts and assignments, as well as prepared letters to parents so you can get messages out quickly when needed. Whether you use sites like ClassTrakLiveBinder  or Wufoo, having access to online tools for learning and communication that create a direct link between you, parents, and students can help streamline the process and make creating and sharing learning resources easier.


Create a system to avoid digital chaos

Classrooms and curriculum planning is increasingly a digitized affair which, while nice for trees, can be a source of chaos and stress for some teachers. A digitized classroom makes being organized much simpler, if planned out properly. Make sure your folders and subfolders on your computer are organized in a way that makes sense and allows you to sort and access documents quickly. If you need to be able to access those documents from several devices or places, set up a storage system online in a place like Dropbox or Google Drive. Do not to let yourself fall into the habit of leaving unsorted files to accumulate in your downloads folder or on your desktop. Remember, this applies to the bookmarks on your internet browser, too. That amazing rubric making website won’t save you time if it is buried under an endless collection of articles you hastily bookmarked to read at a less busy time.


Organize your physical environment

You probably don’t have time for the intensive decluttering and purging regimens popular in some life magazines, but organizing the space you work in, much like avoiding digital clutter, will enable you to put away and find what you need quickly at home, on your desk, and in your classroom, and keep your mind clear. You can find some great tips to get started in a post by Whitson Gordon, former editor of Lifehacker, one of the most popular blogs in the world.

The most impactful changes to your classroom will require a challenging and collaborative approach. Designing your classroom around helping your kids engage, communicate, and learn will make your teaching time all the more valuable. Try teaching your students to share the responsibility of keeping the classroom inviting, keeping in mind that unconventional spaces and messiness, within reason, can foster creativity. Creative Calgary teacher, Tracy Evans, uses design thinking and a collaborative approach to create a deskless classroom to help increase student engagement. In her fabulous post about it, she explains: “more than an interior design project, rethinking a learning space is about remaking not only the space, but also the learning that happens there.”

Ask the veterans and technology enthusiasts

Do you have a mentor or colleague who you are comfortable going to for advice? Particularly for new teachers, talking to someone who has made it through the same challenges you are facing can make your multitude of tasks less overwhelming. “Build relationships with reflective, life-long learners to become one” suggests Instructional Coach, Andrew Miller. If you feel out-of-your depths in the face of the technological tools for teachers and students and find them taking more time than they save, get the lowdown from a colleague who loves technology and knows how to leverage it.

Give yourself some mental space


Part of your job is to keep communication pathways open between yourself, your students and their parents. That said, if that line of communication means you are connected and reachable non-stop, it can become an energy and attention drain. Make sure you give yourself time to disconnect at some point in the day. Make a ritual of it even if just for a half-hour in the morning, at lunch, or in the evening with a cup of tea and something relaxing that does not involve a screen or an internet connection.


Whether you are a veteran or a fresh face teaching this fall, feel free to share your strategies for staying organized and staying focused on your students’ needs.