Welcome to the Design Thinking + Education = Awesome Blog where I will share what I have learned about Design Thinking in my efforts to implement it in my classroom and school. Thank you Brian Best for the logo and banner work, and he also has a super fun satirical blog!
Just to recap, the last post discussed the idea of how students should approach creating a solution, product, or system (as Design Thinking is about teaching students how to be creators). Students should approach creation with understanding. Once they learn more about what they are trying to accomplish, their next step is to brainstorm ideas. The work done in the effort to better understand should inform their ideas as they have established empathy, needs, wants, and defined criteria for the product, system, or solution.
Brainstorming is about generating ideas. A lot of ideas. The more ideas, the better.
There is a classic brainstorming activity that showcases this idea very well. How many different uses can you imagine for a paperclip? If you have never done this activity, try it. Feel free to take a few minutes now. I'll wait. If you are like me, you will come up with a few initial ideas, hit a wall, and then maybe resurge after pushing through the mental block. When you do it with students, the same happens, but some of the the students won't push through the mental block. They will need guidance and strategies to push through those mental blocks.
How can students, or anyone really, overcome those blocks? The more work done understanding, the easier it will be to come up with ideas, so teaching students to go back to their work on understanding will help them overcome the block. Also, students can start asking themselves questions. For example, if I have come up with 4 ideas for ways to use a paperclip, and now I am stuck, I can start asking questions to help guide my thinking. What are some things I like to do? How do I spend my time throughout the day? What sort of problems do I encounter throughout the day? What is one problem that I encountered lately that is driving my crazy? Asking good questions can help with not only understanding, but also brainstorming.
So if I start answering these questions, like what I like to do, I can find inspiration. I like playing soccer (well before I tore all of the ligaments in my right knee), reading, watching A LOT of TV, so maybe I can find some inspiration there. Some ideas are that I could use a paperclip as a bookmark, or use it to help me hold open my book while reading as my hand cramps from holding open books. I am pretty sure I have arthritis thanks to all my tech use. Essentially, when my brain hits a wall, I just need to redirect it, and students need to learn how to redirect their thinking.
Brainstorming activities, by themselves, are great to get students to understand how to generate ideas and overcome mental blocks, but I think it is best to teach brainstorming in context of the Design Thinking process.
Looking at the Backpack Challenge (previously mentioned and can be found in resources), where students were tasked with interviewing another student with the goal of gathering information to help design a better backpack, there is an added advantage. When a student hits a block, they have the person they interviewed as a resource. They can share current ideas, get feedback, and ask more questions. Design Thinking is meant to be an iterative process. In other words, it is not sequential, so students should feel comfortable moving fluidly back and forth among the different parts of the process.
The Backpack Challenge can also be a great example to show students how their ideas are informed by the work they do to understand. Students interview a partner to find problems with his or her current backpack, but also identify what that student might want from a backpack. For example, one of the 3rd grade students who did the project wanted a way to organize and carry their 12 Rubik's Cubes to school, which is obviously way more important than all of that school work, and when asked to explain more, the student said he would like individual pockets to help keep them separate. When the partner is brainstorming ideas, that information is going to guide his or her ideation.
The interview can also direct students when making aesthetic choices for the backpack. While it needs to function to meet the student's needs, it should still look good. If a student likes stars and wants them on her backpack, the other student might brainstorm a few ideas just focused on stars. Big stars, little stars, different patterns of stars and colors, and the student can share his work with the other to get feedback. Focused brainstorming, especially with the goal of getting feedback to see what the other student likes, is very effective. It also shows students the value of having someone else's involvement in the process as people think about things in different ways and can bring their ideas and perspectives to the table.
Part of the struggle with brainstorming with students is getting to to generate a lot of ideas. Students like to stick to the first idea they generate. While I admire their stubbornness, a person's first idea is not always their best, and it is always worth exploring more ideas.
One way to combat this problem is to have students write and draw ideas on post-it notes, or small pieces of paper and display each idea somewhere in the room. Displaying ideas encourages a student to move on to another idea. A teacher could also have categories, so the student sorts his or her idea in placing it on the wall. The categories can also help students keep generating ideas.
A similar way to encourage ideas is to have students write in pen. This suggestion came from Mike Laut of Laut Design. He attended NC State's College of Design, and he is very involved in the Design Community in Raleigh (as well as the Design Thinking education community). I have seem him share on a few panels and also through the EdEx professional development cohort. He said he had a teacher who would only let them come up with ideas using pen, and they could never throw any ideas away or scribble something out. Even a bad idea has value. Looking at all of the ideas generated, a student can reflect on the positive and negative aspect of each.
Part of brainstorming is reflection. I think reflection should be part of every brainstorming session. This part of the process would also be a good time to conference with students to see how they have developed understanding and are using that knowledge to inform their ideas. Reflection helps students pick the best idea, or ideas, with which to move forward for the next phase (protoyping) of Design Thinking.
Find a lesson where you ask students to brainstorm and try to put more emphasis on the brainstorming. Remember, we want to generate lots of ideas and every idea has value. A brainstorming routine I like is to have students generate ideas individually for a set amount of time and then join groups of 2 or 3 to share ideas and generate new ideas. A master list can be made to share with the rest of the class to show how many ideas were generated.
If you do not have a lesson where you ask students to brainstorm, find a place to organically work it in (like as part of a discussion around reading - can we brainstorm ways that a character could have reacted to a situation? How might one of the characters solve a problem in the story?) One way to do it would be for students to work in pairs to generate ideas and share each idea with a post-it note displayed somewhere in the classroom. I also like to give students time to look over the post-it notes and a good exit slip is to have students identify a few similar ideas, new ideas borrowed from peers, and new ideas inspired by others.
paperclip brainstorming from d.school
simple brainstorming from d.school
Compass Points (for reflection) from Making Thinking Visible
Brandon Bogumil is a teacher of Design Thinking, Problem-Solving, and Coding. He is also very passionate about Project Based Learning. He hopes that his experiences will help you learn about these ideas and grow into a beautiful butterfly! Thank you Brian Best for my banner and logo and for writing funny things!