Tag Archives: PBL

No Small Fixes: Design Thinking vs. Broken Tape Dispensers

19 Nov

20171114_1252331.jpgMy biggest challenge–and the greatest source of excitement–for this school year is a pilot elective I am leading: Design for Change Studio. For a few years now, a group of us at FIS have been asking how we can incorporate more design thinking and project-based learning into the wider curriculum. Of course, iterations of this work are already happening in Design/Technology, Visual Arts, and Performing Arts, and now Design Thinking initiatives are taking shape in all kinds of forms, all over our campus. Presently, my own efforts are fully focused on this one course.

To take the young designers through a quick design cycle, I asked them to solve a small, everyday frustration I have: broken tape dispensers. The new model of tape dispensers in the supply closet break too easily. When knocked to the floor, the flywheels snap and as there are no replacement spools at hand, the entire device ends up in the recycling bin. Also, I was wondering if there was a way to keep the dispensers from falling in the first place, without permanently adhering them to one spot.

This was not the most world-shifting problem I could think of, but I thought it would be a straightforward challenge for student design teams to tackle within a two-week time frame. The solutions they devised took much longer. But over a month and half, we learned so much that is informing the way we tackle future design challenges.20171016_144701

The students have done a really interesting job explaining what they learned from trying to fix broken tape dispensers. I include some of their posts here, and I hope you will be much more interested in reading their thoughts than my own. After the links, I share a few of my takeaways, too:

Student Blog Posts:







Broken Tape Dispenser Blog Post Assignment Description

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Design Thinking: It’s Natural to Be a Bit Confused

11 Oct

Socratic Ignorance can teach us something about our attitudes toward Design Thinking. Socrates earned his rep for being a wise man by admitting, “I don’t know.” When he wanted an answer, he would go to the experts of his day and unleash a series of questions that eventually lead to the politician, economist, philosopher, teacher, butcher, or farmer replying, “I don’t know.” Of course, in the process of all his questioning, Socrates learned much, but he never saw knowledge as static. Instead, he applied a consistent method to an ever-moving target.

I know that, for me, the concept of design thinking can feel like a moving target. Ask ten people for a definition of design thinking, and you’ll receive ten different definitions. And, what is the difference between design thinking, studio learning, Project-based Learning (PBL), Problem-based Learning (PBL), experiential learning and Challenge-based Learning? Honestly, I don’t know.

I’m being cheeky, though. I do know…kind of. There are subtle differences between these various approaches, but I am beginning to think these differences don’t matter much. In fact, I think these various approaches are different “brandings” for a very elemental concept that most educators intuit to be true and effective and elegant:

When we give students real situations they must navigate and use timely feedback and provocative questions to guide students in revising work until it is truly original, personal, and professional…real learning happens.

I have spent considerable time in recent years reading, researching, observing, and questioning just what design thinking means in the context of the classroom. In the process, I have learned much about how I can create student-centered learning experiences that put the onus of critical decision making on the students, not me. In this post I share some of the most useful resources I have found:

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