Inquiry & Design Lab

Create a Design Lab, complete with 'thought-books', and real world challenges, that allow students to explore answers to engaging questions.

Photo of Garth Nichols
27 17

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It's Messy, ain't it?!

VISION: All students will have access to a creative and entrepreneurial hub that cultivates creative and critical thinking, collaboration, communication and design thinking. All students will have the space, equipment and support to generate ideas, evaluate them and bring them to reality

Focusing on four major areas:
1) Design Thinking:
Projects that cultivate Idea Generation, Design Thinking, non-catostrophic failure, and positive collaboration
2) Rapid Prototyping: The use of Thought Books and strong A/V equipment to document and curate that design thinking process, as well as tools such 3D printing, laser cutter, arduino boards, soldering circuitry
3) Curiosity: Scaffolded approach to asking questions that gradually releases responsibility to the students to create their own questions through the Design Thinking process.
4) Entrepreneurial Mindset: Providing mentoring and support to identify areas of need, niche questions & challenges, and ultimately succeed in entrepreneurial experiences both within and outside of the academic realm (

How to Make it Happen:
With enough financial and administrative support, a space like what I propose here is accessible. It requires no pre-knowledge because it is all about discovery within a safe and supportive environment. The process emphasizes the Design Thinking process and rapid prototyping. All else is in the hands of the teacher and student.


Language defines space, and if classrooms are using the language of inquiry and design thinking, teachers are taking the initial steps towards redefining how students can work and engage in real-world problem solving. Classrooms that ask and encourage questions, contain engaging prompts are a pedagogical shift; however, we need to combine this with a space that promotes and supports exploration of these answers. A open, "all hours", fully staffed and resourced, Design Lab is the physical space that partners with the space created by the language. This space contains 'thought books' and high-quality video equipment that allow students to document their thinking process. Students can assign themselves questions, or choose a question from the classroom, and then explore, innovate and design their answers in this space.

As students document their thinking they are supported by community partners who act as mentors to promote their thinking and give them the real-world exposure and experience they need to overcome challenges. Also, in this space are elements of a MakerSpace, that allow students to rapidly prototype solutions in different ways. Software and hardware (such as 3D printers, vinyl cutters, laser cutters, littlebits, etc...).  These resources are the medium through which students demonstrate their thinking and solutions. They are not to be used as 'edutainment'.

Curiosity is a type of Creative Thinking. In the younger grades, the teachers can guide students by the questions that they create. However, as students get older, the responsibility to question will be gradually guided and released to the students themselves. One way of doing this is to provoke questions by immersing students in the real-world challenges: bringing students to environments that need design solutions (like parks, sewers, gentrifying neighbourhoods, etc...), or bring the real-world challenges to the students (in the form of experts in the field, provocative articles, etc...). In this way, we foster the skills of curiosity and creative thinking over time in a responsible way.

An additional element that I would layer on this is creative scheduling: giving students and teachers the opportunity to have space and time in the Design Lab. After reading Melissa Lin's contribution (, I would add 'uniterupted learning time' as a priority. We, as educators, and educational administrators need to curate the time for deeper learning, and a creative timetable may be a solution.

This idea combines the best of inquiry-based learning with the ability to innovate within a MakerSpace environment. Using the TPACK model, this is a great combination of Technology being leveraged to deepen the pedagogical approach.


Update: I've added my original proposal for my school's MakerSpace and I think of how far we've come to make this a reality. One of the key elements will be collaboration: allowing the students the opportunity to know, understand and acquire the necessary skills and language to cooperate. I've just ordered some incredible posters around this very concept (see below). Check out Kagan's Cooperative Group Structures and see the possibilities when layering in tinkering, making and designing.

Design Thinking Posters

21st Century Spaces

I've started my own THOUGHTBOOK dedicated to this project - thanks for the inspiration!

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Evaluation results

15 evaluations so far

1. Potential for Impact: Imagine this solution had near perfect implementation. To what extent would this solution bring about a culture of innovation within a school or classroom?

A lot! This solution would greatly bring about a culture of innovation in schools or classrooms. - 85.7%

Somewhat. This solution would somewhat bring about a culture of innovation in schools or classrooms. - 14.3%

Not much. This solution might help with other things, but I don't see it really bringing about a culture of innovation within schools or classrooms. - 0%

2. Feasibility and Fit: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: If this solution were available to me right now, I would be able to use it with relatively low investment. (i.e. money, time, or skills).

Strongly agree (this solution strongly aligns to my/my school's current capacities). - 23.1%

Agree. - 38.5%

Neutral. - 15.4%

Disagree. - 0%

Strongly disagree (this solution would take a big lift in resources to pull off). - 23.1%

3. Adaptability: I could imagine this solution working well in a variety of school and classroom contexts across a diverse set of needs.

Absolutely! I could see this working for a variety of schools and classrooms with different or unique needs. - 60%

Somewhat. I could see this working for many schools and classrooms, but it might need some adjusting to fit a broad diversity of contexts. - 33.3%

Not a lot. This seems like it might be better suited to only a few contexts. - 6.7%

4. Scalability: To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statement: This idea could be adopted by an ever-growing number of teachers or students without requiring significant changes.

Strongly agree (this solution could easily scale without any significant changes). - 20%

Agree. - 46.7%

Neutral. - 6.7%

Disagree. - 20%

Strongly disagree (this solution would require significant changes in order to properly scale). - 6.7%

5. Desirability: Do you wish this solution were available to you right now?

1 - Not a lot. There's not a big need for this right now and/or we use something already that fulfills a similar purpose in my school or classroom. - 0%

2 - 6.7%

3 - 0%

4 - 26.7%

5 - A lot! There's nothing like this already and I'd love to have it in my school or classroom. - 66.7%


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Photo of Alan MacInnis

Great stuff, Garth! I think just having a dedicated space could be an easy place to start--(for small schools) the expensive toys could follow in time.

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