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 (http://www.20time.org/how/)

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.

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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 (https://goo.gl/Ktt8ky), 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.

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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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27 comments

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Photo of Alan MacInnis
Team

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.

Photo of Margaret Powers
Team

The Thought Books sound intriguing. Would they have any prompts in them to help students dive into different aspects of design thinking mindsets? I wonder if sketchnoting could also be part of students' learning experiences in the Design Lab. If you want to have some kind of digital version of the books to document and track student discovery and creation over time and share it with others, I wonder it a tool like Seesaw could help? I'm also curious what Design Lab usage would look like for different ages/grades?

Photo of Cheryl Reynolds-Fefles
Team

I love the idea of thought books. I am always trying to get my students to make their thinking visible. Do you see these thought books as hard copy or digital? Or both? I'm an art teacher who teaches traditional art media and computer graphics. It's always a struggle to get students to brainstorm and do thumbnails to plan designs. We don't have tablets to use. Old school paper. Keep looking for ways to get students to understand the value of brainstorming, playing before they start on a design.

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi Cheryl,
I am going entirely beta, 1.0, on this one. I think that the physical book is both endearing, connective and 'novel' for students. Using a design thinking approach, I have over 160 books for Grade 7 & 8 students and they are their own. They are bound, paper books containing about 60 pages of lined paper. They are not assessed, nor evaluated. They are for the process of thinking, and thinking creatively.

In many ways, I view thought books as part of the design process, where they have an opportunity to take risks, and iterate on their ideas.

Thanks for your comment,
garth.

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi there,
I was giving more thought to your comment here, and I've added a piece about collaboration. How do we give our students the language and structure to collaborate effectively. This is certainly part of making innovation routine - peers inspiring peers by questioning productively. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...

garth.

Photo of Cheryl Reynolds-Fefles
Team

Hi,
Saw your thought book. I'm going to start working on one also.
Questioning is difficult for most of my students. I have to give my students lists of questions grouped into categories. I also give them sentence starters when I want them to reflect on their designs. They need a list of "jobs/ tasks" to collaborate effectively. If I leave things too open-ended, the results are disappointing. Not failures that can inspire the next step, but no innovation or no work. Again going back to the need to structure play, but make the structure interesting for or invisible to students.

Photo of Carolyn Wendell
Team

Hi Garth and Team

This is fantastic stuff here. I'm not sure if it's possible to loop in Britta McKenna but her idea around re-purposing computer labs and other under utilized spaces in schools may fit nicely with this inquiry design lab. Perhaps Britta's spaces could transform into these inquiry & design labs? May be useful to reach out to her and make sure she's aware of the incredible prototyping and solution you have built!

Carolyn

Photo of Melissa Lim
Team

Thanks for posting the video, Garth. Super helpful!

Photo of Les McBeth
Team

Thanks for the video, Garth. I like the idea of connecting the students to real world problems and I'm interested in exploring the curricular/pedagogical aspects of your design lab further.

If I were using this model in my classroom (which I do!), I would have students start with the real world experience, and create their own (or modify/personalize already existing) essential questions based on what they experience in the real world. For example, start with the visit to the farm and place students in the role of "detectives" or "researchers" and allow them to experience the "problems" first, rather than starting with essential questions and then visiting the farm to gather evidence. Here's an example from my own experience...

In the past, I had students complete a very similar project. in which they were looking at the sustainability of our farming system, using a design thinking approach. The first few years that I ran this propject, I always defined the problem for them -- I provided the essential question and then they had to find a solution. However, after refining my understanding of the Design Thinking process, I realized that by defining the problem for them, I was limiting their ability to be innovative, and skipping two important steps in the design process. Last year, I started with the experience in the real world and allowed the students to create the profile of their "user" and then define the problem based on their experience. This emphasized the human centered design approach to problem solving (they were solving a problem for a specific person or group of people) and resulted in more innovative and varied solutions to the problem. They defined problems that I hadn't even thought of and came up with much more interesting essential questions than I would have.

Any thoughts on how this approach could fit into the physical space of the design lab? It would definitely be useful in the prototyping phase, but perhaps the lab could also be useful at other points along the way....

Photo of Elsa Fridman Randolph
Team

Hi Garth,

So great to see you on The Teachers Guild! Awesome contribution, would love to know more about how this could work. What would be your steps to implement this in your school?

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi Elsa,
I've just added my original proposal for a MakerSpace, and the development is now underway. Take a quick look for me...I'd love to know your thoughts, and am hoping to get more 'evolution' from the team.
Thanks,
garth.

Photo of Elsa Fridman Randolph
Team

Hi Garth,

I can't open the attachment? It downloads to my computer but then says there is no app with which to open? Any tips?

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi Elsa,
I've just uploaded as a PDF. Let me know!

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi Elsa,
I've added my first iteration and a quick video to explain. Looking forward to your feedback!

Photo of Elsa Fridman Randolph
Team

WOW! Simply, wow. I LOVE the video--way to make your idea visual, engaging, easy to understand and easily transferrable. I also love that you've shared pictures of your own thought book and have uploaded a text version of the guide which you go over in the video as an additional resource for other teachers to refer back to. You've taken a splendid idea and turned it into a powerful resource, this is excellent work, Garth!

Photo of James Campbell
Team

Good morning Garth
My name is James Campbell and I am one of the Teacher Guild Coaches. As I hope you know, your idea has made it to the Evolve stage. We are looking forward to see you and your team prototype and share with the community. I am reaching out to provide assistance, ask questions or just be a cheerleader. I look forward to working with you. James

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi James,
Thanks for reaching out on this. If you could let me know the best way to build and communicate with a team, that would be great. I was thinking of a googledoc, but wondering if you had other tools on this site?

In terms of next steps, my idea is to have my current proposal evolve into more of a guide. The guide would include suggestions for prompts, for equipment, staffing, etc...

Looking forward to your feedback,
garth.

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi James,
I'd love to hear some of your feedback on my Inquiry and Design Guide to help teachers and admin create their own.
Thanks,
garth.

Photo of D Brugger
Team

Outstanding concept and visualization! You are reading my mind.

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Thanks, same to you. I really liked your idea as well! How would you elaborate on the space or the concept of inquiry based approach?

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hey there,

I'd love to hear your thoughts on my recent iteration of the Inquiry and Design Guide.

Thanks,
garth.

Photo of Les McBeth
Team

Great ideas, Garth! And it's so exciting to see you making this a reality in your school. Any ideas for encouraging teachers to get on board for cross-curricular projects?

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Check out the latest guide and video I just posted. I outline how curriculum is leverage through essential questions to create opportunities for just this!

Photo of Jeff Waring
Team

Questions are invitations, a great way to start, and when open ended, a source of continual revelation. I would love to hear some of your questions/prompts.

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi Jeff,
I subscribe to the Wiggins & McTighe concept of Essential Questions. I use frameworks to help Teachers & Students understand and create their own. It can be rooted in the 5W+H, and then layered with a PERMS analysis (Political, Economic, Religious, Military & Social), and a personal connection. For example, in Grade 12 Science: "Can I [the student] live with the current method of creation, application and destruction of pesticides in my life?" For example, in History: "In what ways does this event and it consequences impact my current context?" For example in Math: "How is Math a language? Who speaks it, and for what purposes?" or "Can Math lie?"

Check out this blog post for more: http://www.authenticeducation.org/ae_bigideas/article.lasso?artid=53

Photo of Garth Nichols
Team

Hi Jeff,
I am hoping that you could be a part of my team to help evolve this idea in the area of questions and prompts. Ways to inspire!
Thanks,
garth.

Photo of Melissa Lim
Team

Love this idea too, Garth!