Tag: innovation

“Geeking Out” Thinking Differently about Research in Design Thinking

“Geeking Out” Thinking Differently about Research in Design Thinking

“When research is real, it doesn’t feel like research.  It feels like geeking out.  It feels like learning.”  When I read this in LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani, I paused for a moment and thought  “boy, they totally hit the nail on the head”!  I am an inspired learner and when I discover something that piques my interests, I dive in.  Diving in is fun, exhilarating and inspiring!  

I picked up LAUNCH because I am “geeking out” over design thinking.  I have been enamored by design thinking since I was introduced to it several years ago at a district event focused on thinking differently about how professional learning opportunities are created and offered.  After this workshop, I began researching design thinking to learn as much as I could.  My research led me to the Stanford d.school, Creative Confidence by Ideo founders David and Tom Kelley, multiple design thinking workshops and numerous blogs by educators who also saw the promise of design thinking in a classroom setting.  At the same time, I was trying to integrate problem and project based learning into our science classroom.  PBL and design thinking seemed to blend nicely.  

My first attempt at PBL and design thinking was a chemistry unit where students designed, built and tested filtration systems to clean simulated dirty water from rural Dominican Republic or urban India.  It was enlightening to frame the project around the end user of the product and developing empathy for their end users pushed kids to think differently.  

As I continue to use PBL and design thinking to frame our middle school science units, one area where my students struggle is during the “research” phase.  More often than not, there is generally a collective groan of unhappiness and I look out to a sea of misery stricken faces when the word research comes up in the classroom.  Students have visions of notecards and long, boring texts in their heads.  Many students would prefer to completely bypass this stage if given the opportunity.  But we can’t.  Research is critical to the design thinking and PBL processes.  It’s how we come to better understand our problem.  It’s how we develop empathy for our end user.  It provides a starting point to help forge our path.  So, how do we help students make the shift of thinking about research as boring to getting them excited about diving into a topic?  How do we help them get to the “geeking out” stage?  As Spencer and Juliani suggest, maybe it’s as simple as redefining what we mean when we say research.

My 13 year old son is an avid fisherman.  Give him a stick and a hook and drop him off at a body of water and he is in a state of bliss.  He recently purchased his first boat, a fishing kayak.  He’s been thinking about this purchase for awhile.  He got his final paycheck from the spring season of soccer refereeing last month and every time we got into the car, he asked when we could go to the sporting goods store.  I asked the obligatory parental questions of course:  “Have you done your research?”, “Do you really want to spend all $300 of your earnings on one thing?”,  “Can that thing even fit into my car?”.  He had an answer for every one of my questions but it wasn’t until we got to the actual store that I realized the depth of his “geeking out” on this boat.  

Now, my son is not a reader, getting him to read anything is like pulling teeth.  But, he is an inventor and an amazing user of YouTube.  This kid can find and learn about anything using video.  When he was ten, our power went out right before we woke up one school morning.  He is an avid collector of animals and the filter for his rather large Tiger Oscar fish had stopped working.  The fish was not doing well in his oxygen deprived state.  We have a generator for situations like this but we couldn’t get it to start.  My husband and I left for work; my son stayed behind trying to keep his fish alive by continuously churning the water.  I checked in two hours later to see how things were going.  He had been busy.  After using his 3G signal to access YouTube, he figured out what was wrong with the generator and how to get it started so that he could power the filter.  The power was still out but the filter was working and the fish was happy.

So, I should have realized that my questions about his forthcoming boat purchase were unnecessary.  Of course he would have done his research, on YouTube.  He started rattling off a list of features this particular kayak had and why they were necessary for his fishing endeavors.  He went on to tell me about at least ten “hacks” he was planning on making to customize his boat.  I don’t know how long he spent on YouTube geeking out but it was clearly hours.  He was researching, he was learning, but in his mind he was just  following his passions and using the tools that allowed him to best access what he decided he needed to know and understand.  

Spencer and Juliani define research as “anything we do to answer our questions and make sense of new information”.  Our classrooms need to become the safe spaces where students are the generators of the questions that drive the learning.  When we give students the opportunity to discover the answers and solutions to the questions that they ask, this becomes the first step to making the transition from just “doing research” to “geeking out”.  This is a subtle shift in language but a significant shift in student ownership.  Students are now the directors of their learning, “geeking out” happens and teachers are the facilitators and coaches that help student learners navigate their learning journey.  

I am excited to continue to “geek out” about design thinking as I entwine the LAUNCH cycle into our learning space this year.  I also look forward to helping my students find their way to the geeking out stage of the design thinking process.  Like Spencer and Juliani write “research isn’t about reading; it’s about learning”.