September 4, 2015
A five-step process for problem solving includes: imagine, plan, design, improve and share.

Where are you making space for innovation?

“How can we make it better?” a second grade student asked his teammate while they were building tennis ball towers in a design challenge last week at Herbert Mills Elementary School in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. Using a design thinking cycle teachers and leaders across the district have adopted, children from kindergarten through their senior year of high school engage in problem-solving through a 5 step process:

  1. Imagine (ideate)
  2. Plan (brainstorm solutions)
  3. Design (create)
  4. Improve (test)
  5. Share (communicate the results)

Teresa Smith, former principal at Herbert Mills Elementary School, wanted her students to be problem-solvers, not just “question answerers.” Embracing STEM pedagogy and inquiry throughout the curriculum, Smith brought a group of teachers together in a Design Team, where they engaged in inquiry around innovation. Making the decision to provide all of their learners with opportunities to be design thinkers and problem-solvers across the curriculum, the team created space for innovation in their lessons, developing standards-based inquiry lessons and design challenges, where students solved problems through a focus of inquiry, rich task, constraints, and criteria for success.

Teresa Cotner, former second grade teacher, had an idea that went beyond the team’s thinking: creating a lab space for students that was solely focused on design thinking and problem-solving. Through the reallocation of resources, Cotner now provides every student in the school access to a Maker Space where students “gather, create, invent, and learn…” in the school’s new I.C.E. Lab (Innovate, Create, Engineer). “Students engage in interdisciplinary design challenges and utilize technology resources,” Cotner said in a recent news article. “They will expand their thinking as they work through the design cycle to explore solutions to real-world problems. They then explain and evaluate the effectiveness of their solution.”

Herbert Mills Elementary School’s habits of mind (explore, engage, expand, evaluate and explain) played a critical role in the development of the I.C.E. lab, as the team asked themselves “What will it look like when our students are engaged in our habits of mind? How will we teach those habits? Where will they be assessed?”

The school’s new Maker Space is one of their solutions, and the team is working continually to improve what they are doing for their kids. Design thinking and innovation at their very best!!!

Robin Kanaan

Written by: Robin Kanaan

Robin Kanaan is a Director of Teaching and Learning at KnowledgeWorks.

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