Design Thinking For College Admissions

FullerI received the letter below from one of the counselors at my HS today.  As a recap, I piloted a Design Thinking and Open Source Learning class last year for 13 students.  For several reasons it didn’t fill up enough this year, but with the endorsement below, I’m hoping to be off and running like nobody’s business next year.

The course referenced in the student letter below was a hybrid between a course based in design thinking and one that was based on the work of Don Wettrick and his Innovation and Open-Source learning course at Noblesville HS.

The upshot of the letter?  The student gets into a select class in design thinking for engineers at Syracuse BECAUSE she had a class in Design Thinking in HS.  img_3055

Dear Mrs.___,

HELLO THERE!!! How are you? I’m so sorry I didn’t email you sooner, college has been so extremely busy, and I have way less time than I thought I would. Classes just started yesterday, and it’s overwhelming, but I am so ready for the next four years, and honestly, that’s thanks to PVHS for preparing me. 🙂

I remember coming into your office all the time last year panicking, but I can honestly say I made the right choice. I live in the engineering dorm at Syracuse, and my whole hall became really good friends right away (which for some reason hasn’t happened in other halls). As I spend more time with these kids and get to know them, I’m realizing how similar we all are, and all my doubts about whether I picked the best school for me and very quickly fading away. I wish I could have told myself last year to just CALM DOWN, because everything truly does work out in the end. XD

In addition to the residence halls, the college itself is really really cool too. It’s much more progressive than I imagined it, and for the most part, they’re really good at addressing certain situations appropriately and with grace. Everyone feels really safe here, and I’m so grateful for that.
And I’m not sure if you remember, but I was freaking out last year because my design thinking class dropped my GPA (it was prep) and I didn’t think I’d get a lot of scholarships. I want to tell you this because I feel like a lot of incoming seniors NEED to hear this, so if you could please please please tell them about my experience, I honestly think it might help them decide what electives to take.
I am majoring in chemical engineering. The scholarship that I got at Syracuse is called the Engineering and Computer Science Leadership Scholars Program. When I got into the program, I was required to take this class called ECS 100 Seminar…I had no clue what it was, but when I showed up for the class I found out that it’s a new program they’re trying out, and it is COMPLETELY DESIGN THINKING BASED. We all need to find a problem in society, and as future engineers, design some sort of solution. We go through the entire design process and constantly revise. At the end of the semester, we present a prototype and a presentation to the class. We don’t get homework, and class time is devoted to working on the project. The class isn’t graded on a grade level…you basically get an A based on how well you work as a group, attendance, and participation. They want us to utilize all our resources and come up with creative and innovative solutions on our own, and without a real template. In addition to this kind of exposure, we get a lot of money, a paid research position, and invitation to the honors program, and priority consideration for study abroad, among other benefits. It is SUPER cool, and I will definitely let you know how it goes. It’s amazing to me that a college is trying this hard to change with the times, and I’m really glad to go to a school that does this.
HOWEVER, I honestly think part of the reason I got into this program is because I took design thinking. I was talking to the admissions director because they handpicked the recipients, and they told me that the fact that I had experience taking this type of class really stood out because although engineering students need to know about the design process, a lot of them just take math and science classes and aren’t well-rounded. I REALLY wish someone had told me this, but if someone ever asks about it, here’s a first-hand experience 😉
Thank you for everything you’ve helped me with for the last four years, and I REALLY look forward to college and keeping in touch with you!

To Foam Cube or Not to Foam Cube?

Readers of this blog will remember that students in my Design Lab class redesigned the classroom, created a prototype and budget, and presented their concept to my school district’s grant-giving foundation.  They did such an outstanding job they earned a $2500 grant.  Part of the redesign was to set aside money to test out

dschool foam cubes

Part of the redesign was to set aside money to get our hands on some of the famous “ Sugar Cubes.”  (Ok, this was my own stiff demand.  If I wasn’t going to be able to go to the on my own, I’d try to bring
the’s environment to me.)

So the image at the top represents a set of 4 foam cubes, ordered from .  (They were the cheapest I could find, but I didn’t look as much at the local level as I should have.  Very happy with their customer service, however.)Luckily, they were able to special order the cubes from a supplier closer to my location (near Philadelphia, PA) and save us a bunch of $$ on shipping.  Nevertheless, those four cubes represent a considerable chunk of change.  And for those of you as spatially challenged as I am–16″ x 16″ is actually a large piece of real estate.  I’m not going to announce how much these were for several reasons, none the least of which is to protect myself from ridicule.  However, the functionality and potential in these cubes is as advertised.  I’ve already seen students picking them up and imagining how they might put them to uses other than for seating.  (No…not for throwing at each other.)

As our classroom evolves and begins to more closely match the vision we had in October of 2016, I’ll continue to post.  And if anyone knows how I can procure solidly built project tables that would accommodate the use of 26″ stools or standard plastic chairs and seat 4 people at each table, please let me know.

Design Lab: The Last Update?

The first iteration of Perkiomen Valley High School’s Design Lab is over. Here’s one student’s reflection on the semester’s successes and opportunities.

Adventures of a Teenage Dreamer

Design Lab ended…

The semester was officially over on Friday, and with it goes an amazing class that I will never forget. As a quick rundown, Katie and I made a slideshow for our project which we presented to the class, some administrators, and two of the designers from the business PlusUs. I think it went really well given that we only had 8 minutes to present our entire project from start to finish, and everyone else also did a great job.

After the presentations on the 18th, Katie and I have just been cruising along with rest of the class as we couldn’t really do anything in a week and a half. Mr. Heidt surely knew how to keep us busy though, and he planned for us to have a guest speaker on the 25th and another final discussion/presentation to the assistant superintendent for the last day. The…

View original post 828 more words

When Designers meet designers

Last Wednesday, January 18th, my high school “Design Lab” class and the Extraordinaires Design Thinking Club I’ve organized at our campus’ middle school were lucky to host designers Phil Holcombe and Gayle Ulrich of PlusUs, a Philadelphia-based, educational design consultancy working with clients to help them reimagine the educational experience for all people involved, learners, teachers, staff, and families.

I’d met Phil and Gayle back in September whenimg_3209
they hosted one of their first League of Extraordinary Educators meetings in Philadelphia.  These gatherings, comprised of local teachers and educators empowering their students through design-based learning, have helped initiate some intriguing conversations and provided a venue for teachers to share some of the amazing work they’ve been doing.

Phil and Gayle got a chance to critique some of my Design-Lab students’ presentations of open-sourced learning projects and they also listened to middle school students tell the stories of their Extraordinaires and the what they designed to meet their Extraordinaire’s need.

img_3621Part of our Design-Lab/Open Source Learning class is to try and bring more people into the room, be that physically or virtually,  so that the students have access to as many experts in the fields in which they are interested.  Having Phil and Gayle come into our classroom, and then to spend time with our Middle School Design Class offering feedback on their storytelling and inventions, raised the students’ level of professionalism.  To a one, they were excellent and recognized first-hand the value of having other eyes on their projects, especially eyes that saw their projects anew.

While I’m proud of the HS Design Lab students and what they’ve been able to accomplish over the past two marking periods, I’m equally proud of the Middle School Extraordinaires Design Thinking Club.  These students have designed and build low-fi models for each other, they’ve run through thee iterations of the Extraordinaires Design Studio projects, and they’ve presented with minimal preparation.

George Peppard’s character from the 80s TV show, The A Team used to say, “I love it when a plan comes together.”  I’ll go with that, but with this admission:  I had no plan. Only an inkling, an idea, and an itch. What’s most wonderful in school is when the students help the teacher make the plan come together.  And that is what happened here.


Morally Good Lies, Questions, and a Bias Towards Action: Reading, Interpreting, and Making in the Classroom

For the first part of this year my students, in all my classes (9th and 10th grade Gifted English, and Design Lab) have been keeping blogs (somewhat infrequently) on the books we’re reading or the things we’ve been doing in our Design Lab.  What strikes me most about these blogs (and granted, I’m late to the student blogging party–maybe because it was always such a hassle to get kids to the computer lab) is that the vast majority of them are polished and highly readable.  As well, the insights, especially into our activities (in d-lab) or our readings provide a quicker and richer way for me to understand what my students understand.

I’m more than pleased.

Below I link to several blogs from my Gifted English Classes.  They’ve been reading Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  This particular reading was kicked off with the use of a Question Formation Technique, a method I learned by reading Make Just One Change, a fantastic publication that outlines the work of “The Right Question Institute.”  (If you’re a teacher and you’ve not worked at trying to get your students to ask more question or to improve the questions they do ask, I know of no other text that goes to the depth, that argues with such passion and experience for the importance of teaching people how to ask the right questions as this text does.)

haroun-and-the-hoopoeI focused the student’s questioning around a focus point that I’d devised to help them think about an issue that is central to all we do in English:  “Fictional Stories are Morally Good Lies.”  This Question Focus led to a day of question asking, grouping, rewriting, and synthesizing… or well over 200 original questions which we paired down to approximately 25 question areas.

As we read the story, students were never too far from the ideas of art, truth, and lies, a notion that so many artists in all media have questioned and investigated through their work.  As you read the their blogs, you’ll notice how the students returned again and again to the issue of storytelling and morally good lies.

Gigi’s Journey,   Olivia’s Playground, Mind Depiction, Adventures of a Teenage Dreamer An Abundance of Thought



In my Design Lab course, students have been blogging approximately once every 7 school days.  Their insights into process, product, the human centered nature of design thinking, collaboration–indeed to learning in a way that is, for most of them, rather different than what they are used to–is always frank, often complementary, but never without legitimate and often incisive criticism.  This is what I’d wanted from blogs–informal writing that is at once full of voice, clear in purpose, and directed towards an audience beyond our walls.

Smooth Sailing…  AKA Enlightenment  I Have No Idea What I’m Doing  Acute Ideation