CREATEDU spark: Do you have a problem that feels unsolvable?
Reframe is a Design Thinking tool you can use when you feel stuck on a problem. Try asking questions, building unique perspectives, and sharing with a fresh set of eyes.
A municipality hired Createdu as part of a team to improve customer service by developing a set of guidelines that would lead to standardization and consistency.
We began the project with empathy. As we interviewed customers, employees, and other community members, we noticed a theme — employees generally knew when they were providing subpar service, but they were so afraid of “getting it wrong” that they were unwilling or unable to try something new, even if it might solve their customers’ problems. A culture of perfectionism prevailed.
Based on this insight we reframed the overarching question from “How might we create a set of standard practices to ensure a high level of customer service?” to “How might we empower employees to provide higher quality customer service?” This simple reframe of our problem lead to a dramatically different approach. We started with a protocol problem but discovered that by reframing it to a culture problem, we could develop much more impactful solutions that would lead to larger scale change.
Try this now!
Make a list of a few “sticky” (persistent) problems. Pick one or two and reframe them in five different ways. If any of your reframes resonate with you, ideate on them and try out a few new ideas.
Consider running this exercise with students who are affected by the same problem.
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Createdu Teams up with the Stanford d.school &
The Colorado Education Initiative
to pilot an innovative series of teacher workshops
The d. home team is a model that has been developed at the Stanford d.school for innovative teacher professional development that, once tested and established, will be replicable in multiple regions. It allows teachers to learn the way they will teach their students – something rarely seen in conventional approaches to teacher professional development. As a prototype of how to replicate and apply the d. home team model, Createdu and The Colorado Education Initiative (CEI) have teamed up to implement the ARC 1: Developing Mindsets workshops with 2 school districts in Colorado. The Colorado districts, Boulder Valley School District (BVSD) and Colorado Springs District 11 (D11), were selected based on previous partnerships with CEI to plan and implement next generation learning. To learn more about the d. home team, check out their blog!
Workshop 1: Getting teams up to speed
Based on recommendations from the d.home team we kicked off our ARC 1: Developing Mindsets workshops with a pre-workshop. This session was designed to get participants on the same page about the design process and build a sense of camaraderie across schools within the district. We started off the day with a couple of team building/get to know you activities including designing a name tag for your partner with a visual representing “why they decided to get into education.” Next, we took the standard “Bike Challenge” often used on the Stanford campus and adjusted it to fit the local community and conditions to give team members an experience with the entire process. We challenged all participants to work with members from different schools throughout the day so that they would get to know one another.
Challenges, Differences & Adaptations
Working with teachers in Colorado instead of Northern California presented some interesting challenges. The first challenge we faced was the weather and environment. During the first workshop with Colorado Springs District 11 (D-11) we were able to adapt the bike challenge that is commonly used at Stanford into a pedestrian experience challenge. Colorado Springs has a less than ideal pedestrian experience and offered a great design challenge: How might we improve the pedestrian experience in Colorado Springs? Team members hit the streets and immersed in the Pedestrian Experience. They returned to design a new interactive, safe pedestrian experience.
During the workshop for the second Colorado school district, we were expecting a foot of snow and knew that we would be unable to kick off the workshop with either the bike or pedestrian challenge. We used the challenging weather as an opportunity focused on the question: How might we improve the snowy commute? The challenge started with participants reflecting on the immersive commute experience they had just completed! Participants came up with some great ideas around how to make a long snowy commute safer and a better use of time.
We definitely recommend adding this introductory process-focused workshop to the beginning of the ARC because we were able to get everyone on the same page and develop a sense of community between schools. Our main take-away lesson was to be sure to have an adaptable challenge that can be adjusted in the case of inclement weather.
From the participant perspective we got a lot of great feedback around loving the opportunity to get outside and get a chance to work with participants from other schools. We also had a lot of interest in thinking about how to bring this process back to individual campuses.
We are super excited to work with these two districts. They both bring fantastic energy, great questions and a creative outlook!
Workshop 2: Deep Diving into Empathy
The mission for the day was simple and straightforward: develop a deep understanding of Empathy. We started with jugglers, then discussed the finer points of empathy, and then jumped in to two immersive empathy experiences. These experiences transformed participants’ perspectives on what Empathy really is:
Jump right in and Juggle!
We began our day with professional jugglers from local circus companies. As the participants learned to juggle, they not only loosened up and embraced the creative and fun energy of the workshop but also began to understand how important it is to take risks and that it is ok to drop the ball (metaphorical or literal!) and to learn to recover.
During our first workshop we had a fantastic guest, Morley McBride from IDEO, come to speak to our group about empathy. She provided some powerful examples and was a great addition to the workshop. During our second workshop, we facilitated an abbreviated version of an empathy deep dive focused on a few key stories.
Adapt it: Having an outside expert is fantastic because it added another layer of legitimacy to the work and a different perspective. However, if there are time/people constraints and you can’t get an outside expert, it seemed that the most valuable component of this part was the stories. In both cases participants referred to the stories later in the day.
As the workshop participants walked around the same block with different experts they saw the same area with a new perspective and eye for detail. The Artist noticed the tail light of a car and pointed out how light reflects off of it, how would it look if you took a picture just of the taillight? The Architect pointed out the entrance to a building and how it had an odd orientation; the orientation confuses people and is not welcoming. The Civil Engineer pointed out drainage and noticed how some choices about design had been made because they were cost effective but decreased the level of user friendliness.
Take a hike…
After an introduction and an empathy deep dive, we headed outside to walk around the block and make observations for experience #1. Unaffected by the chilly Colorado weather, our participants were excited to head outside and determined to see what they could observe. After a walk by themselves, we had the participants join up with various experts for 3 more walks. During our first workshop we walked with an artist, a civil engineer & an architect. During our second workshop we walked with an artist, a landscape architect and a mechanical engineer.
Each time, we saw the same block with a different perspective. Walking and talking with the experts highlighted not only the many different observations that can be made depending on your perspective but also an awareness of competing needs and the tradeoffs that are made in design decisions. “The artist pointed out some really ugly bushes and wondered why they were there but the landscaper told us that municipal buildings often chose those bushes because of safety issues in public places.”
Some of our participants also expressed how surprised they were by how much they missed even when focused on not missing anything!
Adapt it: Had we been faced with a blizzard instead of brisk winter weather; we could have adapted this piece of the workshop by bringing the whole experience inside and walking through the interior of a building with an architect, an interior decorator & an artist; allowing us to take the element of weather out of the equation.
Adapt it: We had a mix of professionals and students serve as our “experts”. While the experience was not quite as smooth in the moment with the student experts, it didn’t seem to detract from the take away for our participants so this is a good option depending on the availability of “experts”.
Take a Seat (or build a seat)!
In the afternoon, we dove into experience #2, to write a review of an IKEA stool. We first tackled this challenge just working from product information. After the initial reviews, we revealed the actual stools (which participants had to assemble themselves).
There was a lot of excitement and some fierce competition to get the stools built. The initial reviews based on written descriptions didn’t have much substance but were deepened as the participants had the actual stool to work with and review. Looking at the difference between validation and inspiration was really interesting.
Adapt it: At the end of the IKEA exercise one participant brought up how the inadvertent competition around which team could build their stool the quickest impacted the overall experience. While it was a great team building experience it potentially led to a different learning outcome – something to keep in mind when setting up this exercise.
Take Away Lessons
Bringing a variety of schools together from the same district allows for a lot of informal networking. At the end of the IKEA stool exercise, one participant brought up the idea of how great it would be to be able to test out furniture and classroom supplies before committing to buying in bulk for their school. It turns out that the district office has some experimental learning spaces so teachers can do just that, but the teachers weren’t aware of it.
Location, Location, Location
Our two workshops took place in very different spaces but in the end it didn’t seem to matter much for the sake of the exercise; walking around a boring office park was just as powerful as walking around an amazing library set in a beautiful location along a creek.
While the location for the “walk around the block” exercise is not dramatically important, it did seem to have a large impact on the group to have the workshop itself take place in a new setting. Getting people out of their “water” enables them to let go and participate in a different and more involved manner. If they already have preconceived notions about the location and the type of activities that take place there (and memories of activities or other professional development they have participated in at the same location), it is easy for them to settle into habits. Being somewhere new changes the participants’ attitudes, expectations and approach.
Workshop 3: Challenging our Assumptions
The third session focused on challenging assumptions and the levers for change as tools for narrowing and defining a challenge. Our group started their day having breakfast together in a restaurant, but of course we weren’t just there for the food! After completing their meal the participants identified the assumptions that they had unknowingly made about what it means to eat a meal in a restaurant (i.e. waiting for a table is not a particularly fun part of the meal).
Next we introduced the five levers for change: time, space, roles, rituals and objects. The participants looked at their own assumptions and either flipped them (Waiting to be seated is super annoying -> The wait is so fantastic that it draws more customers) or made them more extreme. The favorite ideas were selected and developed into prototypes, which we then tested with the group.
Prototyping onsite led to some fantastic ideas. One group worked on improving the waiting experience at a restaurant. They took the assumption that waiting is inconvenient, boring, crowded and uncomfortable and flipped the assumption to make the waiting itself an experience that is fun and part of the draw of coming to the restaurant in the first place by creating a huge, fun waiting area.
Another team came up with the idea of being able to choose your own seat in a restaurant (expanding the assumption that you sit in chairs that are provided for you). Upon hearing this idea, one of our facilitators immediately ran across the street to the gym and borrowed a big exercise ball and other yoga and exercise equipment for a variety of seats. We had a very enthusiastic group and had fun going all out and making the workshop spontaneous and fun.
It was a creative day of prototyping onsite and lots of good ideas not only came out of the workshop but were also brought back to the schools of the workshop participants.
Taking it Home
At both sites our participants asked for more time to work on how to bring their ideas home. We gave them about 30 minutes to plan near the end of the day and they came up with some fantastic ideas!
Mix things up!
One team started with the realization that their school cafeteria was static. The set up hadn’t been shifted in 20 years. Everyone sits in the same place every day. They decided to turn all of the tables to a diagonal when they returned to school after the workshop and see how it shifted the experience for the kids when they entered the cafeteria the next day at school. The following Monday the new changes were implemented and team members saw an immediate change in the student’s behavior.
“I can actually see the other students in the room!” ~elementary school student
Another participant wanted to make the first ten minutes of class more valuable. She was frustrated because she felt that the beginning of class is always wasted with socializing among her students. She flipped this assumption upside down and decided that instead of looking at it as a waste, she would look at the time her students spent socializing as valuable. She developed a prototype to create a productive structured social time to begin each class with.
The Most Important Meal of the Day
It was fantastic to have an authentic experience for our participants and it added some fun new dynamics and challenges.
Space is everything!
During the Colorado workshops we used two different restaurants for our two groups. One of the restaurants we worked with had a fantastic space but was brand new and was not yet running smoothly. During the second workshop, we were at a more established restaurant and while it ran smoother, we were confined to a private room that detracted from the authentic restaurant experience. Overall, it seemed that having a flexible authentic space had the most positive impact on the experience.
Adapt it: One possible solution to troubleshoot some of the challenges we faced in regards to logistics and cost would be to hold this workshop in a really creative, fun space but have it catered which may simplify some of the logistics we faced working with the restaurants (such as overly complicated menus, higher costs to run the workshop, or the meals taking much longer than we hoped) while still providing the participants a restaurant-like authentic experience.
Workshop 4: Mindsets into Action
Talk, talk, talk…
One constraint many educators deal with is communication style. We dove deeper into this perceived constraint with an activity called “Talkers & Listeners” in which participants self-identified as talkers or listeners. The activity sparked a lively discussion. The team discussed the value of “Talkers and Listeners” as a tool for differentiation in the classroom.
Adapt it: Our educators realized that taking an approach in which they recognized and worked with the many different communication styles that exist just as they work with the many different learning styles could help them break through many perceived constraints. They saw many applications for this, including: a tool to increase empathy, a tool to better accommodate different learning and communication styles, and a tool for reaching ESL students or other students who have challenges with verbal communication. Our educators left feeling empowered to break down many barriers.
For our second exercise, we challenged educators to step into the shoes of students in a middle school literacy class and design for a character in a poem. Our educators liked the tangible and concrete nature of designing using empathy and being able to apply the design approach to a specific person (even if it was a character and not someone they knew)! The activity led to a lively discussion of how the educators could use a similar protocol across subject matters and brainstormed ways to apply it to science and math in addition to the literature based example used during the workshop.
Adapt it: During the Stanford workshop, the teachers were offered a choice between a literacy activity and a STEM activity. One of the challenges we have run into while implementing some of the workshops is that we have a more limited staff than the Stanford Team and have to simplify certain components without additional facilitators. We only offered the literacy activity and did not offer the STEM activity. After running the workshop, this adaptation did not leave us (or the participants) feeling like anything was missing or lost in the adaptation and is a good option if facilitation staff is limited.
Adapt it: At this point in the workshop the Stanford team introduced mindset referees who blew a whistle each time a mindset that helps overcome barriers was recognized: 1) bias towards action, 2) constraints and opportunities, 3) different point of view. With less staff resources and after receiving the feedback from the Stanford team that the referee whistles were a little jarring we adapted this portion as well and had the participants and facilitators note and track when one of the 3 mindsets was used without the referee whistle. We looked for examples of mindsets in action at different points throughout the day to reflect on how we were doing as a group.
Next we moved on to the “Work-it Circuit”. These were small activities designed to demonstrate how Design Thinking can be applied successfully as a complete process or in small sections depending on the available time, needs and goals. The educators were able to participate in several short (25 minute) stations. Each station was a stand-alone activity delving into one component of Design Thinking. For example: at one station the group was given a word that had an abstract meaning like “imagine” or “justice”. They were then challenged to make a representation of the word out of play dough, come up with other similar words that describe the original word, and look at the differences of people’s perceptions of the same word.
Adapt it: The Stanford team offered their participants 2 sets of 3 stations (participants chose 2 activities in each round, participating in a total of 4). With more limited staff we only offered 1 set of 3 (and participants chose 2 of the 3 activities to rotate through). The participants found these stations to be really valuable and offering fewer options did not seem to detract from the value. This is a great option if you have limited staff facilitating the workshop.
Formula for Success
Ready, Set, Go!
Because of the many moving parts in this workshop, our group of facilitators met ahead of time to do extra training and to prepare for the breakout sessions; this was very valuable and kept the workshop running smoothly. Another factor that led to the success of this workshop was that one of our facilitators attended the Stanford workshop before facilitating this one. For the previous workshops, she had not attended the Stanford workshops in person. Having attended the workshop made it much easier to apply and understand the “why” behind each exercise and allowed her to both understand and pass on some of the subtleties that may be missed if only prepping from the workshop materials.
All of the workshops have provided different experiences and valuable skills. However, the concrete applications of Design Thinking and the process of developing explicit tools in this workshop energized the participants. There were a lot of reflections on the challenges educators face at their schools and valuable discussions about how to break through the barriers these challenges create.
Space Design in Boulder Valley School District
Adapt it: In order to design around the space of our Boulder Valley School District educators, we adapted the structure of something that the d. school was doing (in their ARC 2 workshop series) and applied it in a different setting. In the d. school’s ARC 2 workshops, the d. school home team and additional designers from the professional design community worked with teachers and staff in action learning, design challenges (which you can learn more about here). To meet the needs of our Colorado participants, we changed the format from working with one school at a time and instead adapted it to work with several schools from a single school district.
We began our day with the “1713 activity” in which our educators had to describe an ipad to a time traveler from the year 1713. As educators we have to communicate to our students, and there are times new concepts will feel as foreign to our students as modern technology would to someone from the year 1713! As the Boulder Valley educators work on space redesign, they are communicating with architects and other design professionals. This exercise helped highlight the importance of providing adequate context. Participants reflected on strategic ways to bridge the communication gaps that can occur between the “different languages” of professionals or between students and teachers.
Looking for Analogous Inspiration
As the teams dove into thinking about their own school design/redesign we sent them to a variety of local spaces to make quick observations around intended and unintended effects of different spaces. Teams went to coffee shops, hospitals, churches and co-working spaces and returned with a variety of interesting insights. For example, at a co-working space for digital professionals they had developed a lot of small collaborative spaces but found that individuals would reserve the space and use it for solo work because they didn’t have much use for small-scale collaboration. This offered a great example of the importance of understanding the needs of your end user.
At long last we gave the educators the challenge they had been waiting for: to design or redesign a space in their school to meet a specific need. First, they had to decide on a space. We had the participants individually choose a space, map the desired behaviors for that space, and reflect and record both the intentional and unintentional behaviors that currently take place in that space. They then had time to share the results of their mapping exercises with a group and worked together to narrow the options down to 1 or 2 spaces that they were excited to focus on for the day. Most of our participants picked a common space due to the collaborative nature of the challenge such as: the cafeteria, the school entrance, or the drop off area. They were then given a bunch of pictures of different spaces that could offer additional analogous inspiration for their space design.
Levers for Change
The group then looked at specific levers related to space such as ambience, interactions, function, surfaces, etc. and analyzed how each lever related to their own space based on assumptions they had made, a pain point of that space, or an analogous space they wanted to create. Our educators used a lever form to tackle these challenges and mapped how they could achieve their desired outcomes using the different levers: “how might we make the cafeteria more peaceful using lever x”.
The biggest challenge we faced in our final workshop is that we were designing for students without any students! Because we were working with an entire district instead of a single school, we weren’t designing on-site and some of the schools were far away from our workshop location. It would have been fantastic to bring the students into the process; without their involvement it felt a little like adults designing for adults and was missing the authentic feeling of working directly with the students.
Adapt it: To work around this challenge in the future we could conduct pre-interviews with students at each of the schools, visit one or more sites, or actually hold this workshop on-site at one school.
Wrapping it all up
Our final workshop ended with an in-depth debrief during which the participants shared out what the key moment(s) had been for them during the 4 sessions; at what point did they feel that their mindset had shifted?
“Based on this experience we are going to slow down the building design process to make sure that we really get it right.”
“Since starting the d.school trainings, my thought processes are less predictable. I jump to less conclusions. I seek opinions of multiple people. I ask more and better questions. Of the most value to me, I notice myself embracing more the boundless creativity that I see among myself and others.”
Workshop 6: Small Moments Matter
In Colorado Springs District 11 we followed the same workshop progression as the d.home team at Stanford. Our fifth (and final workshop) focused on highlighting the small but meaningful moments the participants had experienced along the way. The workshop was designed to take the methodology of Design Thinking and apply it to developing a compelling story.
Seeking the Small
The concept of storytelling can be intimidating, but we are all natural born storytellers. We started off with some improv to loosen people up and get them telling stories from the beginning. As facilitators we told a couple of stories of small moments that completely changed our personal journeys in education. Based on those examples we challenged the participants to share examples from their own journeys in education. This led to some fun storytelling and got everyone warmed up for the day.
Moments from Memories
Using our warm up exercises and examples we started down the path of helping our educators find their significant small moments. To spark some memories we projected pictures from the previous four workshops on the screen. The educators documented their journey down memory lane with notes and sketches on “small moment” cards, which consisted of a sketch with a short description about small, meaningful moments.
Story Extraction & Construction
The groups selected their favorite small moments and began to dig deeper using the “Story Extractor” tool. Once they had “extracted” all of the key moments from their favorite stories they selected the one that they liked the most and recorded a first iteration of the story using the voice memo app.
After lunch we used the design process to define our audience and the core of the story. We used this foundation to develop a single strong story that was ready to be recorded. Each group drew pictures or visuals to accompany the key points of their story to help bring them to life. Some even used voice-overs or music to embellish their stories!
Adapt it: Stanford had their very own “Story Extractor” who helped guide the participants through their storymaking by asking key questions as they discussed their moments (“What does that mean?” “Now, what does that really mean?”). We did not have a resident “Story Extractor” available to us, so our workshop facilitators stepped into this role and the exercise still ran very smoothly.
Lights, Cameras, Action!
Once the stories were ready it was time to film! Teams took smart phones and recorded their stories frame by frame (Post-It by Post-It). One team with a strong tech background decided to record the whole thing on their computers with digital images, which added a nice twist. Finally we shared out all of the final stories with a full-workshop screening. Check out one of our films here!
Adapt it: During the production and screening portions of our workshop we faced some challenges with the technology. Since each film was recorded on different smartphones, the films all needed to be uploaded onto one computer and projected onto a screen. This process had some hiccups and in the future it would be great to use an adaptor to plug the phones directly into a projector and avoid the entire uploading process. Additionally, all of the films could be recorded on a single phone, which could also streamline the viewing process but may slow down the production process.
During the Stanford workshop, media staff helped with the filming process. We did not have the staff resources for this and instead had the participants follow written instructions, which worked well.
While most participants created their film from sketches on post-its, one group decided to create their graphics on the computer and then filmed the computer. This turned out great and demonstrated one of many extensions or alternate mediums that this activity could support.
Back to School
Our Colorado participants were offered an opportunity to apply for a grant to help implement Design Thinking back at their schools as an extension and application of the workshop series. The participants who applied for a grant were asked to give an “Ignite” presentation at the end of the workshop. It was fantastic to see the applications of Design Thinking in action! For example one school was working on a redesign of a school hallway and had used a color walk from our empathy deep dive to help guide their design.
Wrapping it all up
Our final workshop ended with an in-depth debrief during which the participants shared out what the key moment(s) had been for them during the 5 workshop sessions; at what point did they feel that their mindset had shifted?
One participant shared that at the beginning of each day she had had the attitude of “seriously, you’re going to make us do that”. She was a self-proclaimed linear thinker and was very skeptical about the process of Design Thinking. However, at the end of each day she had had an “ah ha moment” that brought it all together. Our final debrief was a great reflection on all that we had learned about Design Thinking and ourselves!