Jump on in

There is an episode of The West Wing where President Bartlet says “lets dangle our feet in the water” and sends Josh on a mission to appoint FEC commissioners. As the story line of the episode unfolds, Sam and Josh are in meetings trying to accomplish things that both they and the people they are dealing with know the President isn’t serious about actually doing. Everyone is frustrated. At the end of the episode Leo challenges the President to be bold and put his authority behind his staff to accomplish his goals.

President Bartlet: You came to my house, and you said, “Jed, let’s run for President.” I said, “Why?” And you said, “So that you can open your mouth and say what you think!” Where’d that part go, Leo?
Leo: You tell me, Mr. President. I don’t see a shortage of cameras or microphones around here. What the hell were you waiting for?…Everything you do says: “For God’s sakes, Leo. I don’t want to be a one-term President.”
President Bartlet: Did I not say “put our guys on the F.E.C.?”
Leo: No sir. You did not do that…You said, let’s dangle our feet in the water of whatever the hell it is we dangle our feet in, when we want to make it look like we’re trying without pissing too many people off!
President Bartlet: You’re writing a fascinating version of history, my friend.
Leo: Oh, take a look at Mandy’s memo, Mr. President, and you’ll read a fascinating version of it.
President Bartlet: You brought me in on teachers. You brought me in on capital gains. You brought me in on China. And you brought me in on guns.
Leo: Brought you in from where? You’ve never been out there on guns. You’ve never been out there on teachers. You dangle your feet, and I’m the hall monitor around here. It’s my job to make sure nobody runs too fast or goes off too far. I tell Josh to go to the Hill on campaign finance, he knows nothing’s gonna come out of it…Sam can’t get real on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, because you’re not gonna be there, and every guy sitting across the room from him knows that.
President Bartlet: Leo, if I ever told you to get aggressive about campaign finance or gays in the military, you would tell me, “Don’t run too fast or go to far.”
Leo: If you ever told me to get aggressive about anything, I’d say I serve at the pleasure of the President. But we’ll never know, sir, because I don’t think you’re ever gonna say it.
President Bartlet: I have said it, and nothing’s ever happened!
Leo: You want to see me orchestrate this right now? You want to see me mobilize these people? These people who would walk into fire if you told them to. These people who showed up to lead. These people who showed up to fight. (points to CharlieThat guy gets death threats because he’s black and he dates your daughterHe was warned: “Do not show up to this place. You’re life will be in danger.” He said, “To hell with that, I’m going anyway.” You said, “No.” Prudent, or not prudent, this 21 year old for 600 dollars a week says, “I’m going where I want to because a man stands up.” Everyone’s waiting for you. I don’t know how much longer.
Source: tvtropes.org
It’s one of my favorite episodes and the end is certainly moving. I’ve been thinking about this lately. The other day I was using the phrase “dangle my feet in the water” in reference to using design thinking in my classroom. I thought it was clever. But the more I thought about the connotation as exemplified in The West Wing episode, the more I realized it was wrong.
I have jumped in to using design thinking. It’s something that I am committed to understanding and using well. I am gathering materials to have a makerspace, and I am seeking out resources (people and readings) to help me understand and successfully implement design thinking.
Today was my second run with the Manila Folder folder challenge. I did it with my 11th & 12th grade Economics class. The benefit to this is that now all of my students 9-12 have been introduced to design thinking and I can continue to use and develop it in all my classes (I’m also teaching a Christian Apologetics class and a small section of British Literature). This run was different. I felt more confident facilitating the session, but I noticed that the kids struggled a bit more than my other class did. I’m still not entirely sure why, and I need to spend some more time reflecting on that.

While they were slow to get inspiration, they it was neat to see the inspiration come and see the focus with which they tackled developing their prototypes. They did a nice job with the challenge, and I’m looking forward to getting into content connected design challenges with them.

The question for the Manila Folder Challenge is “How might we bring joy to someone using a manila folder”. What brings joy to me is seeing high school juniors and seniors, at the end of the day, carrying home with them the manila folder light saber and basketball court made for them by a classmate.

Dangling My Feet into the Waters of Design Thinking

I first learned about design thinking at EdCampWesternMaine in 2016. Dan Ryder (@wickeddecent) led a session where he not only explained the design thinking process but also took us through a flash lab. It was intriguing, but I just didn’t quite get it. I didn’t have a maker cart and I didn’t really see how I would be able to implement it. Plus I knew I hadn’t really wrapped my head around the whole thing. I have been learning to not jump right in with every shiny cool idea I learn about on Twitter and at EdCamps–I guess I’m maturing.

Over the past year design thinking had been on my back burner. I’ve seen Dan share out the challenges his students do, and I’ve continued to be intrigued–especially by the tiny house challenge he does with his students when they are reading Of Mice and Men. I decided it was time to learn more about design thinking and see if I could implement in my classroom.

Many EdCamps, when you sign up, give you a chance to say what you’re hoping to learn. Usually I go without an agenda, but this year when EdCampWME rolled around, I was eager to learn more about design thinking. They ended up with two sessions on design thinking; one a general “this is design thinking” session that was quite packed, and a smaller session focusing on design thinking in upper level English classes. I attended both.

This time around I got it. The pieces clicked into place for me and I saw how to introduce, structure, and incorporate design thinking into my English class. I just need to find the right moment to begin.

I started graduate school this semester. I am in Antioch University New England’s M.Ed for Experienced Educators Problem Based Learning using Critical Skills program and I am loving it! An assignment for my class on facilitation was the perfect push to get me started on design thinking.

Using the Manila Folder Challenge, I introduced my 9th & 10th graders to design thinking. In the discovery stage we brainstormed what brings joy and what steals joy. This class is a 90 minute period, and we had done some work on reading the Odyssey during the first part of the period, so I wanted to get them up and moving. They did their brainstorming on sticky notes and put them on the white board. For the empathy interviews I had already decided the pairings. They were a little put out to not be able to work with their chosen friends, but one of the points of the challenge was for them to work with someone they might not know as well. Most of these kids have been in class together for years. The pairings worked out really well. I was watching the clock–I needed to give them a time constraint, but I also didn’t want to run out of time for the entire lab. I ended up rushing them a bit. When we moved on to the experiment stage, most of the students actually skipped the doodling/sketching of ideas and went straight to producing. Again, they were rushed.

It felt a little chaotic, though not out of control–I have a small room. I need new markers. I wasn’t able to observe everyone the way I wanted to. One of my goals as a facilitator was to guide without interjecting my own ideas. I was pretty confident I’d be able to do that as I had no preconceived notion of how the end products should look. I had one student that I needed to remind of the creative constraints, but overall the students took to the challenge. Several of the results were incredible creative. Some students were frustrated with the lack of time and others with the lack of good markers. The time constraint was necessary, but it still felt too rushed. I was amazed at the end when students started cleaning up without me having to ask them. Many of the students kept their manila folders (I have seen them hanging in their lockers), and the post activity reflections on Seesaw have been thoughtful.

Future labs I will do earlier in the period so that we still have the time constraint, but not in a way that limits the students’ creativity. I succeeded with not interjecting my ideas, but I would like to be a better observer of more of my students. I felt there was a lot going on that I was missing. I also think that as we do labs connected with literature and other ELA topics, there will be more challenge to me as a facilitator. I will need to use boomerang questions as students wrestle with abstract representations. Using design thinking is going to help my students develop their abstract thinking as well as their critical thinking and their ability to analyze literature and support their analysis. I am thrilled with the success of this challenge and my students’ response to it. I am excited to continue to develop design thinking in my classes.