When to say “Why Not‽” To Be Daring On Your Campus with Design Thinking

This is Part II of the blog post “Asking Why? at you School Can be Dangerous”

Daring to do something doesn’t mean knowing what to do

Doubt is something real to contend with and feeling uncomfortable is part of knowing you might be onto something important. Still, many of us remain silent in the face of an issue we all know isn’t okay. Take the tweet below by @mzfawstah. It resonates with me deeply and, as mentioned, is something I think about every single day. I confront it often as many students I teach in middle school are some of the sufferers. Students think about it every day. They sit right next to other students who don’t understand that suffering. I often wonder what I can dare to do.

I don’t have the answer about how to dare to do this in every school, each time. I only know to lean on a process, develop knowledge, to read, to surround myself with those interested in these big problems and to push forward. Daring might mean to continue even when all others have stopped trying, quit or left. Daring may be knowing failure is possible, even likely. Daring may mean to find out that you never knew the answer in the first place and that you find your solution in an truly unexpected place. Daring is the Finnish word “Sisu” and might be an embodiment of Wes Anderson’s character Steve Zissou.

Daring to try to solve our most sticky problems in schools will come with plenty of push back.


A Punctuation Aside

Asking “Why Not‽” may be my favorite form, using the little known Interrobang end mark punctuation (‽). Learn about it with this podcast from 99 Percent Invisible or at wikipedia. It’s a real thing. Consider using it!


Process, Process, Process

The issue with math instruction is enduring and not easily fixed. That doesn’t mean that any school must play victim to the forces out of their control. On the contrary, with a mandate and a desire to distill what is happening locally, a school may very well find local success, solutions and fixes to what we all know to be wrong. Lets take a quick look at the steps of Design Thinking as an example process to do a simple mental experiment:

A quick reminder of the Design Process: (Plus Article Links)

A Mental Exercise: Daring to deal with the problems of math education

Define the Problem: Students are suffering emotionally within our current structure of our math instruction.

Collect Information: Though surveying and interviews, homework and tests seem to be the most common places that their suffering occurs. Homework seems to be a more frequent issue and is more ready for action.

Brainstorm/Ideation:

  • End all homework!
  • Reduce all homework
  • Make homework levels consistent with practicing what is known, not what students still need to learn.
  • Change the nature of homework entirely.
  • Flip the classroom (getting old, I know)
  • Project Based learning
  • Team Teach Math and Science or full on Stem Model
  • Make homework collaborative, not individually done

Develop Solutions (prototyping): (Always prototype multiple solutions!)

  • Safe/Reasonable Idea: Reduce homework and target problems students can do independently, not problems as instructional level. Make homework about practice and reinforcement, not new learning.
  • Meaningful Idea: Team Teach Math/Sci to link and embed as much math into science as possible, reduce the purely math instruction down to a central and small core.
  • Wild Idea: Read a contemporary book related to your math topic, end problem based homework. Example, Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein could be read during an introduction to Probability and Statistics unit and is the only homework offered for that unit.

Solicit Feedback: Setup a situation where some classes/math sections do the reading project and some don’t. Collect testing data, student interviews and student surveys. Use the imperial data to give you a direction to consider while the interviews and surveys to help color in the lines of meaning.

Improve Your Design: This is where the thought experiment ends. I will say that the question posed at the top is a continuing force I deal with. Reading the book Nudge instead of the book’s multiple choice homework is a solution that I am about to launch in my own classroom this week. This is a real problem and this is a real attempt I am making. Let me know in the comments if you want a progress update. I’m sure I’ll learn from what I am doing.

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