Inquiry and Design


Stanford Design School's Design Thinking Process
Stanford Design School’s Design Thinking Process



Kathy Singerline and I have worked closely together in designing her 6th grade Critical Thinking cycle class. The learning goals have remained fairly static, however the way of achieving those goals has gone through a number of transformations, or in other words, a Problem Based Learning Challenge in and of itself!

Our goals for her students include the following skills, dispositions and responsibilities.

Questioning: SWBAT create, identify and practice questioning for learning skills. Students will develop an understanding of curiosity as a means for learning, growth and change. Students will realize their role in asking questions to promote collaborative learning and creation.

Information Fluency:  SWBAT find, evaluate and apply information based on needs and interests. Students will utilize a process for learning using information. Students will develop an understanding of how and why information is shared, the need for evaluating information based on author’s purpose, authority and currency and how information can be used for learning, creating and sharing. Students will realize that they have a role in sharing information ethically in a cyber connected world.

Design: SWBAT apply what they learned about questioning and information fluency within the Design Process. They will participate in design based learning experiences including game design. They will develop an understanding of the need for empathy, wonder, risk taking as it relates to design. They will realize the role design plays in in creating change.

This cycle, Kathy and I have been discussing how students can participate in a cycle long project that fosters most or all of these skills and understandings. We’d like to have their projects be problem based, student determined and real world, so that the learning would be authentic and at best, make a difference.


All of this seems like a perfect #geniouscon opportunity! It seems fairly obvious that the questioning and Information Literacy skills and understandings can best be learned within an an actual Inquiry based project. The design piece could also be incorporated within this framework. However, I’m not sure exactly how. What I can’t quite figure out is where the Inquiry Process and the Design Thinking Process intersect.

If you have any thoughts please share. In the meantime I will keep thinking and learning more about the design process!

Library Redo: Student Problem Solving Using the Design Process

Our library at LHMS is going through some procedural issues. Although students enjoy the independence given in our physical space, student conduct is not meeting our expectations, which read:

While here…
1. Be doing something productive.
2. Be doing it in a way that allows others to be productive.
3. Be respectful of yourself, others and your environment.

Our Digital Literacy and Critical Thinking teacher, Kathy Singerline @ksingerline, my continual collaborative “partner in crime”, had an awesome idea for creating an authentic learning experience for our students. Allow our critical thinking students to redesign our library’s procedures and space to allow for greater functionality and more effective learning conditions.

I had recently participated in a conversation Developing the Design Mind: An Introduction to the Process of Design Thinking at Educon 2.5 lead by Christian Long, Laura Deisley, David Jakes. Together we learned that the key to design is questioning, a concept which fits in perfectly with the focus of our Critical Thinking curriculum. We described the “problem” with our students and asked that they work in small groups to brainstorm “What I Think I Know” about  library functions, procedures, and design, in order to foster question generation. After sharing with the class, we had students go back in small groups and brainstorm “What do I Need to Know’ or questions we need to ask administrators, the librarian (me!), teachers and students in order to create an effective design for learning. The students did an awesome job forming questions, and they loved knowing that they’ve been given an actually opportunity to effect change!

Before I go on, I have to say that this process hit my ego hard! The students way too easily shared what they saw as current issues, and I felt a bit like I was on trial, and I was the lawyer trying to defend my own case!

After brainstorming questions and more, the students surveyed our Vice-principal and me-the school’s librarian. Kathy Singerline was the voice of  the faculty, mainly because, as always, time was of the essence! Here’s a link to the LIBRARY DESIGN Google Doc where we recorded information.

Kathy also shared and discussed this awesome TED Talk from Mcgrath Davies.

Next, students worked in small groups to redesign the library, both physically and procedurally. They did this on a big piece of construction paper that acted as a crude blue print. On the back they hashed out procedures and how to reinforce them. This would have been a great Google Sketch up project, but there just wasn’t enough time for any further tech tool instruction. They were asked to back up their decisions with librarian, admin and faculty requests as recoded on the Google Doc.

When finished they presented their designs and explained why they made the choices they did.

Positive student learning outcomes:

  • Students were completely engaged in the process of learning.
  • They learned that inquiry leads to effective design.
  • They learned that student work CAN effect change.
  • They problem solved using a design process.
  • They Created.

Better next time:

  • Start with a Process for Design:   Identify Problem->  Question-> Research (Survey, Best Practices, Limitations)->  Generate Ideas->  Test->  Present  or  The IDesign Thinking Model
  • Consider adding a tech based space design tool such as Google Sketch Up.

Even cooler…

A few days after finishing this project, we held a Career Day at Lounsberry. One of the presenters was our town’s mayor, who happened to be presenting in the Critical Thinking classroom. Somehow discussion arose about the Mayor’s interest in re-purposing  a large piece of now town owned land and facilities, which was once an exclusive summer camp. Kathy’s mind was working…this would be one awesome design project for our middle school students! If this works out, we will be sure to tell you about it here!