Design Thinking: Immersion 2 | Planning

How educators can resource the immersion phase of design thinking

Design Thinking is more than just 'shop' class, making stuff and post-it notes. Key to teaching anything from Shakespeare to sums is how the teacher resources a Generative Topic.

The Why

Many Project-Based Learning examples provide students with 'essential questions' that require mostly convergent thinking to answer them. The 'essential' part relates to the comparative importance assigned by the educator to the content, in relation to curriculum perhaps, whereas we should seek, in equal measure, how a topic can be 'essential' in how it matters to students (cf Friesen et al, 2009). When planned in advance with these two notions of 'essential' in mind, design thinking offers a framework through which students can dive deep and wide into observation of a new area, seeing that area of study from multiple perspectives (an empathetic viewpoint) and have more potential to not only master knowledge, but also to discover new concepts and connections which neither educator nor student could have planned for had the topic been narrower and more convergent (cf Hatchuel & Weil, 2003).

In order to gain more divergent thinking, an enticing 'essential question' or hook does not suffice. The teacher has to think about planning a wider range of resources that relate to a genuinely divergent Generative Topic, both to gain breadth, depth and provide resources which open access to challenging topics to every learner. Doing this needs a structure so that no stone of resourcing remains unturned.

The Experiment

We've been working with schools in Europe, Asia, Australia and North America on how to generate divergent Generative Topics and then resource them effectively. In many schools starting out with this divergent thinking approach to curriculum coverage, teachers found that their students would hit difficulties in a number of scenarios

  • they ran out of resources to explore a topic;
  • the students were effectively left to Google to do the lion's share of their research;
  • the topic was inaccessible to some learners for being either too complex in terms of textual research (especially where that research was online) or too easy, meaning some classmates were 'finished' with its research before others had even scratched the surface.

So we developed a more comprehensive Immersion Resource Brainstorming Grid (pdf), to provoke teachers to think out of the box about how they resource a topic, and how they might capitalise on existing but often under-used resources at school. The grid helps show whether, indeed, a Generative Topic is going to be rich enough, or whether, in fact, the lack of potential resources hints at a weaker topic, best learned about in another, shorter format than a design thinking project of several weeks. The final resourcing grid also helps the educator begin to predict how long their Design Thinking project will take to complete, and adds checks and measures for how successful the project is going to be at covering off not only core curriculum goals, but tangential ones, too.

The grid should be completed with a copy of your curricular documents in front of you, and starts by stating what the core curricular content to be explored might be. Having thought through all the potential resources, there might be a change or two made to the Generative Topic, to better represent the desired learning goals. There will also be time spent looking at the tangential curriculum coverage that is achieved thanks to the resourcing, and the research and collaboration skills being used to access those resources.

At this point, the educator is in a position to explore how this Immersion phase might lead to students to defining the problem they want to solve, or the area of curriculum they want to explore in greater depth (Synthesis), and how they want to show that knowledge and understanding to others (Ideation and Prototyping). To help set the immersion resourcing within the rest of the Design Thinking process, we've developed an overall Design Thinking Visual Map for teachers to begin thinking about the overall flow of the project. You might also spend more time digging into the detail of the skills you may need to introduce to students so that the can cope with the breadth and depth of resources and experiences you've made available: this is the point to move from the brainstorm grid to the more detailed Design Thinking Lesson and Unit Planner.

Having decided on the digital and real-world resources, experiences, artefacts and direct teaching points that make up the initial deep immersion, the teacher can then decide on which experience might be used to launch the project, which resources will be packed into a class or team "Immersion Box", into which students can delve - pictured here are students picking one artefact each from a class Immersion Box, in addition to direct teaching and experiences they will have around this. It means that all students are aware of all the resources that were introduced, even if their context is, at the beginning, unclear. Whether in elementary or secondary school, the teacher should consider different ways students' own research can contribute to the resources that (s)he has provided, and so consideration of classroom space in advance is worthwhile.

Planning the resources for an immersion phase involves "planning heavy, to teach light" - it is an effort that requires an initial effort in order to give enough material through which every learner can navigate, regardless of their ability. Once the topic gets underway, there is potential to add to the resources, experiences and activities in the Immersion. This might be necessary if

  • the students' interest is sustained and justifies yet further exploration; or
  • the initial selection of resources and activities were not challenging or plentiful enough; or
  • students enter the period of synthesis of their ideas but don't have enough to effectively draw connections or make comparisons between different viewpoints - they need more material to gain that complexity.

A brilliant example of this continuation of an immersion phase is described in detail by Cassy and Miyuki, Nursery teachers at The American School in Japan Early Learning Center.

Your Next Steps

NoTosh has worked with scores of schools in Brisbane, Queensland, to show how teachers can set up rich, challenging design thinking topics.

  • See how others have set up their "immersion boxes" to help students explore generative topic titles and develop divergent thinking, using videos about NoTosh's work, like the one above, or Google+ communities of NoTosh teachers such as those working in Brisbane. We share their developing work regularly through our NoToshLearning Facebook page.
  • Create a strong Generative Topic that helps you gain momentum in your project planning.
  • Print out a copy of the Immersion Resources Grid, and map out your curricular goals and the kinds of resources that might help achieve them. Don't be afraid to go back and tweak your Generative Topic title.
  • Plan in greater detail using our detailed design thinking planner, beyond resources and activities, and start thinking about the critical thinking skills students will require to access that content and experience.
  • See how your initial Immersion phase would lead to students developing their own questions or problems to solve in the next Synthesis stage of design thinking, by transferring your Immersion Grid contents to an Overall Design Thinking Project Map.
  • Share scans or photos of your planning, and any blog posts about how it worked out in practice, online and let us know with a quick tweet or email.