Monday, April 28, 2014


I want my students to see the classroom as a place where experimentation, academics, passion, and exploration meet. My perfect classroom would be something akin to a design studio, mixed with a library, mixed with a computer lab, mixed with a tinkering studio. It would be a place where if you dream it, you can learn it. Better yet, you could build it! In a perfect world, I would have the space and resources to make this a reality. I would have everything at my disposal to urge students to make, break, and create.

In the meantime, I do the best I can with what I have. If nothing else, I want to be part of a student attitude shift. I want them to truly believe their ideas, thoughts, passions, and interests matter. I want them to take risks and try new things. I want them to push themselves to think outside the box.

It is not easy asking students to take chances, to be creative, and to ultimately risk failure. It shouldn't be hard, but students are trained to take the easy way, to conform, to mindlessly memorize information. After six or seven years of this factory model, students feel comfortable being passive learners. They come to believe all school is the same-- sit down, be quiet, absorb, and regurgitate.

When I introduce project based and creative learning into the classroom, many students initially feel uncomfortable. We have choices? The answer is not given to us? How are you grading this? They are out of touch with the wonderful gift of divergent thinking. They are afraid to jump in and have fun learning.

It becomes necessary to work with students to loosen up this rigid approach to school. It is a job within itself to urge students to try crazy ideas. One thing my students have really enjoyed this year is brainstorming. No, not the brainstorming where there is a bubble map, and the teacher tells you exactly what to write. Instead, it is a brainstorm linked to design thinking. It is a brainstorm meant to generate ideas. It is a brainstorm meant to push the boundaries of what is possible. It is a brainstorm to innovate and create.

We usually have a topic, project, or problem and a small group of students work together to come up with as many ideas as possible. I have found post-it notes to be a fantastic medium for producing a bevy of imaginative ideas. After a fixed amount of time, the groups organize their ideas and start to work towards establishing a goal or path forward. One of the first times we used brainstorming, I prompted my students to design the restaurant of the future. It was fun to hear their ideas. Spoiler alert, our future restauranteurs really like robots and fusion.

I have found these two videos to be great starting points for design thinking brainstorming.

How to Brainstorm:

How not to Brainstorm:


  1. I, too have endured the struggle of guiding students to redefine the ways in which they learn, to kick amateur learning, and to create in the name of growth. Keep fighting the good fight.

  2. Thanks Keegan...Have you found any strategies or projects to help students redefine their learning?