Sunday, February 2, 2014

Israel and the Design Thinking Classroom

When a recent post lauding the concept of Design Thinking appeared on the Jedlab Facebook forum, I was intrigued enough to do some research into the technique. The reading and video materials that I saw have encouraged me to consider how I can incorporate Design Thinking into my online classes.  

"Design Thinking," within the educational framework, refers to a creative process that helps the teacher and students design meaningful solutions to real-life problems. The goal of design thinking is to encourage students to work in a more human, innovative, collaborative manner and in a way that supports proto-type driven solutions to real-life problems.

My research turned up a wide range of methods that can be used to promote design thinking in a classroom. The strategy that I like best, and which I think will be most useful to me in my classes on Israel, involves a simple process that, I believe, promotes more creative thinking on the part of the students and more opportunities for reflection and growth on the part of the teacher.

In the classroom, a design thinking lesson should begin with a generative statement -- i.e. "Israel is important to the Jewish people." This provides an opening for the students to expand on the statements with tangents and directions that will lay the groundwork for future activities and work. The students can then develop the subject by presenting their ideas for sub-categories that they would be interested in investigating further. In the case of an Israel curriculum this might involve Jewish diversity in Israel, the historical relationship between the Jewish people and Israel and some of the present-day issues that revolve around Israel's relationship with the diaspora community.

At this point the class can either break up into pairs or groups or continue to work together. Additional thought-provoking questions should be presented -- one of the questions that I am planning for my lesson involves asking the kids to consider how they think an alien might react when seeing, for the first time, the special relationship that exists between the Jews and the Land of Israel. This, my question continues, takes into account that most non-Israeli  Jews are thousands of years removed from the Land of Israel. Another philosophical inquiry-type question could launch a unit on Jewish diversity by having the students imagine a walk down a Jerusalem street during one of the Jewish holidays and asking them to consider what different sights they would see as different Jewish communities celebrate the holiday according to their own traditions.

The idea is, basically, to find avenues that allow the kids to take the introductory generative statement and expand it into the directions that interest them. In a design thinking lesson the teacher uses empathy so that the students own the subject. The teacher will then define the issue or concern which broadens the subject to fit each student's interests. As the students ideate they make the subject real and powerful. The teacher must always prepare for unpredictable answers and allow the students to focus on the areas that interest them.

A lesson that's created around the concept of design thinking is aimed at encouraging the students to be aware of their own cognition processes as they identify and use resources that help them to explore subjects in a real and meaningful manner. Educators who have brought design thinking into their classrooms have commented that a design thinking-based curriculum allows for deeper learning, but demands that the educator be prepared to allow the process to evolve. Most students are not used to such an open atmosphere in the classroom and will need time to become acquainted and comfortable with these types of lessons. In addition, design-thinking curriculum takes more time than a traditional lesson.

Online education fits into design thinking curriculum. Students don't have to raise their hands or wait for their turn to express themselves -- as the questions are presented the students can participate immediately through chat or other online tools.

Stay tuned to my upcoming foray into a design thinking lesson for my Hebrew school class.   

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