As the Head Teacher of Teaching and Learning at Plumpton High School, I am a big believer in building staff capacity and developing their skills, which requires strategic processes to ensure that this is achieved whilst creating rich and authentic projects. As a result, we have spent a great deal of time creating processes that support teachers in designing, facilitating and implementing PBL in the classroom.
So when professional learning comes along that actually engages the group in a process that further develops their understanding AND develops their skills, that gives you a process to show how it can be used and implemented to ensure authenticity, only then is it that you feel adequately equipped to actually make it work in the everyday setting.
The recent project design lab run out of UTS and the design thinking process has been a great example of the importance of not only the why and the what are, but also the how when designing effective and authentic project based learning.
Since we are a school who have already implemented PBL in school, and although our projects need continual refining, we took the opportunity to take a slightly different approach to using the design thinking process throughout this session. Rather than building a meaningful project for students, we wanted to build a meaningful one for staff that addressed their issues around PBL.
Design Thinking Process at Plumpton High School
- Step 1: Empathise with the end user
We used staff feedback from recent experience of delivering PBL to identify the common issues they have had with the design and implementation. By valuing their perspective, we were able to acknowledge and use their experiences as a platform to identify and define a problem
- Step 2: Define the problem
Having identified a range of issues from step 1, we realised that the staff insights indicated a number of areas that required strengthening in order to maximise the impact of PBL on our students, and so it became clear that our project needed to focus on leading staff to improve PBL in our school.
- Step 3: Ideate – innovative and creative solutions.
Once our focus was identified we were asked to Ideate. This involved letting go of any foreseen barriers and identifying as many solutions (crazy or otherwise)! While our group initially found this difficult, letting go really unlocked another layer of ideas for how we could address the issues creatively, that also appeared to have the potential for much greater impact.
- Step 4: Prototype – build a representation of your ideas.
During this step we felt that it was important to map our solutions to the issues. As a result, this quickly transformed into a project overview that outlined the skills, knowledge, activities, guests, events and tools/resources required to strengthen our PBL products and practices at our school.
- Step 5: Test the prototype by taking it back to the end user.
This step was done outside of the professional learning lab but we recognised it as being an essential part of ensuring that the project would have its intended effect. We took our prototype (overview) back to the PBL team, which is made up of staff members teaching PBL at school to further discuss. Including their thoughts and ideas provided the extra leverage to not only improve the overall project but empower and engage them throughout the process and therefore lay the foundations for building sustainability of PBL in our school.
Since this workshop, the project and our prototype has provided the basis for the milestones of a whole strategic direction in our school plan. It just goes to show the power of a process! Without a how, the what and the why cannot become a reality as effectively! Although we used it in a completely different way than what it was originally intended for, the Design Thinking process was just what we needed to help us be strategic about how to reform and shape the direction of PBL at our school. It’s flexibility in application provides evidence of just how powerful it can be and that it works!