STEAM By Design


How Might We Use Design Thinking To Nurture Creative Confidence in a Makerspace?

“Creativity is as important in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.” (Sir Ken Robinson)

As the maker movement continues to gain momentum, there has been an increase in the development of maker communities both online and in the physical world. Community-orientated Maker Hubs, TechShops, Fab Labs and Maker Faires have popped up in cities and suburbs all over Australia to provide technology enthusiasts, tinkerers and urban creatives innovative places to connect with like-minded people, to share and explore mechanical tools, electronic hardware and programming techniques. It is in these places that makers are developing innovative, creative and entrepreneurial skills that will serve them well in the workforce and beyond, such as developing start-up accelerators and technology incubators.

Motivated by the potential of the maker movement to develop creativity and innovation, schools have embraced the best learning principles of the maker culture to design collaborative learning spaces called makerspaces. A makerspace is a virtual and physical space that serves as a community hub for the maker movement in education. It is a flexible learning environment where learners can connect, create, collaborate, communicate and potentially explore the elements of a newly integrated discipline, Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths (STEAM) through experiential play. A unique feature of a makerspace is the potential for accessibility to tools and technology such as 3D printing, robotics, microprocessors, wearable computing, programming languages and networks of experts that may otherwise be unavailable in a traditional classroom.

It is through a new discipline like STEAM that students are able to develop the capacity to think creatively, innovate, solve problems and acquire entrepreneurial skills that are immediately applicable in the real world.

A significant point to consider here is that STEAM is not a mandated key learning area or a program, but rather a new discipline where content knowledge, skills and values from a range of key learning areas are interwoven and multi-layered in a way to reflect the nature of real-world, interdisciplinary problems. It is through a new discipline like STEAM that students are able to develop the capacity to think creatively, innovate, solve problems and acquire entrepreneurial skills that are immediately applicable in the real world. Industry experts driving the National Innovation Agenda believe this new way of teaching and learning will also help Australia stay competitive by cultivating creativity and experimentation among future Australian entrepreneurs whose innovative products will give the country an edge in the global economy.

In his book The Global Achievement Gap, Dr Tony Wagner identified seven essential skills required by students for careers, continuous learning and citizenship in the global economy. These included critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration across networks, initiative and entrepreneurship, agility and adaptability, effective communication skills, the ability to access and analyse information and, more importantly, curiosity and imagination. He stated that curiosity and imagination are undoubtedly wellsprings of innovation and without these innovation is limited, if not impossible. During his time researching what is required to be an innovator for his latest book, Creating Innovators, Wagner further identified essential qualities of innovators such as perseverance, a willingness to experiment, take calculated risks, tolerate failure and the capacity for ‘design thinking’, in addition to critical thinking.

Tom and David Kelley (The Kelley brothers) from IDEO and the Stanford describe design thinking as a way of finding human needs and creating new solutions using the tools and mindsets of designers. According to IDEO, design thinking relies on the natural and coachable human ability to be intuitive, to recognise patterns, and to construct ideas that are emotionally meaningful as well as functional. This methodology is used in the Stanford where 700 students attend courses each year to develop confidence in their creative abilities. Project-based classes are team taught with the help of industry practitioners in flexible learning spaces and students learn by solving real-world challenges, usually in multidisciplinary teams.

Drawing from their experiences at IDEO and the, the Kelley brothers in their new book Creative Confidence share ways they innovate routinely with design thinking in order to unleash creative confidence. According to the Kelley brothers, creative confidence is a way of experiencing the world that generates new approaches and solutions. They claim people who possess creative confidence have a greater impact on the world around them because they make a choice to be creative and practise creativity often. Psychologist Robert Sternberg, who researches creativity and leadership, confirms that creative people do this by redefining problems in new ways to seek out solutions, taking sensible risks and accepting failure as part of the learning process, confronting obstacles when challenging the status quo, tolerating ambiguity when they are unsure and continuing to seek new ways of knowing. A prerequisite for a person achieving creative confidence is the belief that his innovation skills and capabilities are not set in stone. In essence, people with creative confidence possess what Carol Dweck calls ‘a growth mindset’.

Design thinking in the Australian Curriculum: Technologies involves the use of strategies for understanding design needs and opportunities, visualising and generating creative and innovative ideas, planning, and analysing and evaluating those ideas that best meet the criteria for success. Design processes require students to identify and investigate a need or opportunity; generate, plan and realise designed solutions; and evaluate products and processes.

As a response to the call for creativity and innovation in education, schools are tinkering with makerspaces to facilitate non-traditional interdisciplinary learning experiences that inspire creative confidence in their students. In a time of high accountability, new curriculum and sophisticated learning expectations for students, there is a need to deepen learning in a makerspace to ensure the rigour and authenticity of the academic process.

There are a number of ways teachers can use the design thinking method to structure meaningful STEAM learning experiences in their makerspace projects. A simple method developed by IDEO for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is called Design Thinking for a Day, which was developed primarily for libraries as a mindset and method to innovate their learning spaces and experiences. This design thinking model has three sequential phases: inspiration, ideation and iteration; it is a simple way to spark creative confidence as a beginning design thinker.

Inspiration is about framing a design challenge and discovering new perspectives on the opportunity through listening, observing and being open to the unexpected. I have a challenge. How do I approach it? As the first phase of design thinking, it is important to frame design challenges as questions. Phrasing projects in ‘How might we…’ questions puts students in the mindset of arriving at impactful solutions; it also helps them generate as many ideas as possible along the way. Be mindful of not asking questions that are too broad or too narrow. It is during this time that students will define the challenge, identify a user group and a problem that needs to be solved. If teachers want students to create new and innovative solutions, they need to find new ways to inspire them. Some activities which may evoke interest and empathy include immersion in different environments or content material, conducting interviews, surveys, observational videos, sketching and sharing of these experiences. Giving students time to reflect on their learning here is key. Questions to consider may include: What surprised you and what was unexpected? What or who inspired you? Did you see any interesting patterns? Have students write down or sketchnote takeaways and themes from what they saw in the world.

Ideation is about generating ideas and making them tangible. I have learnt something. How do I interpret it and express my ideas? This is the next phase of design thinking, when students use brainstorming to generate a lot of new ideas in order to create a design solution. Brainstorming rules are important because they allow everyone in the group to have creative freedom. Effective brainstorm rules include: defer judgement of good/bad ideas, encourage wild ideas, build on the ideas of others, stay focused on the topic, hold one conversation at a time, be visual by sketching ideas on Post-it notes and aim for quantity. The best way to find one good idea is to come up with lots of ideas. Have students come up with 50 ideas in 10 minutes. Once students select their favourite idea they can bring this idea to life by building a prototype. The purpose of a prototype is get an idea out of their heads and into the world, so that other students and collaborators can react to it and start a learning conversation. Ways of prototyping may include building a model using a range of everyday art and craft materials found in the makerspace; designing a digital mock up; role play or a change in the physical environment.

Iteration is about continual experimentation based on user feedback. I have a prototype. How do I test it with users to refine it? The third phase of the design thinking process is for students to present their prototype to the intended user and their peers for constructive feedback. Some questions students may ask include: What excites you about this idea and why? If you could change one thing what would you change and why? What would you like to improve about this idea? What do you not like about this idea? With these responses in mind, students are given opportunities to continue prototyping different iterations of their idea or product. This cycle of feedback/feedforward can be repeated several times until the student is satisfied with the final idea.

Maker educators are often seeking ways to nurture learning that is fueled by intellectual and imaginative curiosity, deep optimism, resilience to accept repeated failure and a mindset that encourages not just ideas but action in order to construct modern knowledge. Effective learning in a makerspace must be characterised by thinking that is purposeful and productive, sparked by experiential play and passion. By using design thinking in a makerspace environment, students have the potential to become more confident and autonomous problem solvers and creative thinkers.

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Zeina Chalich
Zeina Chalich is a dynamic educator and international presenter with teaching experience in primary schools and university. In her role as Leader of Learning & Innovation, Zeina leads ‘disruptive’ change in digital pedagogy and personalised learning. In 2015, Zeina was awarded the CEC Br John Taylor Fellowship research prize for her research exploring design thinking in a makerspace through a STEAM curriculum. She also won a New Voice in Leadership Scholarship from ACEL for leading change in digital pedagogy and mentoring. Zeina is a founding member of #aussieED and the founder of #makerEDau twitter chat. She was recently announced the winner of the 2015 Edublogs Awards for the Best Individual Tweeter Category. Connect with her @ZeinaChalich and @makerEDau

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