Design Thinking in Action

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  • Because It Takes a Village, Thank You to our Industry Experts! "Our two most precious commodities are our children and water."Ronald Fay, Retired Hydrologist and Industry Expert honoreeLast night, our school board recognized the contributions of the industry experts ...
    Posted Jan 18, 2018, 8:46 PM by Laura Spencer
  • "Sketching the Future" By: Sarah Raskin, Design Engineer Sketching the FutureReflection on Guest Speaker, Michael DiTullo6th Grade Quest Class at Del Mar Heights SchoolBy: Sarah Raskin, Design EngineerWhen Michael DiTullo was thirteen years old ...
    Posted Dec 11, 2017, 10:50 AM by Sarah Raskin
  • When Pigs Fly, by Arah Allard, 3rd Grade Teacher at Del Mar Hills It’s happened.  Pigs are flying in room 14.I wanted creative solutions. I asked the kids to think big, think wild.  We talked about how crazy ideas can lead ...
    Posted Nov 13, 2017, 9:16 AM by Laura Spencer
  • 4th Graders Design Solutions for Del Mar's Coastal Erosion Dilemma by Nancy Swanberg, Del Mar Hills Science STEAM+ Teacher She stood apprehensively looking at the bluff as the waves crashed against it. Her house was up on top and she was not sure what would happen next. He too ...
    Posted Oct 27, 2017, 2:26 PM by Laura Spencer
  • Ditch Activities. Design Experiences.  Dr. Nathan Lang, an Ed Leader and Innovator, shared this graphic on his Twitter (@NALANG1) the the other day. In four words, it simplifies much of what we are working ...
    Posted Oct 6, 2017, 12:01 PM by Laura Spencer
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Because It Takes a Village, Thank You to our Industry Experts!

posted Jan 18, 2018, 8:46 PM by Laura Spencer

"Our two most precious commodities are our children and water."
Ronald Fay, Retired Hydrologist and Industry Expert honoree

Last night, our school board recognized the contributions of the industry experts who have given their time and expertise to inspire our students to change the world. Each of the individuals honored has made a tangible difference in the educational experience of our students. We often talk about making school relevant, engaging, and meaningful, but when you're studying the human body and two medical students from UCSD are providing you with information and then giving feedback on your human body system adaptation prototype, relevant is the name of the game. When students are using design thinking to develop a better student chair and an industrial designer talks with the class about his own designs, and the importance of being human-centered, engagement is at an all-time high. And when 3rd graders studying the local lagoon to solve environmental problems it faces have an opportunity to participate in hands-on learning with a USGS Hydrologist to determine salinity levels, they are able to make meaningful connections to the science they study and the local problems in their community. 

18 industry experts were honored last night. 18 individuals who see that the future success of our community, our country, resides in the students we teach today. 18 experts who listened to the ideas of children, and honored those ideas, and inspired them to keep ideating. 18 experts who showed students that their voices are heard, and their ideas are meaningful, and their learning is important. To each of them, and all the others that will be joining this list, I thank you.

To learn about all the experts honored, please read our presentation.

"Sketching the Future" By: Sarah Raskin, Design Engineer

posted Dec 11, 2017, 10:44 AM by Sarah Raskin   [ updated Dec 11, 2017, 10:50 AM ]

Sketching the Future

Reflection on Guest Speaker, Michael DiTullo

6th Grade Quest Class at Del Mar Heights School

By: Sarah Raskin, Design Engineer

When Michael DiTullo was thirteen years old, he vividly remembers his parents asking him, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” His simple response, “I want to draw stuff from the future,” made a profound impact on the direction his career aspirations would take. Michael DiTullo, of DiTullo Designs, who has designed for such top companies as Nike, Google, Motorola, Hasbro, and Honda, recently visited Del Mar Heights School and introduced 84 sixth grade students to the world of Industrial Design through sketching. And whether intended or not, he drew beautiful connections between the purpose of sketching and our reimagined mission for teaching and learning in the Del Mar Union School District.

Michael began his presentation by asking the students if they had ever heard the phrase, “A picture is worth a thousand words?” As students nodded emphatically, Michael described his fascination with drawing and thinking about the future of what this or that might be from a very young age. As a thirteen year old during the holidays, instead of asking for sports equipment, or other more typical teenage gifts, he wanted a drafting table and tools, a set of Prisma markers, and drawing paper. Michael recounted a particularly poignant interaction with his high school math teacher. After being busted in the back of the class for doodling, rather than completing his math assignment, his teacher took away his drawing and crumpled it up. Like a balloon losing its air, you could see our students slowly begin to deflate. Admittedly, there were a few administrators and teachers squirming a bit in the back of the room, including myself. It is our goal in DMUSD to ignite the inner genius in our students by empowering them to apply their passions and interests into the learning experience. Had we ever proverbially “crumpled a dream?” Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. At the end of the math period, the teacher returned the crumpled drawing with the words “Rhode Island School of Design” written on the paper. And on Michael’s journey went to “draw the future.”

As these sixth grade students are currently working to design a chair for a fifth grade student with the goal of optimizing their learning experience, Michael gave a world-class demonstration of how one might draw a chair. While his artistic vision was awe-inspiring, it was the lessons that he shared about human-centered design that best exemplified our goals for learning in DMUSD. Michael shared that he practices sketching everyday. For him, sketching provides a way of visually processing his thinking and continuously refining his ideas. Sketching is his vehicle to communicate ideas that exist in his mind and push them out to the world. Most importantly, it is through the exchange of sharing his ideas with others that a feedback cycle is formed and “his ideas” start becoming “our shared ideas.” When this occurs, you create something new and you truly innovate. Michael explained that his goal is to understand the real problems and needs of his user, so as to design objects that go beyond satisfying their immediate purpose, and move toward signifying our values and progress as a culture.  

It is our goal in the Del Mar Union School District to provide opportunities for students to “sketch their future” now. When we talk about our mission to “ignite the inner genius with our students,” we are empowering students to combine their personal interests with the academic and personal skills they are acquiring to become confident, problem-solvers. We embrace opportunities for our students to consider new ways of addressing needs, communicating those thoughts to others, and collaborating with experts to refine and advance original thoughts. The cool thing is, this is happening now. Our kids are learning the skills to sketch their future now.

Michael DiTullo

When Pigs Fly, by Arah Allard, 3rd Grade Teacher at Del Mar Hills

posted Nov 13, 2017, 9:16 AM by Laura Spencer

Students brainstorming with their teacher
It’s happened.  Pigs are flying in room 14.

I wanted creative solutions. I asked the kids to think big, think wild.  We talked about how crazy ideas can lead to real solutions. Third graders are still so literal!

We are in solution groups now as we carry on with our design thinking challenge. Our needs statement:  “The living organisms in the lagoon need a way to mitigate the effects of erosion in order to survive and carry on their life cycles. ”  And yes- they know what mitigate means!  They crafted the statement.

The flurry of thinking that this prompted was amazing.  Filters sprouted arms to deal with sedimentation.  Sun powered suckers helped deal with extra dirt.  And of course, the pigs.  Why have a flying pig that scoops up the sedimentation? Because a wolf would be too heavy!  (real thinking here.)

While the pigs flew, something truly wonderful happened.  The students in the group with the pig person didn’t scoff, laugh, or belittle his idea.  They drew him in and folded his idea into theirs.  Soon, they were researching materials together- looking up magnesium and wondering if spider’s silk was really stronger than steel.  The questioning and learning were unlike anything I could have planned in a lesson.  Not to mention the compassion and teamwork.  Giving the students agency over their learning and freedom to let the pigs fly  allowed for this unique moment.

So, if you visit room 14 and see flying swine, know that so much is riding on those wings.

Original Blog Post on Arah's site, published with permission: 

4th Graders Design Solutions for Del Mar's Coastal Erosion Dilemma by Nancy Swanberg, Del Mar Hills Science STEAM+ Teacher

posted Oct 27, 2017, 2:18 PM by Laura Spencer   [ updated Oct 27, 2017, 2:26 PM ]

What do we wonder?
She stood apprehensively looking at the bluff as the waves crashed against it. Her house was up on top and she was not sure what would happen next. He too was anxiously watching, as more of the bluff eroded beneath their house. The waves were getting bigger and more destructive as the sea level rose, a result of climate change.  Finally it happened, the crest of the bluff gave way and their house tumbled to the beach below. They cheered! Their simulation had been a success! They now had some first-hand experience about what it would feel like to watch one’s home tumble off a bluff and how erosion by waves can make that happen.  The Deputy Mayor had been right! He had outlined the importance of this issue for their community and now they understood how crucial it would be to find a solution to stop or at least slow erosion in the California coastal region. After all, this could have been their actual home or their neighbor’s.


PrototypingUnderstanding more about the science behind a local problem, as well as having empathy for the people involved, ignited a passion in our students. They were on fire!  As teachers, it was exhilarating and a bit overwhelming at the same time. This was our first official Design Thinking project and our team of two specialists, two classroom teachers, with the support of two district design engineers, wanted it to go well. We hoped the students would learn standards in science, engineering, social studies, and English language arts as they tackled this real-world problem.


Deputy Mayor Worden discusses a solution with students.The project was not without its moments of uncertainty though, as when a large number of our students, in focusing on the part of the problem they would address, decided total bluff erosion was inevitable and got caught up in potential pet loss as they imagined it raining cats and dogs (literally) from their cozy homes on the bluff tops into the waiting sea below.  That was something we hadn’t anticipated and it took some skillful redirection in the moment to get the students back on track, focusing on preventing erosion in the first place. Other challenges arose too, but when we couldn’t figure out a good way to accomplish the next step, a lesson plan from our design engineers would magically arrive in our inbox or when we were short on time, one of them would swoop in to make poster headings. It wasn’t always a smooth process and finding time to touch base with other teachers was challenging and often done on the fly between bites of lunch as the project unfolded. However, by the time our students eagerly presented their prototypes and “pitches” to a crowded room of parents representing different community stakeholders; we got to just stand in the background and let them take the reigns. After all, that is what we had hoped for from the start.

Ditch Activities. Design Experiences.

posted Oct 6, 2017, 12:01 PM by Laura Spencer   [ updated Oct 6, 2017, 12:01 PM ]

Ditch Activities, Design Experiences Dr. Nathan Lang, an Ed Leader and Innovator, shared this graphic on his Twitter (@NALANG1) the the other day. In four words, it simplifies much of what we are working to achieve through Design Thinking. When I was in school, I completed a lot of projects. I created clothing worn by a Native American tribe; I recreated a topographical map of California with salt dough; and I built a California Mission with sugar cubes. Most of us have similar memories from our school days.
However, none of these projects truly prepared me for the challenges of life. Yes, I learned to work nicely with others, and clean up after myself. I even learned that, if I procrastinated long enough, my mom would work on my projects after I went to sleep. But the piece that was missing was that these projects were just projects. They were defined for me by my teacher, and were meant to teach a specific content standard. What they lacked was experiences. 
In Design Thinking, we want students to learn how to solve problems and truly make a difference in their community. We want them to develop empathy for others, and then use that empathy to see the world through a different lens. We want students to grapple with solutions that aren't black and white, wrong or right. Mostly, we want students to experience the world, and then make that world a better place...for themselves, their peers, their community, and hopefully, the world.
This is the work of Design Thinking in our classrooms. This is the work of Design Engineers. To Design experiences that ignite student genius and empower them to change the world.

Why Design Thinking and Why Now?

posted Oct 2, 2017, 8:28 AM by Sarah Raskin   [ updated Oct 6, 2017, 11:44 AM by Laura Spencer ]

“Houston, We’ve Had a Problem.”

Why Design Thinking and Why Now?

Reflection on 6th Grade Design Thinking Lesson

It was 12:30 p.m. and a few seconds away from the end of the lunch period. I couldn’t wait to facilitate an introductory lesson on Design Thinking with sixth grade students at Ashley Falls. I rehearsed my introduction that I planned to share with students in my head as the TV projected an image of an eagle with the words, “Design Thinking in the Eagle’s Nest” towards the back of the classroom.

“Good afternoon, my name is Sarah Raskin and I’m a Design Engineer. It is my job to….and… Today, we will use Design Thinking to address a current student need at Ashley Falls. Design Thinking is…”

    As I continued practicing my spiel, I realized this was all wrong. In my work as a Design Engineer, it is my goal to facilitate opportunities for inquiry, deep critical thinking, problem-solving and increased student voice and choice over the learning experience. So, why am I planning to tell kids the definition of Design Thinking and what I do as a Design Engineer? 


    The bell rang and students began trickling into the classroom. Eyes shot to the screen and a few students uttered, “Design Thinking in the Eagle’s Nest?” As students settled into their seats, I introduced myself by name and position and left it to the students to fill in the rest. I continued by asking, “When you see the words Design Thinking, what comes to mind?” After a minute or so of thinking time, students were encouraged to share their ideas. Student responses included, “I think it means you think about how you would design something like a house,” and “It means to think outside of the box.” Intrigued by this last comment, I asked the student to explain what it means to “think outside of the box?” The student elaborated, “This means you think of new ways to do something. New possibilities.” As the student spoke, memories of scenes from the film, “Apollo 13” filled my mind, and I briefly described the events of the the mission to the class.

“After nearly 56 hours in space, Apollo 13 was looking like the smoothest flight of the NASA program, until tragedy struck. Following a routine inspection of equipment aboard the module, the No. 2 oxygen tank ruptured, and shortly after, the No.1 tank also failed. The command module’s normal supply of electricity, light, and water were lost, and the crew was about 200,000 miles from Earth. With limited time and supplies, the only hope of saving the lives of the astronauts aboard the lunar module rested in the hands of NASA scientists at home in Houston. They had to think outside of the box.”

    This brief vignette built a sense of urgency for our work, and with that, we launched into our Design Scenario: “How might we, the student leaders at Ashley Falls, anticipate potential hazards during recess and P.E. periods to ensure the safety of all students?” Using observational data collected by the students, they identified a list of concerns and hazards that can cause student injuries. After analyzing this list for patterns, the students selected three concerns from which to brainstorm solutions, design prototypes representing their solutions, and share their prototypes with classmates to gain feedback. With only 20 minutes provided to design a solution for one identified problem, the students relied on their personal strengths and interests to demonstrate their ingenious ideas. Some chose to work individually, while others worked in groups. Some used straws, craft sticks, and cardboard to engineer physical models to represent their ideas, while others relied on their artistic and technological talents to draft 2D drawings in Google Draw or on a blank piece of paper. But all students, ignited their genius within to bring awareness to an authentic student need and develop plausible solutions.

    As we wrapped up the lesson, it was time for students to reflect on their experience. Through a class discussion, I asked, “What is one thing you learned from this experience?” A deeply reflective student shared, “I learned that there are many problems, but I can fix them!” It was a drop the mic moment and I proudly shared, “You have unlocked the purpose for Design Thinking and you are all Design Engineers.” 

    Of course, I couldn’t get off that easily, as the kids wanted to know if Apollo 13 ever arrived safely back to Earth. In sharing the good news, my mind wandered off to my favorite scene from the film. Who could forget when James Lovell’s mother heard the news of the accident aboard the module, and looking at her scared granddaughter, confidently proclaimed, “If they can get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy can land it!”

    You see, we don’t lead this work because it is the educational buzzword du jour, or to “innovate” for the sake of doing so. We believe it is our societal imperative to empower our students with the applied skills and dispositions to be problem-seekers and problem-solvers. We need our Jimmys and our Janes prepared to find solutions to problems that we can’t begin to predict.

AF Design Thinking

Why Our Future Leaders Need Inventive Resilience:

posted Sep 15, 2017, 8:58 AM by Sarah Raskin   [ updated Oct 6, 2017, 11:44 AM by Laura Spencer ]

Food for Thought

Why Our Future Leaders Need Inventive Resilience:

A Reflection on Alison Berman’s Article: “Automation is Eating Jobs”

The garage door flung open just as the oven timer buzzed; it was dinnertime at the Raskin house. As my family settled in around the kitchen table and bowls of food were passed from hand to hand, the conversation began to flow. Being the “nosy” mom that I am, I couldn’t wait to hear all about Ella’s first day of sixth grade. After the usual exchange of questions like, “How was your day?” and “What did you learn?”-to which I typically receive one-word responses like “fine” and “not much,” Ella expressed her concern over whether or not she received a good score on the math placement test she took during the day. Worried that my daughter was already under stress after one day of school, I reassured her that giving her best effort is what matters and that the rest will take care of itself. With a roll of her eyes, Ella brushed off my motherly wisdom and melodramatically proclaimed, “If I don’t do well on that test, I won’t be placed in the ‘top’ math class, then I won’t get into Honors Math in middle school, and there goes Stanford.”

Tempted to laugh, but being very aware of how real “pre-teen-o-centria” really is, I passed the baton to my husband. Nate, who typically uses humor to maneuver around such hurdles, pragmatically added, “Strong math and science skills are important.” Excellent, we are almost there, I thought to myself. With Ella listening intently, Nate elaborated, “After all, you will need those skills for your career as a doctor. You really should be a doctor. Right?” And there it was, the epic FAIL!

While this sounded like a typical conversation from my childhood with a caring Dad reinforcing skills learned in school and directly correlating these skills to a valued career that will provide for a lifetime of prosperity, we must recognize that the times have changed! We know that the pace of change is accelerating at a rate that we can’t even imagine. Data collected in a 2013 study by two researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York found that only 27% of college graduates will have a job that relates to their major and that on average these graduates will have seven different careers, not jobs, but careers during their lifetime. It’s like moving from the Stone age to Starbucks in ten years! With the advancement of technology, automation, and artificial intelligence, we can anticipate disruption in such traditionally stable career industries as accountancy, pharmaceutical, and the medical field. So, this begs the question, while our students will always need a strong foundation in such core competencies as literacy and numeracy, what additional skills will our children need to remain relevant in a world of rapid change?

To answer this question, we must realize that we are entering an age of inventive resilience. Durable skills such as the ability to communicate effectively, collaborate with others, think critically, demonstrate cultural intelligence, problem-solve effectively, and demonstrate empathy for others are every bit as important as reading, writing, and arithmetic. In fact, they are the skills that matter most! Providing opportunities for students to solve human-centered, interdisciplinary, and real-world problems will support them in becoming flexible thinkers and engaged citizens. Perhaps, we need to reframe our question from, “What would you like to be when you grow up?” to “What is your unique contribution that you can give the world, and how will it adapt over time?” After all, once we understand our value to society, we can imagine our probable and possible futures and bridge the gap between.

In an effort to demonstrate my own inventive resilience as a parent, I shifted my paradigm from viewing our previous conversation with Ella as an epic “FAIL” to our “First Attempt In Learning” and committed to try again. After redirecting how I confronted the math class drama, and reframing the questions I asked, the discussion sounded much different.

I began by asking Ella, “How do you add value to the world?” She responded with a list of durable traits, “I am kind, responsible, strong, and confident.” I then asked, “If you had to describe your purpose in this world in one word, what would it be?” She shared, “Empathetic.” Finally, I questioned, “How will being empathetic add value to the world now and in the future?” In my proud mama moment, she quoted a famous line from Dr. Seuss’ book, The Lorax, and shared, “It is like the line from the book, The Lorax, 'Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.'”

    Something tells me that no matter what career field Ella will enter one day, her ability to demonstrate empathy, will not only allow her to adapt with the times, but also contribute to making our world better. Isn’t that our greatest hope as parents?

Diving Into the Deep! by Ashley Whipple, CDM Teacher

posted Sep 5, 2017, 2:19 PM by Laura Spencer   [ updated Sep 5, 2017, 2:20 PM ]

Students working through the Design process
Ready, set, jump! That’s exactly what the start of this school year and implementing Design Thinking has looked like over at Carmel Del Mar School in Room 303. And I must say, this start and jumping in has been so refreshing, just as an ocean dip feels this time of year. In my fifth and sixth grade combo class, reinvented and renamed as “Team 56”, we have plunged ourselves right into acquainting ourselves with the parts of the Design Thinking process as we have begun something called “The Shoe Project”.

The Shoe Project” has been an incredible diving board to spring us into not only learning the parts of design in an approachable format, but has also allowed us to intentionally connect as a new team of mixed grade level learners. “The Deep Dive” also known as the research part of the process, encompasses one of the most quintessential elements of the Design thinking process: empathy. Before any means of defining a user’s needs, brainstorming/ideating, prototyping, and collaborating a learner, or designer rather, must spend time accessing empathy for the user(s).

As I fixated on the reality that empathy is the heart of the design process, initiating the start and success of the entire Design Thinking process, I could not help but see this as a great way to give my students a very genuine and organic way to connect with each other at the start of the school year. So what did this exactly look like in the classroom? In taking shape, we partnered up with a user from the opposite grade level within our our team and began interviewing our user about his/her shoes. Our shoes were our starting place that served as the perfect talking point to begin learning all kinds of information about the user. Interviewing took an entire forty-five minute session, as both users interviewed each other, getting to know each other, and learning about some subliminal needs we as users actually have in regards to our shoes.

As a teacher, and one who is passionate about Design Thinking, I can’t help but highlight and note that the refreshing nature of the “Deep Dive” came out of the magic that happened witnessing my students diving right in. The smiles, laughter, engagement, care, curiosity, inquiry, and EMPATHY that drenched our environment was absolutely magical. The genuine excitement that had been ignited through interviewing a user to gain empathy in order to identify a user’s shoe needs naturally propelled my students into the design process. They couldn’t help but want to further connect and to present a possible solution for their user. That being said, our next step is to conquer the ways to explicitly create a need statement for our user based on the information gained in our interview process, bringing the “Deep Dive” of the Design Thinking process to a close and moving us closer to presenting solutions.

And that is what it looks like to get the heart of Design Thinking pumping. It’s magic.

Nueva Design Thinking Institute

posted Aug 17, 2017, 1:35 PM by Laura Spencer   [ updated Aug 18, 2017, 5:16 PM ]

A visual sketch completed at Nueva
This summer, five teachers and four administrators attended the Design Thinking Institute at The Nueva School in San Mateo, CA. The 3.5 day institute took participants through the Design Thinking process, and then provided scaffolded learning experiences to understand the mindsets, curriculum design, assessment, and resources needed to implement Design Thinking. Instructors were both K-12 teachers and current students at The Nueva School, which provided various lenses through which to look at how Design Thinking impacts student learning and cognitive development. A key message from the institute is that the Design Thinking process fosters student creativity, critical thinking, and empathy, skills all students need to be successful in both college and career, and more importantly, to have a happy life.

DTI-La Nueva School

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