"Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits"

What if…

What if I took a group of teachers and led a design thinking challenge as if they were a group of fourth graders? Would this experience help teachers understand the process and mindsets of design thinking from a different point of view? I wanted to find out.

I planned this design challenge the same way I would plan a design challenge for students.

1. Find an engaging piece of text to use for inspiration

2. Use the design thinking process as a framework for planning

3. Identify the Common Core Literacy Standards we would tackle along the way

The Challenge…

We began the challenge by reading a poem by Martin Espada, “Jorge the Church Janitor Finally Quits” and discussing the text dialogically. In dialogically organized instruction, the purpose of the discussion is to understand how the readers are "making sense" of the text. I asked only one question at the end of the reading, “what do you think this text is really about?” and from there, the group took off in a discussion lasting almost 30 minutes.

One of the cornerstones of design thinking is building empathy for others. In order to build empathy for our character, Jorge, the group identified eight words and phrases and made some assumptions about what Jorge might be feeling or thinking.

Then the challenge was revealed: “Redesign Jorge’s work experience.”

The group co-constructed several possible needs that Jorge might have. “Jorge needs to be seen” “Jorge needs to be valued” “Jorge needs to find confidence in himself” were just a few.

Finally, the group broke into small teams to brainstorm and share possible solutions for Jorge.

What surprised me?

Although the group consisted of educators ranging in age from 22-60, the feeling inside the room was oddly similar to a fourth grade classroom! The disagreements, the group dynamics, and the hesitation mirrored what I might typically see in a room of elementary school students. This was unexpected.

One participant reflected…

“Despite it being a safe place to talk about your feelings, I still have hesitation to share. There's always the lingering feeling of being judged for a ridiculous thought. I realize this is a problem with me. ‘There are no ridiculous thoughts’ should be my rule of thumb and yet, there have been so many experiences of embarrassing ideas with friends or even with school, it's hard to escape from the feeling when you want to go public with your ideas. From my seat, I could see so many bright, intelligent thinkers. I was in awe of some of the comments, like from the one participant who was able to see the poem as a view on a group of people rather than just one person. His one comment opened the poem up again for a whole new perspective, because then I was replacing Jorge with "They." The poem then seemed even more sad. I love this part about collaboration and sharing, this ability to have a few words change everything into something different. Not, completely different, but a new light, a new perspective.”

What did I learn?

I learned to trust the process…again! Even though I have taught many design thinking challenges to many groups of people, during the planning process I always have a tinge of discomfort knowing that the outcome of the challenge is unknown. The process, just by its very nature, places the primary responsibility for learning on the students, which is a major shift from more traditional styles of teaching, and this means that the role of teacher needs to be redefined. Instead of being the “giver” of information, the teacher becomes more of a facilitator, or guide, and although this role is magical and desired, it is always a bit scary.

In the face of ambiguity, the design thinking process represents a constant and somehow the learning the comes from a design challenge always exceeds my expectations…always. Design challenges around texts usually result in passionate discourse, internal disequilibrium of some kind, grappling about the meaning of specific words or phrases, strong agreement and disagreement of ideas, radical connections, storytelling and often tears. And this challenge was no different.

At the end of every design challenge, I learn to trust the process just a bit more. Such was the case here.

What do you think?

What do you think about using design challenges as a framework for planning in K12 education? What is scary and uncomfortable for you? What exceeds your expectations?


Newsletter 1/30/10

hi friends,
a few news and notes for this week's newsletter:

1) i spent last week at the Henry Ford Academy Alameda School for Art and Design in San Antonio. The entire freshman class and teachers were in the middle of a design challenge around creating a new meal to appear regularly in their cafeteria. It was fantastic to see teachers collaborating with each other (and the students too) and the students interviewing their peers and adults around needs and constraints. Students and teachers dedicated about 2.5 hours a day to this challenge - fantastic! i left before the challenge was over, so i'm not sure the result, but it will be on the wiki as soon as we know which menu item won and how food testing went. i posted lots of details on what happened on the wiki here (and i'll include a more detailed paragraph below as well). I'm quite excited for next quarter's design challenge - reducing crime in San Antonio.

2) i then went down to LA to do a talk/workshop for teachers who are fellows of the program Centered For Talented Youth (out of Johns Hopkins) on Saturday. These teachers are nominated by their students to be there, and it was fantastic to get a chance to hear some of their stories. Milton Chen from the George Lucas Foundation also gave a talk on Saturday, and gave everyone a copy of the latest Edutopia magazine, which has a two-pager on the dschool k12 lab. Check it out here.

3) If you're a teacher who is hoping to do a design challenge with your students in the next few months please let us know - we'd love to talk to you about how we can best support you. we're also planning a saturday design challenge event to introduce people to design thinking or give a refresher to those who need it. Stay tuned for more details.

4) I'm a fan of what Emily Pilloton has created with Project H (focusing on humanity, habits, health and happiness). They have done a number of cool projects in the k-12 space. One of there general efforts is to launch a Design Revolution Roadshow this week. The roadshow features 40 world-changing products (things like the jaipur foot,adaptive eyewear glasses, portable solar chargers, etc) For those of you who are local, the airstream trailer that houses the exhibit is coming to Stanford on Tuesday - it will be in the Design Loft courtyard from 2-5pm. More details below. the trailer will be in other SF locations throughout the week so check their website if you're interested.

5) I was speaking to someone earlier this week who was emphasizing the importance of having students learn how to identify the proper problem rather than simply being problem solvers. i see Embrace as an example of refraining the problem. Embrace is company that was born out of the extreme affordability class. they were tasked with coming up with a new incubator solution for babies in Nepal, but refrained that to "how do we keep babies warm?" Their solution looks like a baby sleeping bag, and costs $25 (opposed to the $20K of most incubators). Embrace CEO Jane Chen's TED talk was posted online this week - you can check it out here. I thought you'd enjoy this and the video might serve as an inspiration point for those of you with students...

Thanks for reading. As always- we love to hear the stories of what you're doing to apply/teach design thinking... keep them coming!

best wishes,

embedded links:

More details are below as promised!

More details on my HFA:ASAD trip:
More than 70 ninth graders in San Antonio are working on a design challenge that’s near and dear to them: designing nutritious, cost-effective and tasty menus for the school cafeteria.
Leading up to the challenge, students at the Henry Ford Academy Alameda School of Art and Design did their homework: They practiced interviewing in their English Language Arts class, gained an understanding of calories and food science in science class, and learned how to do proportional calculations in math class.
Last week—with the help of the’s K-12 lab director Rich Crandall—teachers and students spent two and a half hours using the design thinking process to work on the challenge. They conducted peer interviews to get a better sense of what fellow students need in a lunch meal. They also conducted "expert" interviews with representatives from Selrico Services (the company that provides their meals), a nurse (on health considerations), and their principal (on school constraints). It was a new experience for students: "I'm not used to talking to adults about this kind of stuff,” one ninth grader said.
Students then worked in groups of three to create composite characters based on their peer interviews, and brainstormed meal solutions for their character. They made sure their meal adhered to regulation by doing calorie and cost calculations and checking to see that all the food groups were included. Students were able to see all of the groups' work, and voted for their favorite meal. This week the cafeteria served two of the winning entrees as a test. Depending on the student feedback, one of the meals will be integrated into the cafeteria menu going forward.
Congrats to all at HFA:ASAD for the great work - it was fantastic to see all of the teacher collaboration and student energy on this challenge! Up next: the students will work on the design challenge, "How might we reduce crime in San Antonio?" Stay tuned to hear what happens!

more details about Roadshow:
The Design Revolution Road Show is coming to Stanford next Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010 from 2-5 p.m. in the Building 610/Design Loft Courtyard.

The Design Revolution Road Show is a traveling exhibition and lecture series bringing “product design that empowers” to 25 high schools and university design programs across the nation in the Spring of 2010. A Project H Design initiative, the road show will feature an Airstream trailerexhibition of 40 humanitarian design solutions that have been showcased in the book Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People.

The programming will bring the evidence of and tools for design for social impact to the doorsteps of students, with the ultimate goal of enabling and empowering the next generation of creative problem-solvers to apply their skills to the world’s most pressing problems and improve life on a global scale.

Please see visit the links below for additional information.



Newsletter 01/08/10

Design Thinkers,

Welcome to a new decade (though since there was no year 0, the next decade doesn't officially start until 2011). We resolve to have many exciting events this year and continue helping students and teachers improve their creative confidence.

The first project we launched of the new year at the k12 lab consists of Stanford graduate students designing the Tech Challenge for the San Jose Tech Museum. This continues the work we did with them last year to create the current Tech Challenge. Check out the website to learn how your students may get involved.

Before we look too far into the future, lets reflect on a story from the end of last year: k12 lab members Adam Royalty and Jim Ratcliffe's work in India.

December's two main objectives were to learn from an international collection of education researchers and practitioners at the annual EduRetreat conference in Ahmedabad and continuing the work on the nationwide Design for Giving Contest orchestrated by The Riverside School.

EduRetreat was a fantastic experience, headlined by a video keynote by Harvard Professor Howard Gardner. During the talk, Gardner spoke about his theory of multiple intelligences and its application around the world, including fielding audience questions about its impact on the Indian education system. From there the conversation turned to the study of GoodWork, that is, work that excels in quality, social responsibility, and personal meaning.

As engaging as the keynote was, perhaps the most energizing session was a presentation making a somewhat "tongue-in-cheek" argument that all school teaches children completely the wrong way. The subsequent discussion was quite heated. Fortunately the conference concluded with a quite profound 2 hour meditation session.

After the conference The Riverside School played host for the work on continuing the Design for Giving challenge. Amongst its serene forest setting the and Riverside planned a publication that would share the amazing stories of change children across India created, plus give other children the tools to enact change to problems they face.

Now that the k12 lab has shared our most recent work, we are looking forward to hearing what the new year has in store from all of you. Let us know if you have any questions, lessons, or just thoughts regarding design thinking.

Thank you.

Adam Royalty






New Riverside-Nueva partnership

The Nueva School has some exciting news to report. After the six of us (Rebecca, Megan, Keely, Kim, Anna, and I) from Nueva met Deepa and Veena from Riverside School in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India, at the bootcamp this summer, we develop a partnership between our two schools. We invited Deepa and Veena to tour Nueva before they left. They got to meet some students, parents, and administrators, and tour the campus. When we planned our partnership, we intended to Skype, but with the time difference it isn’t possible. So Nueva’s tech teacher, Devin, set up a wiki. Nueva celebrated Diwali for the first time, so the first things we posted on the wiki were some photos of our celebration and a video of 3rd and 4th graders dancing an Indian dance at our Diwali assembly. Deepa and Veena wanted to begin the partnership with 2nd and 3rd grades, and wanted to learn about Halloween. Our teachers created videos of three classes of kids, all of whom introduced themselves in creative ways, including some kids in Halloween costumes, and we posted those on the wiki, along with a comment space. Riverside School just sent us their first 3rd grade video, with more to come. This week we are gathering to show all five videos to our 2nd & 3rd graders. Since Megan and Rebecca, our 1st grade teachers, both participated in the bootcamp and know Deepa and Veena, they want to build the next connection. Kim Saxe, the director of Nueva’s I-Lab, or innovation lab for design thinking, also wants to become involved. Deepa, Veena, and I have discussed the possibility of doing some type of design project, but we haven’t yet determined what form it will take. So far, we are all delighted that our partnership has begun!

-Wendy Feltham, Head of Lower School, The Nueva School, Hillsborough, California

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newsletter 10/30/09

Happy Halloween design thinkers!

Read this cursed update of our ghastly weekly proceedings if you dare...

(This Week)

On Tuesday the k12 lab brainstormed and prototyped some activities for a design challenge created by Lara Burenin, a 3/4 science teacher at East Palo Alto Academy Elementary School, to teach students about Ecosystems and Biomes.

Creativity, Cognition, and Carnage:
K12 lab researcher Maureen Carroll presented a poster documenting how design thinking works in classrooms at the annual Creativity & Cognition conference in Berkeley on Wednesday. This conference attracted researchers and practitioners from around the world, and was a fantastic forum for sharing the work you do.


(Next Few Weeks)

Another reminder to check out GIT, Global Innovation Tournament, starting next Wednesday. The organizers are interested in getting more children involved this year and have been very receptive to our suggestions. Check out their website here.

You're invited to hang out with the community at our fist ever Tailgate. It will happen Saturday November 7, 11 am on Maloney Field near the corner of El Camino Real and Sam MacDonald Road. Head off to the game [12:30 pm start] or stay with us into the afternoon. This party should be big, so don't miss it. RSVP to

On December 5 the k12 lab will run a workshop on design thinking for students, parents, and other members of the Palo Alto community as part of a speaker series conducted by the Palo Alto PTA entitled ArtSpeak. To view the entire lineup for this year click here.

Have a Frightful Friday, a Scary Saturday, and Wicked Week,

Adam "Rotten" Royalty


newsletter 10/23/09

Greetings d.thinkers!

For those who couldn't make it to our teacher celebration event, read all about it here (by master d.blogger Adam Royalty). For those who were present, thanks again for coming! We had a blast!

Yes! AND...

Check out the design thinking video created by the students of Menlo School's Moviemaking class, which we had the pleasure to watch on Tuesday (kudos to Tripp Robbins and his students!)

Yes! AND...

Huge thanks to the Stanford Improvisors for being the catalysts of an inspiring and energizing evening! Check out some of the Simps' performances (never-been-seen-before and, if it wasn't for video, never-to-be-seen-again!).

Yes! AND...

We've posted on our wiki an article on improv and design, written by former d.schooler Liz Gerber (currently Associate Professor at Northwestern Segal Design Institute). Enjoy!

Yes! AND...

If you implement in your classroom some of the fun improv activities the Simps shared with us, we'd love to hear about it.

Yes! AND...

To help you with that, we've also posted on the wiki the results of the final crowdsourcing exercise ("35") for inspiration. Wasn't that fun?

Yes! AND...

If you are looking for an excuse to put your (and your students') design thinking to work, check out the Global Innovation Challenge, which kicks off on Wednesday November 4th, as part of Stanford's Entrepreneurship Week! In past years the challenge has been to create value out of everyday objects (some of the winner entries here). This year it will be a global problem. Are you up for it?

Yes, Let's!

Thanks for reading and have a great weekend!


This newsletter can be found also here on the wiki.

List of links embedded in the newsletter:


newsletter 10/16/09

Hi k12 design thinkers!
A few things to update you on this week:
1) Blogs - we've setup blog spaces for a few school sites. We also have a 'dschool extended family' blog. Let Adam ( know if you'd like to be involved in some blogging and didn't receive an email about it. We're hoping that the blogs will be a great opportunity for you to share in your own words what is happening at all of your schools. Can't wait to have great discussions and share stories and insights!

2) Visitors - We had 8 visitors from Southern Illinois University in town earlier this week. Thank you to all who helped with that visit - they had a great time visiting Nueva, EPA schools, and talking about school change with Bayside. Thank you for making the time during this crazy time of year!

3) Congrats to I-Lab Director Kim Saxe and founder David Kelley on fantastic sessions on design thinking and schools during the Gifted Learners Conference at Nueva this week. I've attached two photos from one of the sessions.

4) Call for Stories. We LOVE hearing how things are going in your classrooms. Please keep those stories coming!

5) Excited for the Teacher Celebration Event THIS Tuesday at the! It's going to be from 5pm - 7pm. We'll show a video on design thinking created by local students, and learn/do some improv with The SImps (stanford improvisers). And there will be great food and drink! Please RSVP to me if you're planning on coming so I know we have enough food. I've attached a flyer about the event.

Enjoy the weekend!
Best wishes,


newsletter 10/07/09

Hi- Hope everyone is enjoying the gorgeous fall!

There are lots of exciting projects going on in K-12 schools. We have been hosting professional development workshops, coaching, writing, and researching. Our focus is to focus on how people learn design thinking.

Here’s some updates.....

  1. ASPIRE SCHOOLS TEACHER TRAINING WORKSHOP: After hosting a high-energy workshop for teachers at East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy and the East Palo Alto Charter School we were inspired by the way they dove in and begun trying design challenges the week after the workshop. We visited both schools and had the opportunity to see their wonderful work in action. Art and special education teachers Nico Valdes and Griffith Montgomery had their students designing cereal boxes and building empathy with characters. Coach Marie White and 8th grade Language Arts teacher, Jessica Chacon had their students develop character maps which they used to design gifts for the characters in "The House on Mango Street. HIgh school social studies teacher Matt Brownstein is planning a design challenge around food and the writings of Michael Pollan.


A key focus of our work at Bayside is supporting teachers as they integrate

design thinking and content learning. The Oct 4th session focused on empathy

skills. Teachers went out to the field- coffee shops, stores, etc., and conducted

observations and interviews. They also wrote insightful and creative stories

using their Empathy Box collections.


We are coaching teachers on developing design challenges. Molly Bullock, a

7/8 science and math teacher is working on an amazing challenge involving

refugees and density. Stay posted!

  1. We are hosting visitors from Southern Illinois University’s Collaboratory next week. If you are near campus feel free to join us at 11:30 for a lunch meeting. We also had a wonderful experience with our first remote office hour Skype chat where we discussed plans for a summer design camp with Inventors Without Borders. Come visit or chat remotely- bring your questions, projects and enthusiasm. We are excited to learn from you and with you...

  1. Teacher Event on the evening of Tuesday October 20th: 5pm - 7pm. Mark your calendars! The POV of the evening is to honor the work that you are doing, have some fun, drinks, and come together as a community around this work. Can't wait to see you then!


newsletter 10/02/09

Happy Friday fellow design thinkers!

Here is the week in review:

On Tuesday the Lab held the second Open Studio of the year. We had a number of Stanford students brainstorming different ways to teach parts of the design thinking process. Of the myriad ideas generated, quite a few will be built out into prototypes and tested. Additionally, members of the Lab collected physical and digital assets into what will soon be a design thinking toolbox which will be distributed to Girl Scout troops through our mutual partner Techbridge.

Earlier today we held a training session at Bayside Middle School. The focus of the day was on Empathy. We gave 3 examples of Empathy activities, and in true design thinking fashion, we did not just talk about the subject, we experienced it. First we deciphered the essence of a person by watch a video about his commute. Next the teachers went out into the community and engaged with people in order to learn more about their morning routines. Finally we broke into small groups and constructed stories about unknown people using only artifacts from their lives contained in an "Empathy Box."

The teachers were once again fantastic students as they pulled out deep needs from perfect strangers. This included understanding the ins, and especially, the OUTS of a local Target. Congratulation to all!

On the horizon:

We will have a special teacher gathering from 5-7pm on Tuesday, October 20th at the Scheduled events:
  • Entertainment by the Simps (Stanford Improvisors)
  • A student-produced video on design thinking from the Menlo School
  • The general fun of meeting like-minded teachers

We are working with Riverside, our partner school in India, to finalize the review panel for the Design For Giving Contest that encourages children across India to create novel and impactful ways to give. So far there are over 1,000 entries, and there are still three weeks before the deadline!

Don't forget:

If you have questions or requests that you want a team of highly motivated Stanford graduate students to work on, email Rich Crandall,, so that he can put those asks on our Work Wall.

We will continue to have remote 'office hours' for those questions you want an instant response to. They are scheduled for Tuesdays from 9-12 noon. Please email Adam Royalty,, if you would like to make an appointment. If that time does not work for you, let us know what does and we will see if we can accommodate you.

Thanks for reading.


p.s. Try to prototype at least one solution to a problem you encounter in your kitchen this week.


newsletter 9/25/09

Hi Design Thinking enthusiasts!

Here are a few highlights from our latest teacher training efforts:

How might we teach design thinking effectively?

Over the past year, the k12 lab has had the pleasure to work with many many teachers from local schools, such as East Palo Alto Academy, Bayside STEM Academy in San Mateo, Menlo School in Atherton, Nueva School in Hillsborough, Urban School in San Francisco, East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy (EPAPA) and East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS).

With several workshops held both at the schools and at the, we strive to do a better job each time and keep learning what strategies and activities are most effective when introducing teachers and kids to design thinking. It's our goal to find sustainable mechanisms to support all of you in incorporating design thinking into your classroom and school-wide activities, find connections with different subject matters, and build a community that generates and shares resources. We appreciate the feedback that you've given us so far. Please continue to do so.

Last week we hosted the wonderful teaching teams from East Palo Alto Phoenix Academy and East Palo Alto Charter School. The workshop introduced the teachers to the design thinking process and explored the prototyping stage in more depth. Check out some of the take-aways on this blog post and access the agenda and resources we used here.

Following up on the workshop, members of the research team visited EPAPA and EPACS yesterday. Get a glimpse of what these amazing schools are about through this visual account of our visit. We learned that, only days after the workshop, some teachers have already engaged their students in design activities. Stay tuned for those stories.

How might Stanford students, k12 lab members and researchers interact with the design thinking teaching and learning community?

The school year has kicked off in high gear at the k12 lab. More than 20 graduate students from different disciplines came this past Tuesday to the Open Studio session. As Rich mentioned in the previous newsletter, you can connect with this group of students through the 'work wall'. Feel free to e-mail Rich your questions & requests to be posted on the wall (the wall and the medium to connect with it might morph in the future as we prototype how this works. Feel free to send us your feedback).

To this, we will be adding -starting next week- remote 'office hours' (via skype), where you can chat with members of the research team. Adam, Maureen, Leticia and Jaime will be available on Tuesdays 9-12 noon. Please e-mail us in advance (use the e-mail links above) to schedule a call during that time. We'd be happy to help you develop a design thinking skill building activity, explore together how to use design thinking to teach a specific subject, point you to relevant resources and give you feedback. Since this overlaps with Open Studio time, we might be able to get our amazing students involved as well and, before you know it, you are in the middle of a fun group brainstorming session! (OK, you are on the other side of the screen, but you are welcome to come visit in person too :)

Hope you have a great weekend!

Best regards,

ps. don't forget to mark on you calendars the Oct. 20th teacher gathering (5-7pm). We'll tell you more about it in upcoming newsletters, but I can promise right now that it will be a lot of fun!


All in a day's work with the research team

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newsletter 9/18/9

I hope the start of the school year feels exciting. The Stanford quarter starts on Monday and things are in a buzz around here to get ready.

Now that the school year is underway, the k12 lab is going to give this email list a weekly 'heads up' in terms of what's going on. To the chase:

1. What we've been up to this summer. A number of you on this list were at our Teacher workshop in July. We've posted the materials, etc for those of you who weren't there on the wiki. Some teachers from the workshop have been doing design thinking in their classrooms relentless and have tied it to areas we haven't seen yet. We've gotten word from a parent of a teacher from the workshop who is completely thrilled and excited about some of the design thinking aspects that have taken place (change of space, curriculum, etc). Another classroom has students using the desktops and windows as whiteboard surfaces (it's quite thrilling - try it). Projects launched include: designing a shoe for someone else, finding a perfect college for a partner, and 'how might we continue to support to our students after graduation?' (by a school faculty). Thanks to those who have posted to the wiki and please keep doing so!

We've also done a few workshop sessions for other groups - including RAFT and Microsoft. Materials from those sessions are on the wiki.

2. Call for stories. I mentioned a few headlines of things that we know are going on so far this school year. Please keep in touch in terms of how things are going. We'd love to hear every level of detail - if it's simply a quote, a lesson learned, or greater scope of what you're up to - please drop us an email! Or better yet, document with photos or video.

3. Work Wall Prototype. Tuesday will be our first session with graduate students. We're going to try a prototype with how we engage graduate students this fall. Think of it as a 'work wall' that folks in the k12 lab community can post to with questions & requests and our graduate students taking on the things on that wall. Questions and requests might look like: 'help me think about assessment' or 'i need a great example video of interviewing' or i would love someone to come observe/help in my classroom on Oct 15th...'. We're exploring how this 'wall' might work, but for now, if you have anything you would post on the wall, please email it to me.

4. Teacher Event on the evening of Tuesday October 20th: 5pm - 7pm. Mark your calendars! The POV of the evening is to honor the work that you are doing, have some fun, drinks, and come together as a community around this work. Can't wait to see you then!

5. Sad news from Bayside Middle School. Bayside Middle School science teacher John Edward McGuinness was killed in a motorcycle accident on the morning of September 11th. We are saddened about losing a member of the k12 lab community, and our thoughts are with his family and students.

That's all for this week. Keep up on the latest news at

Happy weekend,