design thinking

Integrative Thinking for Educators Workshop

On February 15th I attended “Integrative Thinking Essentials for Educators Workshop” held at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. The day was a great mix of a keynote, workshops, and panel discussion around the theory of integrative thinking, application in the classroom, and general themes and challenges on the horizon for the education industry.

The theory of integrative thinking was developed by Roger Martin, who is the dean of the Rotman School. I had read portions of his book, The Opposable Mind: How Successful Leaders Win Through Integrative Thinking, prior to attending the workshop and it describes the theory in detail and how it was developed. Integrative thinking is one method of explaining how innovators develop their ideas, through carefully examining solutions that seem to be either vs. or scenarios,  but yet are able to take benefits of each scenario and creatively construct another scenario that is better than the original cases.

If you are interested in a quick overview on the topic, Becoming an Integrative Thinker: The Keys to Success is a great article to start with.

One of the meaningful quotes from the book and the day that stuck with me is the following quote:

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless, yet be determined to make them otherwise.” ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald. 
As a IB PYP teacher, I was immediately struck by the similarity between integrative thinking and the Transdisciplinary Thinking Skills – Dialectical Thought. In Making the PYP Happen, Dialectical Thought is defined as 
Another concept that really stuck with me from the keynote presentation was the link to how our brains see and perceive things differently. Our brains are amazing tools, but they have evolved to only take in the amount of sensory information that we need to function, as a result many of the models that we construct are over simplified. The example that was used in the workshop was how when we see a globe it is a complex image, with varying colours and layers, but our mental image is often simplified to be green land and blue water. 
As I base my teaching on developing conceptual understanding and linking it to big ideas or enduring understandings, I think that this is an important idea to remember. 
The first workshop that I attended we were able to experience the process of approaching a problem based on an integrative thinking model. As it was a room full of educators we examined traditional schools vs. online schools. We developed the criteria for each scenario, while trying to avoid doing pros/cons. Then we identified the benefits for each of the models, and tried to identify which benefits from each model were most important. My particular group identified that we thought the physical/social interactions that build community associated with a physical school building was an important benefit, but the flexibility that was associated with online learning environments. Due to time constraints we did not have time to discuss how we could structure this type of learning environment, but it was an interesting experience none the less. One of the interesting comments that came out of the experience was that the process was slightly chaotic, but when we were able to push through our crowded brains to develop a creative lens to see the different scenarios in terms of their benefits, we were able to approach the problem differently.
The second workshop that I attended examined two different tools to support integrative thinking in the classroom. The first tool was the ladder of inference. This is a great tool to help understand our thinking process and how we make decisions based on a limited set of data. Through examining the steps n the ladder we can consider how we have come to our decisions and better understand the assumptions and beliefs they are based on. The second tool that we examined was causal modelling – think of massive mind maps with linked ideas. Through building visible models we have time to consider the interactions and let the ideas simmer to digest the problem at a deeper level. 
At the end of the day, the panel discussion was interesting to hear where educational leaders see as big themes and challenges that will face the educational industry. Certainly, curriculum design and how we shape students experiences in education is a theme and a challenge that will be addressed as we move forward. Another concept that struck me was the need to be intentional not reactive in terms of how we are moving education forward. 
If you have the opportunity to attend one of these workshops I highly recommend it. 

Design Thinking

*This is a cross post with my blog at Cohort21 (
Tonight I came across an article on Design Thinking, specifically for educators.  This summer while I was at the Klingenstein Summmer Institute for Early Career Teachers I was exposed to ‘Design Thinking’ for the first time. If you have not heard about design thinking before you can check out the d.School: Institute of Design at Stanford University as a starting point. Design thinking is a different way of approaching problem solving and is focused around the idea of empathy and creativity.  The image below helps to explain the Design Thinking process visually. The first step is to empathize with the problem, the define the problem, ideate solutions to the problem, and then prototype a solution and test it. 
As part of my elementary cohort at the Summer Institute, we spend a day focused on design thinking and how we could incorporate it into our classrooms. Just like any new tool or teaching technique, the first thing that we did was experience what it was like to go through the design thinking process. We did the 90-minute Virtual Crash Course which is focused on the gift-giving experience. This is a great tool both to experience what the process is like as a learner, and if you are looking to explain it to your staff!
After we went through the crash course, we then went through a design thinking based activity centered around examining a student in our class that was challenging and how we could adjust the learning environment to better meet their needs. I found this process to be very enlightening and I was surprised at the solutions my partner and I were able to develop through this method of thinking. It was surprising how the structured process of design thinking allows you to be more creative, innovative, and stretch your thinking when you are provided with the proper framework.
The facilitator was discussing ways that she had incorporated design thinking into her classroom. One specific example was related to her unit about the 100-mile diet/local farming.  Her students went to a  local market and interviewed local farmers to find out what problems they were facing, then the define the problems and created solutions to assist the farmers. I wish I could find the website to show you! It was such a great way to have the kids using their higher order thinking skills and stretching the traditional classroom to incorporate the community and action.
I would love to incorporate more design thinking into my classroom. Presently, I have utilized this framework with my FIRST Lego League team to help them approach the challenge for this year ‘Senior Solutions’.
Have you tried Design Thinking in your classroom?
Would you like to try the Virtual Crash course?
Can you see this being an effective tool for incorporating higher-order skills into your classroom?
Please share your thoughts!