Monday, January 30, 2017

The darnedest things

Weird & Wacky Inventions by Jim Murphy is a gem.

I’m wrapping up January’s design thinking blitz with a focus on the fourth phase – prototyping.

 (If you’re just joining us and wondering what design thinking is please visit the blog DoucetteEd Tech and read the last couple of weeks blogs to learn more. Here's the link to Paula's blog where she's review some resources that fit with the prototyping phase.)

Prototyping is about producing a product that can be tested in the real world to see if it fits with the need that was initially deemed worthy of investigation in the first place with an eye to improving the situation.

 So back to Jim Murphy’s Weird & Wacky Inventions.

One of the things that make us human is the ability to solve problems and in this book, the reader is introduced to a myriad of inventions and the associated problems. These devices were all patented in the United States going all the way back to the early 1800s.
The information is presented as a quiz; there is an illustration of the invention with a wee bit of description about what the device might do or the problem it might solve. After you make a guess you turn the page and learn what is really was for.

For example, here’s one that cracked me up:

The answer is # 2(of course), a sunbather’s toe-ring. This was designed to in 1973 by Russell Greathouse to help with the problem of uneven tanning. His toe-rings looped around the big toes and prevented the legs from splaying outwards thus resulting in the unsightly appearance of uneven tan lines. The flower was purely for aesthetics.  He’d thought of everything.

There are so many more inventions highlighted in the book that are ingenious, ridiculous, and amazing in their own ways.  Having students browse through this will certainly give them a very good sense about idea generation and that in the prototyping phase of design thinking everything is on the table for consideration. Nothing is too crazy. You never know when a bit of one idea meshed with something else will give you an outcome you wouldn’t have come up with in any other way.

The format is very approachable and easily read, great for dipping into and browsing. The illustrations have an old-fashion quality to them which I liked but may not appeal to students. Nevertheless, I’m recommending this for upper elementary, middle grades and struggling readers in high school.

Any guesses?

(Tell me what kid wouldn't be thrilled with a pair of jumping shoes with strong springy steel legs that would allow kids to jump farther? My track and field days would have been soooo different if I'd had these. Designed in 1922 by May and George Southgate.)

Monday, January 23, 2017


Definition from Merriam-Webster's online dictionary: 


1     : the imaginative projection of a subjective state into an object so that the object appears to be infused with it
2     : the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thought, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner, also : the capacity for this

You could make a strong case that one of the main reasons people read literature is to learn about other people.  It might be on a totally superficial level like learning what it's like to live in another country or what activities make up a person's day. But the stories that go beyond the surface and take us into the mind of another person, get us to feel what that person is feeling, is where the power of literature really lies.  The stories that stick with me are the ones where I connected emotionally with the characters.

I'm focusing on empathy today as a wrap up to the instruction I've been doing the last couple of weeks about design thinking. (See last week's blog for more about this.)

Empathy is the first component in the design thinking process and is used in a way to generate a better understanding of a problem from the perspective of someone who is closely associated with that problem. One of the scenarios we used in the workshops was based around the picture book, Home and Away by John Marsden and Matt Ottley. We wanted to have students get into the mindset of a refugee family who had lived through a horrific war and wanted to escape to another country, hoping for a better life but lose a great deal in trying to survive.

In one of the last sessions (Paula and I co-taught 15 sessions) a student directed us to the following YouTube video about the difference between empathy and sympathy which I really liked.

Take a look: 

It really is about connecting to someone else on an deeper level. 

I wanted to recommend some books that perhaps could be used to promote empathy in a classroom. But "Holy-Tons-of-Books, Batman!" almost any book could fall into this category. So this becomes super easy or incredibly difficult depending on how you look at it.

The following is a list of 10 titles that represent a range of stories that could be used in many different ways:

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee : novel for secondary level

2. Charlotte's Web by E.B. White : novel for middle grades

3. Moo by Sharon Creech : novel for elementary grades

4. Wonder by R.J. Palacio : novel for middle grades

5. Enemy Pie by Derek Munson : picture book

6. The Invisible Boy by Trudy Ludwig : picture book

7. Camel in the Sun by Griffin Ondaajte : picture book

8. Red: a Crayon's Story by Michael Hall : picture book

9. Crazy Hair Day by Barney Saltzberg : picture book

10. Ivan: the Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla by Katherine Applegate : picture book

Monday, January 16, 2017

Designing Workshops Using Design Thinking

This past week has been incredibly busy in the Doucette Library with loads of teaching.

The workshop in high demand is Introduction to Design Thinking.

The workshop, as the title suggests, is an introduction for undergraduate students, giving them the  opportunity to learn the process and vocabulary associated with design thinking by working through two examples. One example we show is the IDEO group designing a new shopping cart (click here to see the video we’re using)  and the other is the work that my colleague, Paula and I did to construct this very workshop using the design thinking process.

It’s very interesting to see what the uptake is with students and the differences between those students looking to become elementary school teachers and those headed towards junior high and senior high schools.

If you’re keen to learn more about what’s happening in these workshop then you MUST go to Paula’s blog, Doucette Ed Tech where we are documenting our work on a daily basis.  Because one of the premises of the workshop is using it as a PROTOTYPE and having students go through the last step of this process – TESTING and FEEDBACK – giving us feedback about the workshop, we often make modifications as we go along. So, if the students seem to consistently struggle with one of the activities, we try to improve our instructions or tinker with the format. Time has been a big issue for us since the earliest stages of planning as 80 minutes isn’t really enough time to have students work through all five steps:


in a meaningful way while they’re still coming to understand the very basics of the process. This means we’re very conscious about the length of each section and activity and have moved away from barking out how long they have to do something to let the activities unfold and deciding as we go how long something should be. We do have to keep an eye on the clock but this is working for us much better.

If you’re looking for a great introductory resource for yourself or to use with kids, I strongly recommend Design Thinking by Kiristin Frontichiaro. This very short book walks you through the steps using a scenario of helping a girl confined to a wheelchair use her school elevator more easily. She has difficulties reaching the buttons. This book is easily accessible and the concrete example works well.

Remember to stop by Paula’s blog, Doucette Ed Tech to follow along with us.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Let it snow. Let it snow. Let it snow.

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Calgary is ‘enjoying’ a winter-wonder-land at the moment; seemingly, arriving within a couple of days over the holiday break.

Lots and lots and lots of fluffy snow, everywhere.

This is the perfect time to bring out the picture books that are about snow.
April Pulley Sayre’s latest offering, Best in Snow would be one such book. 

I do love her books.

This one also includes stunning photographs which draws the reader into a simple poem that incorporates the beauty of winter while giving us tantalizing bits of information about snow.

First, the photos: really gorgeous. Her images capture the jagged edge beauty of frost and ice crystals perfectly; the soft, lightness of the snow itself as it gently but irrefutably accumulates or the way wind and light can make the air bright and sparkly as if filled with polished gems.

Secondly, the poem: With so few words, the author is able to create a landscape that becomes redefined by the snow. Woodland birds and animals are shown within this landscape, adding depth to her words as the reader sees how life goes on. Nothing is static. Warming temperatures change the qualities of the snow and shows that within the bigger seasonal cycles there are lots of mini-cycles, too.

And last, are the information pages at the back of the book that make this a terrific book for connecting science and poetry. Each line is given some explanation and shows us how important snow is and where it fits into the hydrologic cycle.

I highly recommend this for elementary grades.

Other snow books that I love and worth checking out, include:

Blizzard by John Rocco 
Red sled by Lita Judge

Snow sounds by David Johnson

Stay warm.

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