Teaching IS Design Thinking

Teaching — of every kind — is all about design thinking. Teaching remotely while your Kindergarten students are in school? That’s a whole other level of design thinking!

Much like when I teach in person, I’m currently doing whole class, half class, and small group teaching. I’ve been teaching number sense lessons during math in small groups. Depending on how you look at it, it’s been:
a lesson in patience
… an example of how remarkable these Kindergartners are

the perfect illustration that design thinking is an essential element of teaching.

Take this week as an example. I wanted the mathematicians to join me in some math talks. They love to notice and share. So, it seemed like a great idea.

I populated a slide deck with some photos that allowed for all sorts of noticing. There’s tons of great photos online – just search for images for math talks. Or, make your own. You can group the items to encourage seeing in certain ways, or leave it completely free and see what they notice on their own.

I spent some time reflecting on the photos myself so I’d be prepared to join the conversation. My plan was to leave things very open. I hoped for something like this.
… “I see shells and stones.”
… “I see 4 small shells and 4 bigger shells.”
… “Hey that’s 8 shells all together.” 
… “I see a cup with a tea bag in it.”
… “I see a circle on the top of the mug and one on top of the glass. That’s 2 circles all together”

We noticed things. We did math. But, phew, it didn’t go as I hoped.

Other than math, here’s what happened.
… My Kindergarten mathematicians were all over the place. (Note to self: it’s the last full week of school and their energy and excitement is, understandably, remarkably high.)
… The technology didn’t work so well. Mathematicians were getting kicked off zoom. They couldn’t hear me, or I couldn’t hear them.
… The other mathematicians and teachers in the room seemed quite loud to us on Zoom.
… My patience, self awareness, and self regulation was quite low.
… And, my quest for open ended discussion turned out to be a little too open ended.

So, I gathered my observations, thought about what my mathematicians and I, needed, re-considered the task and goals, and designed June Kindergarten Math Talk Iteration #2.

Day 2, iteration #2: Included:
…. Fingers crossed for better wifi connection.
… More patience from me.
… More self awareness and self regulation for me.
… More breathing for me and my mathematicians.
… A request to colleagues to monitor the classroom volume level.
… A new prompt – What MATH do you see?

We noticed things. We did math. And, things went a bit better.

The tech worked better. The class was quieter. I was calmer and happier — so were the Kindergarten mathematicians. But, they remained a bit distracted by the very technology that allows us to meet together. They adore writing on the screen and wanted to do it more — and it was tough to be patient and take turns. They love changing their names, and found it difficult to focus on math instead of surreptitiously changing their screen names.

Once again, I gathered my observations, reflected, pondered, and created the June Kindergarten Math Talk Iteration #3 — unless, of course, you count the many tiny changes I did on the fly. If you do, then consider this iteration #453.

Day 3, iteration #3 (#453) included:
… Mathematicians come to group with whiteboard and marker.
… I give mathematicians 2 minutes in the beginning of our session to change their names. Four of us are now Miss James!
… Same question – What math do you see?
… Mathematicians take turns choosing a photo to examine.
… Mathematician who chooses the photo, share her findings by writing on the screen.
…. I stop share so other mathematicians can share their findings on their whiteboards.
… Repeat for each mathematician.

We noticed things. We did math. We had fun. I didn’t have to do much classroom management. 

I don’t have a day 4 or 5, but my mind is already iterating. I’m taking what worked, combining it in new ways, and being inspired to make changes that allow for remediation as well as enrichment.
… Choose an image. Each mathematician finds and circles a particular quantity (2 eyes, 1 nose, … etc). We all then use our whiteboards and various strategies to determine how many we have all together. Then we share how we figured it out.
… Same as above but I get to remove a quantity., or ask what is one more or one less. My mathematicians figure out the answer and share how they figured it out.
… We choose a quantity and each mathematician shares a way they see it in the photo.
… We all use the chat feature (I disable private chat) and they each write the quantity they see into … the chat box, but we don’t share it until we count to three, or to 10 by 2s, or to 20 by 5s.

Empathize. Define the problem. Ideate. Prototype. Test. Repeat/Iterate. It’s what we do as teachers. I love the d.school design thinking bootleg deck. It keeps me thinking, and reminds me of the remarkably deep design thinking I engage in as I teach.