Curiosity Project

A living document accounting for one sabbatical exploration into the nature of curiosity.

On Design Thinking

I had a specific idea of the types of information I would glean by including design thinking in this project. I was entirely wrong about where that direction would take me, and I'm really grateful to the people I met along the way who simply said, "No, that's not what you're actually looking for."

What I was looking for turned out to be a complicated and ever-evolving set of practices and philosophies, borrowed from all parts of the visual arts traditions. Among these are studio thinking, studio habits of mind, the open studio method, and others.

Studio Methods

Studio Thinking Framework

Studio Structures
A structure to put together arts learning experiences

Demonstration Lecture
Offer "just enough" information to get students launched into making. They need to see what's being said and have ways to actively pursue their own solutions

Students at Work
Students pursue their own creations by engaging with making and doing in the informal atmosphere of the art studio. Teachers monitor their process and intervene when they need to, alert to the kind of assistance (perspective, tools, techniques) most needed by each student, and at the moments when a student really needs it.

Build in reflective, meta-cognitive conversations to complement the learning developed by making. Artists back off from their work periodically viewing the work from a distance. They show work in progress to trusted peers and mentors as they discuss frustrations, problems, successes, and possible solutions. Critiques help bring to the surface and unfold the richness, complexity, subtleties, and nuances inherent in the process of creating artworks.

This structure is used to display student work publicly and is an overarching structure into which the 3 basic structures are incorporated. creating exhibitions can develop any of the Studio Habits of Mind. During the installation the exhibition space becomes a studio workshop. Planning and creating an exhibition mirrors authentic artistic practice.

By mixing and matching the studio structures so that they privilege students at-work time, limit time in high-quality demonstration-lectures, and build in frequent, low-stakes critiques, teachers have the formats needed to help students develop rich networks of understanding within each Studio Habit and around clusters of Studio Habits that push and pull on each other in creative tensions.

Studio Habits of Mind

Design Challenges

Using the materials in the room, build a contraption that conveys a rubber ball to the ground as slowly as possible when dropped from a height of five feet.

That's it, those are the instructions in entirety. Notice how vague they are - how entirely open to interpretation. You can accomplish this with small groups in an hour or in fifteen minutes. The difference in experience will really be about how long you allow students to puzzle over things and debate within their small groups, whether or not there is time for iteration and repeat testing, and how long they have to report out.

Design challenges can work with any subject or discipline, at the intro level and the advanced level. You can even run design challenges with colleagues! Design challenges usually put the responsibility for assessment on the students, for self-reflection as well as peer assessment and observation. 

"Reinforcing concepts they’re learning in school, students develop 21st century skills of creativity, problem solving, design, collaboration, leadership, risk-taking, perseverance, and learning from failure. Through this try, fail, learn approach, students develop skills and habits of mind of Silicon Valley innovators.

Through the design process, students build broad skills useful throughout their lives, regardless of the specifics of the challenge. This open-ended approach leads to the creation of numerous designs, and students are challenged to apply their knowledge, personal experiences, passions, and talents to the process of creating an inventive, team-driven solution." (Tech Museum of Innovation)

Design challenges do not have one single correct approach, but often follow a loose outline similar to:

  1. conceptualize
    • students identify a problem, materials, and constraints (time is a big one here)
    • students brainstorm ideas and possible solutions
  2. construct and test
    • select a solution 
    • design and construct
    • prototype
    • redesign or modify
    • retest
  3. acquire knowledge
    • research
    • share solutions
    • reflect and discuss

Any of these phases can be focused on in class, while assigning the rest for ongoing group work outside of class.

Try this: Marshmallow Challenge. You'll need 45-60 minutes, full instructions and materials lists are included.

Try this: Zurb Friday 15. Let loose for 15 minutes of creativity to create a fun culture and grow relationships.

For additional design challenge inspiration, see: