Stanford University's d.school comes to Stillwater

June 28, 2018
district administrators with keynote speaker George Couros

More than 120 local teachers and school leaders took to the streets of downtown Stillwater as part of a design thinking conference hosted by Stillwater Area Public Schools. The deep dive was part of the first-ever partnership between a midwestern school district and Stanford University’s d.school. On June 20 and 21, educators from 13 school districts from across the state, gathered at the Loft in downtown Stillwater to work with d.school staff on design thinking. The human-centered approach involves using empathy to challenge assumptions and redefine problems to try to come up with alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent.

In order to practice design thinking, participants were challenged to tackle a real world problem and redesign a new city experience for Stillwater. The conference goers hit the streets of downtown to interview passersby to get a better understanding of their perspectives in order to come up with solutions. Participants enjoyed the activity, saying they appreciated the opportunity to think and imagine without hesitation.

“The authentic challenge was incredibly interactive,” said one participant. ”I walked away with 20 ideas about how to use the learning back in my district.”

Stillwater staff has been trained in design thinking and were able to use it as part of a Shadow a Student Challenge in April. A number of district staff each followed a student for an entire school day. They selected students from all grade levels, preschool through high school. Leaders had the opportunity to see school through the eyes of Special Education students, those in the academic middle as well as some high-flyers, English language learners, and even a homeschool student who takes classes at the high school. The goal was to help administrators see school through the eyes of students in order to identify meaningful opportunities to improve the school experience and create positive change.

“We spend our time as administrators making decisions every day that impact our students,” said Bob McDowell, Stillwater’s executive director of learning and innovation, who shadowed a high school junior. “Shadowing provided us with an opportunity to understand first-hand what our students are experiencing - what’s working and what isn’t. It changes the way we think and plan by making us more empathetic to the student experience.” 

Preceding the d.school, Stillwater hosted the Ignite and Inspire Innovation Conference focusing on innovation and best practices in education. About 250 local educators attended the conference on June 18 and 19 where they also worked around the Four C's (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity), Portrait/Profile of a Graduate, and Project-Based Learning (PBL). Innovation education leader George Couros served as the keynote speaker and the Brave New Workshop provided an interactive improv session that taught participants about accepting ideas (“yes, and”), listening, strengthening communication, building self-confidence, leadership, and reconnecting with playfulness and creativity. Educators from across the midwest, including several Stillwater staff, conducted breakout session on classroom innovation, leadership, and technology. Stillwater Middle School students from the Design and Make class participated by laser cutting wooden name tags for both events.

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