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  • Writer's picturekatelyn russell

Updated: Aug 8

I won’t bore you with the backstory, but a whole lot of unrelated things pointed me in the direction of design thinking this summer. [EDIT - I was too lazy to write the backstory. And also, I did already. It's here if you're interested.] And I am really, really, really into it. Here’s what I’ve been exploring:

Design thinking for Leading and Learning

This free EdX course provides a great introduction to the fundamentals of design thinking with classroom examples. Meaning they go into classrooms and interview students and teachers about their experiences. I got a lot of ideas about HOW to implement design thinking and am happy to have this class in my back pocket.

IDEO Design Thinking for Educators

The title says it all. A whole FREE handbook on how to use design thinking to solve problems in your classroom and school.

Tiny Habits: The Small Changes That Change Everything

Behavior design, design thinking, tomato, tomato. I don’t actually know how to write that phrase, but hopefully you get the point. Design thinking applied to behavior. Go get it and read it, you won’t be disappointed.

Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators

Ok confession - I haven’t gone through this resource yet but I still wanted to include it. I downloaded it and am looking forward to reviewing it soon!

Creative Confidence

A book by the founders of IDEO and the at Stanford that gives you practical tips to ignite creativity in yourself and others.

Creative Acts for Curious People

I reserved this book from the library and got about three pages in before I bought my own copy. This will be one of my reference books going forward, I’m sure of it.

The Design of Everyday Things

Confession #2 - I didn’t make it all the way through this book but it is one I will go back to and reread. Don Norman is a cognitive psychologist and product designer and I found the exploration of design and the human psyche fascinating.

PS isn’t it funny how we use words like “ignite” or “spark” when we talk about creative things? I am doing it without thinking, which means it’s likely something I’ve absorbed from the culture. I wonder if it’s because we associate creativity with passion. We think that passion is inherent - that it is just there and if we could only find it and do that thing which we were put on earth to do, we would be happy. But, as Cal Newport argues, that’s probably not true. This is analogous to how we think creativity is inherent. Another fallacy - it’s something you can learn.

  • Writer's picturekatelyn russell

I’m reading Essential Labor: Mothering as Social Change by Angela Garbes. In it, she talks, in part, about how caregiving is so invisible because it deals with the messy nature of the body. This made me start thinking about the myriad ways we try to sanitize and deny the body in schools. I mean, we quite literally sanitized them during the height of Covid. But I am talking about the, “making something more acceptable by removing, hiding, or minimizing any unpleasant, undesirable, or unfavorable parts,” definition. The body is an inconvenience in school, not the seat of our experience, and something to celebrate.

I mean, we can start with start time. The research is clear - earlier start times are bad for high school students, and later start times are good. The end. You would think that the course of action, then, would be clear - school should start “later”. In our district, that meant pushing the start time back 30 minutes for high schoolers. So now we start at 8:15 instead of 7:45. The elementary school starts a bit later than that. You should have heard the opposition and the outcry, not one of them considering the body. They were all about logistics. Which, in schools, are always more important than the body.

In my school, we get 22 minutes for lunch. Which is not enough time to walk the body to the cafeteria, stand in line, retrieve lunch, find a place to sit, eat it mindfully, and then walk back to class. And what about if you have to go to the bathroom? What about if you need to visit the nurse for a bandaid or to get medication? Deduct that from your 22 minutes. Also, can we step back and for a moment consider the ridiculous number of 22 minutes? I swear, numbers like this made the school day so much worse. I am always looking at the clock for a weird time - 8:58, 11:31, and 1:11. The kids are, too, and we spend a lot of mental time and energy trying to figure out when classes end or begin. And then we become obsessive. “It’s 22 minutes, not 20!”

This is all to say we build an environment to deny and obstruct the body. It’s a vehicle for carrying around the all-important head so we can stuff it with facts so that it can pass the requisite exams necessary for graduation. I am guilty of this forgetting too, of course, and want to make it more central to my teaching. You don’t have a body, you are a body, and it’s not here to shuttle your mind from place to place. If you need to go to the bathroom, please go. If you need a snack or a drink of water, please have it. If you don’t feel good, please go to the nurse, or even better, go home and rest. How can we teach our children to be healthy if we don’t start there?

I was in training for Universal Design for Learning this summer and the speaker emphasized how crucial it is for the brain to feel safe and taken care of to learn. I couldn’t get past the basic needs part of the talk for a while. We assume that because we are in a wealthy district, our students come to school fed and taken care of so that we can stuff as much as possible into their brains. But I see exhausted, depleted bodies. Bodies that don’t sleep enough, might not eat enough because they are unhappy with their size, and don’t move enough during the day. Bodies that are whispering to their owner that they love art, please take an art class instead of AP whatever. And we scratch our heads and wring our hands and wonder why our students report such poor mental health.

I am not going anywhere concrete with this, I don’t have a neat and tidy solution. But to innovate, you need to get clear on the problem. And this is a problem.

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  • Writer's picturekatelyn russell

Part 2 of ?

Check out Part 1 here!

An epiphany I had yesterday that is, like, 3 years overdue - using the Understanding by Design (UbD) (1) framework and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) together to plan a course is an okay thing to do. A colleague introduced me to backward design in my first year of teaching. I bought the book and workbook and then abandoned it because I was so overwhelmed and confused. I like to think that I kept principles of backward design in mind while I was planning but I rarely use the UbD template.

So yesterday when I sat down to plan, I tried to create a course using the UDL framework only. I don’t have the book so there could be information about how to do this somewhere but I couldn't figure it out and got frustrated. So, I went back to UdB and kind of sort of got it this time, especially with the updated templates I found.

Here’s what I did, step by step:

I read this article, watched the embedded videos, and then perused YouTube for a bit looking for other helpful videos. I downloaded the UdB template from the article and was still confused (where the heck do I put the standards? What the hell is an enduring understanding?), so I went back to the videos and did some more Googling. This is what my notes look like from all that Googling and processing:

Having a goal for the course made filling out the template MUCH easier, though I still had to Google and find examples to figure out where to place the standards. I started with the entire course - not a unit - so this plan is pretty bare-bones. Once I had most of the template filled out and had a sense of what I wanted students to know and do after completing the course, I walked away from it for a bit and did some random stuff. My brain hurt at this point and needed a break.

After some lunch, I remembered I wanted to try some of the strategies outlined in BJ Fogg’s Tiny Habits. For a rundown of the brainstorming strategies I used, go buy the book or check out his website. After brainstorming, I had a few more ideas to work with and so tweaked the UbD template a bit more. Then I put the template back down, so to speak, and worked on finding cheaper car insurance.

Car insurance mission complete, I got back to work. I broke the semester down into four units: P1, Q1, P2, and Q2. The breaks are natural - they are when we have progress reports (the Ps) or report cards (the Qs). Using time instead of content feels right given the course goals. Here's the first draft of P1. It’s rough, but you can see some sort of outline starting to form. need to move some things from P1 to Q1 and adjust once I start sketching out what the weeks will look like. Which I won’t have a chance to do until at least next Monday so TBD. I’ll keep you posted!

  1. Bowen, R. S. (2017). Understanding by Design. Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. Retrieved [todaysdate] from

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