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In August, as part of our partnership with the Bechtel Foundation and Math in Common, five delegates from the myPD, STEP, and Math Offices in LBUSD had the privilege to attend a two-day intensive institute on DESIGN THINKING. Though we had used much of the process to design and implement the myPD vision and plan, we had never attended a design thinking institute to replicate the full process here in Long Beach. This time, however, things were different. 

Our objective, as articulated in the Math in Common Design and Innovation Institute Objectives, included the following two objectives:

  1. Through our work with the at Stanford, participants will leave with tools and strategies to share with their district colleagues to help advance their work implementing the CCSS for mathematics.
  2. Participants will leave with a shared framework for identifying design challenges, setting the stage for continued cross-district collaboration around design and innovation work in CCSS-M.

The team that attended this incredible institute is happy to report that these objectives were in fact achieved. In fact, we left with an incredible tool kit to replicate the process. Below is a "shorthand" tool we used to complete a design challenge for integrating technology into CCSS-M classroom instruction.

Clearly, these documents cannot do the process justice. One has to experience the process to truly understand the value. Our hope is to expose as many people in LBUSD to this cycle for innovation, so that it can become a framework for approaching our problems of practice using creativity and insights that are uninhibited by perceived limits, in this case with CCSS-M as the focus.


Perhaps the greatest testament to the power of this approach is the energy and engagement it demands from all who participate, especially in the EMPATHY building phase, anchored in 3 stages:

  1. Observe - take time to observe the context in which the challenge resides and simply take notes
  2. Immerse - take on the perspective of a user in this context; immerse yourself in their experience to understand the need first hand
  3. Interview - listen to users describe their joys and pain points with the design challenge as it stands
    • Capture direct quotes
    • Keep it objective
    • Don't paraphrase

Only after this intensive listening phase can a "designer" begin to interpret. It is at this point that the actual problem or design challenge becomes more clear and one is better able to DEFINE the real issue at hand.

Ultimately, this DEFINING process causes one to synthesize the information gathered into a single question that can be answered. Using the sentence starter, "How might we..." (HMW), the team writes a series of questions that get at the heart of the problem of practice or issue at hand. Using the HMW frame allows us to defer judgment and separate the problem/opportunity from the solution.

This then frees the design team to IDEATE freely, without restriction. In this phase, the task is simple... dream of relevant solutions that are not bound by current constraints:

  • Build on the ideas of others, using "Yes, and..."
  • Defer judgment
  • Generate many ideas (quantity over quality)
  • Capture ALL ideas
  • Be brief (use "headlines" to capture ideas)

At the end, use a mutli-vote approach to identify the one idea that the design team will PROTOYPE for TESTING by the user. Since prototyping is an iterative process, there will be many versions of the proposed solution on the way to the final choice. Ultimately, though, the team will have to build something tangible so that the user can engage the solution and so that user's feedback is meaningful and timely. In essence, prototyping and testing with the user allows the design team to calibrate and "re-empathize." 

The best part of prototyping is that it gives the design team an opportunity to test the idea in a less expensive context. Prototypes can be:

  • Physical - build a model

  • Drawing - sketch the final part in detail

  • Wireframe - mock up before building

  • Role Play - especially when solutions focus on user "experiences"


It is in the interaction between design team and user in this phase that the feedback ultimately shapes the final solution. Since the design team cannot defend the prototype, all ideas are heard on the way to a final solution -- a co-constructed one that is sure to be used because it meets a real need.


In LBUSD, our hope is to use this approach in our work with myPD as we support the Math Office with their CCSS-M implementation at the sites. As we continue to build out and roll out a new, integrated professional development system, we want to continue to empathize with our end users as we better define their challenges. Only then can we ideate in such a way that the prototypes we design meet a real need that we can test with our "users" before we roll them out full scale. Thus far, the process has done us right and we aniticipate that it will continue to do so.

In February, we had the privilege of attending the second installment of the training, where we were able to move from Empathy into Defining the challenge, Ideating potential solutions, coupled with rapid cycles of Prototyping and Testing. We are back in Long Beach now and have received the green light from the Math in Common Leadership Team to test our prototype in real settings. We look forward to failing quickly so that we can get to success sooner. All along the way, though, we intend to maintain a posture of listening first, and designing second. 


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