Thursday, September 27, 2012

Design Thinking For Students: The Question Formulation Technique

Source: Edutopia
This summer we signed up for a free online module in design thinking. Organized jointly by Edutopia, IDEO, and Riverdale Country School, the "Design Thinking For Educators" workshop invited participants to model the real process of iterative creation. Design thinking has been gaining traction as a means to foster critical thinking and creativity among learners. Teachers, in fact, can download a toolkit in the methods of design adapted for education.

The spring 2012 issue of Independent School magazine featured a detailed article about the prospects for design thinking to revolutionize standard classroom practice. In "An Experience Of "Yes": Independent Schools Begin To Explore and Exploit The Power Of Design Thinking," Peter Gow describes this mindset as "the posing of a problem, perhaps elegantly framed but more likely ill-structured or open-ended -- and with some constraints." This collaborative exploration requires "critique, testing, retesting, and redesigning until a breakthrough is achieved." In a safe, trusted setting, a feedback model that embraces failure is the ideal paradigm for student discovery.

Source: Design Thinking For Educators
We've found that the design thinking process works well in project-based learning and in interpersonal student scenarios. For some real classroom examples, check out:
One easy but surprisingly effective way to incorporate the steps of student-centered design is through the Question Formulation Technique (QFT). Rather than a multi-week project, this cooperative investigation takes one class period (or less) and empowers students to create a blueprint for their own curiosity. They ultimately chart the direction of their entire learning "unit."

Source: The Right Question Institute

Although it was perhaps not initially intended to mimic the design thinking approach, the Question Formulation Technique springs from an initiative at The Right Question Institute that aims for students to "learn how to produce their own questions, improve them, and strategize on how to use them." This scaffold closely follows the "discovery, interpretation, ideation, experimentation, and evolution" procedure of designers. For a full description of the technique, we highly recommend this informative explanation from The Right Question Institute.

Source: The Right Question Institute, ASIDE

The QFT applies to all levels of schooling and can be employed "to introduce students to a new unit, to assess students’ knowledge to see what they need to understand better, and even to conclude a unit to see how students can, with new knowledge, set a fresh learning agenda for themselves." The QFT basically validates students' natural inquisitive sense when starting new research or beginning to write an essay. It formalizes in a helpful way what can sometimes become rushed or quotidian.

Source: The Right Question Institute, ASIDE
The essential QFT process is student-initiated, with the teachers as facilitators. The six QFT steps, as originated by The Right Question Institute, are as follows:
  1. Teachers design a Question Focus (or QFocus) - With a prompt, a dilemma, or a guiding statement, the teacher frames the inquiry to point the children in a beneficial direction.
  2. Students produce questions - Using a set of guidelines (listed above), the children generate questions based on their own curiosity and wonder.
  3. Students improve their questions - The groups of students then refine and modify their lists based on an understanding of open- and closed-ended questions.
  4. Students prioritize their questions - Through discussion and debate, the students choose specific questions they would genuinely like to probe further.
  5. Students and teachers decide on next steps - As a group, the kids and adults together decide how to use these core questions to guide the coming days and weeks of classes.
  6. Students reflect on what they have learned - By looking back over the process they have just pursued, students explore the value of self-initiated experimentation.
Source: The Right Question Institute, ASIDE
With our eighth-graders at the beginning of this school year, we used The Right Question Institute suggestions to remind the group about last year's study of the Civil War and to imagine what life must have been like in the Reconstruction-era South for the population of newly freed slaves. The questions the class generated ranged from personal to philosophical. In the end, the group chose three guiding questions (in blue) to form the foundation of our next three weeks. We have returned to these questions daily, to ponder after new readings and to flesh out with primary sources.

For additional reading about design in the classroom, check out "Design Thinking: Lessons For The Classroom," from Betty Ray at Edutopia.

Note: This post has been updated to reflect accurate sourcing (Sept. 28, 2012).

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