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Introduction to Design Thinking for Educators Workshop

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I had the opportunity to facilitate a workshop on design thinking for educators at the New Mexico Association for the Gifted Fall Institute. Here is a round-up of what we did.

Warm Up: Instant Challenge

Participants were asked to warm-up for the session with a challenge from the Destination Imagination Instant Challenge App.

Instant Challenges are fun, STEAM-based group activities that must be solved within a short period of time. Using your imagination, teamwork and few everyday materials, you and your friends will work together to see just how innovative you can be. With hundreds of potential combinations and ways to solve each Instant Challenge, the creative possibilities are endless!


Introduction to the Squishy Circuits: The Medium for the Design Challenge

I then had the participating educators familiarize themselves with Squishy Circuits to prepare them for the upcoming design challenge and to deepen their engagement with the workshop content.


An Overview of Design Thinking

The following videos and graphics about design thinking were introduced and discussed with participants.

John Spencer’s Video on the Launch Cycle

Design thinking was introduced to the participating educators through showing them John Spencer‘s video.

The Characteristics of Design Thinking

The following graphic, which I created for this workshop, was discussed.

characteristics of design thinking

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education developed by Barbara Bray and me was then introduced to the participants.


The Design Challenge

The major challenge or task was to create a design using Squishy circuits based on a partner’s specifications. Only the designer could touch the materials not the “client” who verbally described her desired design. To further explain this challenge, I showed a video of my gifted elementary students engaged in the challenge.

. . .  and some photos of the participating educators doing this challenge.

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One of the partner teams was one of my colleagues, Anna, an amazing art teacher, who was the client paired with a gifted ed teacher, the designer. Anna provided the verbal directions for her partner to make an elephant drinking water. We were reaching the end of the session without its completion. I told them to just let it go – the elephant was complete but the lighting was not. During the time that the workshop participants were walking around looking at one another’s creations, Anna and her partner completed the elephant using the LEDs to light up his eyes. The look of pride and empowerment in both Anna and her partner, who obviously has never completed such a project and was glowing with well-deserved pride, was priceless – touching me quite deeply. The moral of the story for me: Teachers should be provided with PD opportunities to deeply engage in learning to the point where they feel empowered. I believe this will help increase the transfer of learning to their own classrooms as they will want their own learners to feel that same sense of empowerment.

Here is the slide deck from my presentation:


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

October 22, 2017 at 7:34 pm

Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for STEM, STEAM, Maker Education

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Post by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D. @jackiegerstein and Barbara Bray @bbray27. Crossed posted at


If there is a makerspace in your school, it may be down the hall, in the library, or in another building. If there is someone other than the teacher managing the makerspace or there is a schedule for the school, your kids may only be able to use it once a week or month. Some makerspace activities may be focusing on how to use the resources available and may not be connecting the activities to the curriculum or around a real world problem. If this is how the makerspace is set up in your school, then your kids may not have access to the resources, materials, and tools when they need them, especially for STEM or STEAM.

In deciding what resources you need based on the learners you have, you may first need to determine how your learners learn best, what projects you plan to do, how you can set up a makerspace in your classroom, and much more. This is why we decided to create a planning tool for makerspaces in the classroom for you using the Design Thinking Process and Universal Design for Learning®.

The Design Thinking Process

Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)

We adapted the Design Thinking Process to include additional phases based on our own experiences in schools with educators and kids.

Define Problem IconDefine the Problem: The educator along with the learners generate possible authentic problems to explore within their local community (classroom, school, social, community) which includes identification of the intended audience.

Empathy IconEmpathy and Perspective Taking: Learners interview clients to gain an understanding of their needs and to see the problem from their perspective. The educator can assist learners in the interview process including how to develop interview questions.

Idea Generating IconIdea Generation: Learners, typically working in small groups, generate lots of ideas and questions to ask to solve the design thinking problem or challenge. Each generated possible design is analyzed as to its potential to resolve the design challenge.

Sketch Design IconSketch Design: A blueprint or sketch of the selected design is created through pencil and paper or through an online tool such as Google Draw or Sketchup. This design can be pitched to another group for constructive feedback.

Prototype IconPrototype – Test – Refine: This phase is the actual creating and building of the product. To get the product to work as the plan often takes several iterations of prototype, test, and refine. Learners are encouraged to use the tools and building processes that work for them.

Feedback IconFeedback from User: The final design is presented to the users for their feedback. The designers ask the users about the degree to which the design met their needs asking specific questions about what worked and what still needs improvement.

Reflection Icon

Final Reflection: Learners reflect on the process in a way that works best for them – blogs, photo essays, video recording, podcast, sketchnotes, illustrated ebook.


Share IconShare Out: A goal of the design thinking process is sharing learning out to a broader public. This is typically done by sharing documentation of learning and final reflections through social media.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) was developed by David Rose and Ann Meyers of the Center for Assistive Special Technology (CAST). UDL was designed to reduce the barriers to the curriculum and maximize learning. UDL provides a framework for all learners to help them become self-directed and independent expert learners. UDL has reordered the principles and guidelines, to begin with, Multiple Means of Engagement, the Why of Learning that compliments how the Design Thinking Process involves learners in identifying an authentic problem or challenge.

  • Multiple Means of Engagement (Why) is the affective network that explains how interest and purpose engages and motivates learners to want to learn.
  • Multiple Means of Representation (What) is the recognition network how content is represented and how learners process information.
  • Multiple Means of Action and Expression (How) is the strategic network involving how learners monitor progress and demonstrate and reflect evidence of learning.

The National Center on Universal Design for Learning goes deeper referring to the alternate version of the UDL Guidelines found in the book UDL Theory and Practice by David Rose and Ann Meyers where the order of the principles and the guidelines have changed. The UDL Guidelines provide a deep dive into each of the principles to checkpoints that provide resources, examples, and research. We pulled together the phases of the Design Thinking Process and identified specific options under each principle to create a Design Thinking Process and UDL Planning Tool for teachers.

Design Thinking and UDL Planning Tool

In the initial phase of defining the problem, the teacher involves learners to generate possible authentic problems within their local community. The problem can be defined by the teacher to encourage learner interest. We connected the UDL principle Multiple Means of Engagement to this phase by providing options for recruiting learners’ interest through optimizing relevance, value, and authenticity. To understand the problem, the teacher activates learners’ background knowledge and invites them to highlight patterns and critical features around real world problems that impact them.


Egg Drop ActivityThe UDL connection to Engagement to the second phase of Empathy and Perspective Taking made so much sense to us. The UDL connection involves learners having options for sustaining effort and persistence by fostering collaboration and community. This phase is where learners gain an understanding of the needs of specific people about a problem from their perspective. They may interview, do observations or survey them about the problem.

Some lessons can involve a specific problem identified by the teacher who first wants to encourage empathy. We provide one example around an Egg Drop and the Design a Squishy Circuit for a Classmates (see these examples at the end of this post).

The middle phases of the Design Thinking Process involve the iterative steps related to idea generation and prototype-test-refine as well as getting feedback from the users.


As can be seen in the UDL Connections column of the Design Thinking and UDL planning tool, representation and action and expression can be explicitly addressed. Representation or the What of Learning is a strong focus during the Idea Generation and Feedback from Users phases as the educator helps learners highlight patterns, critical features, and relationships of their discoveries. The Action and Expression or the How of Learning emerges most strongly during the Creating a Blueprint and Prototype-Test-Refine Phases as learners include their own personal touches and preferred means of expression.


The final phases of the Design Thinking Process involve reflection on the design and making experiences and then sharing out the results to a broader audience.


UDL technology connectionThe UDL connection to Action and Expression is especially strong in the final phases of Reflection and Sharing Out. During the reflection phase, learners are given the option to express what they learned during and because of their STEM, STEAM, Maker Education experience in a way that makes the most sense to them given the nature of the task; and their preferred means of expression. This is especially relevant given all that technology and online tools provide.

For example, students can write a blog, create a photo essay with a caption, record a podcast or video, do a hand-drawn or online sketch, create a comic.  Learners, many being savvy at the use of social networks, can then choose how they want to share out their reflections. This serves several purposes related to Action and Expression: (1) it gives learners an authentic audience, and (2) it helps other makers learn from their personal experiences.

Examples of STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education Activities using the Design Thinking and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Planning Tool

We hope the Design Thinking and UDL planning tool we developed helps you guide the design of learning activities that focus on STEM and STEAM and brings makerspaces into your classrooms.

We will be discussing this topic in the Twitter chat (#plearnchat) on Monday, June 19 at 4 pm PT, 5 pm CT. We ‘re also going to be sharing more details including redesigning makerspaces in the classroom in our presentation at ISTE 2017 in San Antonio on Monday, June 26 11:30 to 12:30. Please join us!

We welcome any comments, ideas, or questions.

Jackie GersteinDr. Jackie Gerstein’s byline is, “I don’t do teaching for a living. I live teaching as my doing . . . and technology has amplified my passion for doing so.” Dr. Gerstein has been teaching in-person and online for several decades. Currently, she teaches master’s level online courses in educational technology for Boise State, Walden, and Western Governors’ Universities as well as gifted elementary education where she focuses on STEM, STEAM, and Maker Education.

Jackie actively blogs at and tweets at

Additional Resources referenced from Jackie’s blog:

Barbara Bray Pic

Barbara is a teacher, writer, change agent, risk-taker, instructional designer, connector, futurist and visionary. Whenever anyone told Barbara she couldn’t do something, she took it more like a challenge. New and veteran teachers are overwhelmed with day-to-day tasks plus being asked to teach and integrate technology or to change their curriculum. The big question even today is “how do you fit everything in that is expected of you and meet the needs of all students?”

Barbara co-authored two books on personalized learning with Kathleen McClaskey:Make Learning Personal and How to Personalize Learning. She wrote a regular column on professional development for OnCUE (Computer Using Educators) for over 17 years and continues to write here, for Personalize Learning, chapters in books, articles, and as guest posts on other blogs.  She works tirelessly to find and research new tools and methods that help educators and personalize learning. Now with multiple opportunities to network using social media and join various online communities, teachers and learners are confused. Barbara makes it her job to determine what is authentic, valid, cost-effective, safe, user-friendly, and relevant for her clients. She is relentlessly researching how to personalize learning so all learners follow their passion so they discover their purpose.

Barbara  actively blogs at and tweets at


Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

June 8, 2017 at 10:33 pm

UDL and The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture

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In response to all of the attention given to the flipped classroom, I proposed The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture and The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture for Higher Education in which the viewing of videos (often discussed on the primary focus of the flipped classroom) becomes a part of a larger cycle of learning based on an experiential cycle of learning.

Universal Design for Learning has also been in the news lately as a new report Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Initiatives on the Move was released by the National Center on UDL, May, 2012. This post describes the principles of Universal Design for Learning and how they naturally occur when a full cycle of learning, including ideas related to the flipped classroom, are used within the instructional process.

Universal Design for Learning

The UDL framework:

  • includes three principles calling for educators to provide multiple means of engagement, multiple means of presenting instructional content, and multiple means of action and expression when designing and delivering instruction
  • is based on the latest learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, human developmental science, and education research
  • helps educators to use digital technology and innovative methods to teach whole classes while personalizing each student’s instruction
  • provides a blueprint for creating flexible instructional goals, methods, materials and assessments that work for everyone—rather than the one-size-fits-all approaches found in typical instructional environments


More about UDL can be found at:

Some of the key findings of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Initiatives on the Move study:

Both state and local district leaders:

  • reported a high degree of familiarity with the UDL principles. All state leaders reported having good, very good, or excellent familiarity with the UDL principles, while more than half of the local leaders reported being extremely or moderately familiar with the UDL principles.
  • linked UDL with other education initiatives that embrace universal approaches occurring in general education environments, e.g. response to intervention (RTI), positive behavioral interventions and supports (PBIS), and differentiated instruction.
  • perceived a connection between technology and UDL.

State leaders reported:

  • strong connection between UDL and standards-based education initiatives, e.g. the Common Core State Standards and statewide assessments.
  • UDL was addressed as part of their state technology plans or in the context of 21st century learning.
  • critical to UDL advocacy:two factors are critical to UDL advocacy: (1) state leadership need to embrace UDL and (2) UDL must be understood as a general education initiative that moves beyond special education.

UDL, the Flipped Classroom, and Experiential Learning

As I stated in my introduction, I proposed an experiential flipped classroom learning model in response to all of the attention being given to the flipped classroom.  I think it is a great opportunity to change the predominant didactic model of education that is especially prevalent in upper elementary through graduate school education.This model has experiential learning at the core of the learning process with the content videos supporting the learning rather than being the core or primary instructional piece.

Simply put, experiential learning is learning from experience. Experiential learning can be a highly effective educational method. It engages the learner at a more personal level by addressing the needs and wants of the individual. For experiential learning to be truly effective, it should employ the whole learning wheel, from goal setting, to experimenting and observing, to reviewing, and finally action planning. This complete process allows one to learn new skills, new attitudes or even entirely new ways of thinking. (

UDL is a strategy, a process that provides opportunities for all students, not just those with special needs (but I believe all learners have special needs), to be successful learners.  This is the same goal for the flipped classroom model designed as an experiential learning cycle.

UDL and The Flipped Classroom: The Full Picture

What follows is how an experiential flipped classroom learning model, that includes elements of the flipped classroom, fits the principles of UDL.  Explanations are provided about how the principles of UDL are naturally and seamlessly addressed in this model.

Experiential Engagement

The primary UDL principle addressed during this phase is Provide Multiple Means for Engagement.  The goal of this phase, in line with the tenets of experiential learning, is to hook or motivate the student by engaging him or her on a personal level.

By introducing learners to the lesson topic and content through sensory-rich, highly-engaging, hands-on, and authentic learning activities, the following key guidelines of this principle are addressed:

  • Provide tasks that allow for active participation, exploration and experimentation
  • Design activities so that learning outcomes are authentic, communicate to real audiences, and reflect a purpose that is clear to the participants
  • Invite personal response, evaluation and self-reflection to content and activities
  • Include activities that foster the use of imagination to solve novel and relevant problems, or make sense of complex ideas in creative ways
  • Create cooperative learning groups with clear goals, roles, and responsibilities – many of these activities require cooperative learning. (

Concept Development: The What

The primary UDL principle addressed in this phase is Provide Multiple Means of Representation.  This is the phase where videos, as proposed by the flipped classroom, are utilized to assist students in learning the theoretical concepts related to the content being covered.  As previously noted, though, the videos are used to support, introduce, and reinforce the theoretical content as opposed as being at its core.  Videos should not be the only source of concept formation.  To support learning, a multimedia learning environment needs to provide multiple, flexible methods of presentation. Ways of addressing this principle include presenting material in a variety of formats (  Interactive websites and ebooks, simulations, and content-rich websites can also service this purpose. The learner should be offered a menu of resources to study and learn about the topic.

The following guidelines of Provide Multiple Means of Representation are addressed if learning is approached in this manner:

  • Present key concepts in one form of symbolic representation (e.g., an expository text or a math equation) with an alternative form  (e.g., an illustration, dance/movement, diagram, table, model, video, comic strip, storyboard, photograph, animation, physical or virtual manipulative)
  • Provide visual diagrams, charts, notations of music or sound to support auditory content and information.
  • Provide descriptions (text or spoken) for all images, graphics, video, or animations
  • Provide interactive models that guide exploration and new understandings
  • Provide multiple entry points to a lesson and optional pathways through content (e.g., exploring big ideas through dramatic works, arts and literature, film and media)

Meaning Making:  The So What

The primary UDL principle addressed during this phase is Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression.  Learners, during this phase, construct their own meanings and understanding of the experiences, content, and topics covered in the previous phases.  They do so via blogs, vodcasts, podcasts, Voicethread, Edmodo, wikis, and other web 2.0 tools that allows for personal reflection and expression. A digital environment supports student learning when it provides multiple, flexible methods for student action, expression, and apprenticeship (  As with content presentation, several options should be offered to the students.

The following guidelines related to Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression are addressed when learners making meaning of the content:

  • Use social media and interactive web tools (e.g., discussion forums, chats, web design, annotation tools, storyboards, comic strips, animation presentations)
  • Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, comics, storyboards, design, film, music, visual art, sculpture, or video
  • Use web applications (e.g., wikis, animation, presentation)
  • Use story webs, outlining tools, or concept mapping tools

Also addressed are guidelines from Provide Multiple Means for Engagement:

  • Provide learners with as much discretion and autonomy as possible by providing choices
  • Vary activities and sources of information so that they can be personalized and contextualized to learners’ lives
  • Design activities so that learning outcomes are authentic, communicate to real audiences, and reflect a purpose that is clear to the participants
  • Invite personal response, evaluation and self-reflection to content and activities
  • Provide feedback that is substantive and informative rather than comparative or competitive

The Multiple Means of Representation are also reinforced during the meaning making phase as learners are asked to . . .

  • Incorporate explicit opportunities for review and practice

Demonstration and Application: The Now What

During this phase, learners demonstrate what they learned during the previous phases and how this learning will transfer to other areas of their lives.  The primary UDL principle addressed during this phase is Provide Multiple Means of Action and Expression

  • Compose in multiple media such as text, speech, drawing, illustration, design, film, music, dance/movement, visual art, sculpture or video

Also addressed are guidelines from Provide Multiple Means for Engagement:

  • Provide learners with as much discretion and autonomy as possible by providing choices
  • Allow learners to participate in the design of classroom activities and academic tasks
  • Vary activities and sources of information so that they can be personalized and contextualized to learners’ lives
  • Design activities so that learning outcomes are authentic, communicate to real audiences, and reflect a purpose that is clear to the participants
  • Provide tasks that allow for active participation, exploration and experimentation
  • Include activities that foster the use of imagination to solve novel and relevant problems, or make sense of complex ideas in creative ways
  • Vary the degrees of freedom for acceptable performance

The Multiple Means of Representation are also reinforced during this demonstration and application phase as learners . . .

  • Provide explicit, supported opportunities to generalize learning to new situations
  • Offer opportunities over time to revisit key ideas and linkages between ideas

UDL Photo Images from

Written by Jackie Gerstein, Ed.D.

May 29, 2012 at 2:02 am

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