The Quanta of Design Thinking

I’m spending this weekend with Sean Wheeler and Ken Kozar in Cleveland, OH talking about the Maker/Competency-based school they’re looking to start.

The interest in creating education options within public school systems is heartening on a lot of levels. Selfishly, it proves that BIG isn’t a vanity project, but a real national movement. For students, it shows that there are educators who are concerned with their status as able doers instead of as walking GPA’s.

The team here in Ohio is awesome. However, meeting Nic, from Wikiseat, has really set me to thinking about how to incorporate design thinking into traditional curriculum in a way that acts like a seed instead of as foliage.

Hearing Nic talk about how the bracket (above) that makes up the Wikiseat project acts as a fundamental design nucleator for physical construction started us down a line of thought about other nucleators.

When I say “nucleator” I mean an object, idea, or task that gives students an opportunity to enter into the process of design in a way that isn’t an explicit discussion about “learning design” like so much that gets co-opted from Stanford’s D School.

Kids dig the idea of take-this-bracket-and-make-a-chair. The design process is inherent in the challenge, and for some reason the Wikiseat bracket works. Kids like it.

We toyed around with social studies. What if you asked students to design an eating utensil optimized for a specific food? Like miso soup, or pulled pork. What would it be like to 3D print that object and then live with it for a week or a even a day? What could you say about culture, history, and agriculture? What would the documentary, “Living with the Snork,” be like?

What about math? What if you asked students to redesign RISK? How much math and design would that take? Let’s be honest, we all wish RISK weren’t so boring towards the end.

What if you asked students to redesign the human body? For the first century? for the 16th? The 21st? How much biology would that take? What kind of explanations and communications skills/objects would you have to foster to communicate such a strange idea?

Maybe I’m just in the stream of being with such awesome people right now, and I’m not communicating the nuance that the Wikiseat bracket represents, but I’m digging the idea of fundamental design quanta right now.

Go Whalephants!