Design Thinking in Schools | Part Four - Prototyping

“Good morning colleagues” says the headteacher on Monday morning of an unprecedented INSET week!

“This Friday I have booked out the local cafe and invited parents and students along. They will be there to give feedback on new draft personalised learning curriculum we are developing.”

“What curriculum is she talking about?” Whispers one teacher to another.

“This morning we start developing the curriculum!”

In part four of this series we look at how prototyping can be developed in schools to develop innovative teaching and learning practices, avoiding lengthy development time and investment on ideas that won't have impact. To find out what needs to happen before an effective prototyping session have a read of the previous posts in this series:

Part One: Empathy
Part Two: Ideation
Part Three: G Suite (the tools)

The empathy widened the understanding of the problems facing our use of technology, or the learning spaces we need or the barriers to developing teaching and learning. By understanding the problems we can define them better and start creating ideas, lots of ideas before refining it back to a few worth pursuing. Having those ideas and a sense of what is possible with the technology available in G Suite, this post explores how to get a testable version of your idea created quickly.



Let’s find out which ones wow colleagues, students and parents.

The headteacher who puts a quick turnaround on curriculum design might not be initially popular but you can be sure they will have built a culture of safety and support in their school. So let us imagine why on earth she might consider this an appropriate way to develop curriculum.

If you’re reading this in England then you would be aware that creating a curriculum quickly is part of the job these days. Design thinking for other industries is an approach they take to get early ideas to a problem tested by real users as soon as possible, so any lengthy development of a product or investment in marketing is lower risk, because they have early feedback. Therefore it gives the headteacher a chance to quickly develop a concept and put it to users, get feedback and allow the teachers to see what works and what doesn’t. Then over the course of the year as they put time and effort into the content they can call back on the experience and feedback they had in that first week.

You also give the parents and students an open dialogue and visibility of the passion the staff have for learning, and by presenting an honest draft their feedback will be seen as just that and not a criticism, though be prepared to discuss pedagogical theory, they may not know it. This may be something you develop in parallel, posters to display on the day around the community room that explain the key guiding principles of the curriculum.


A design thinking staple is the storyboard and sketching. So consider what a sketch of a curriculum or scheme of learning might look like. Can you sketch flipped learning? Can you build the learning space experience with Lego?

How might we communicate a learning journey to students and guardians in a way they can understand, support and become invested in?
Might it be a learner journey, through a lesson and a series of lessons. Prototyping ideas and going on the test them, which we will discuss in the final part of this blog series, reduces wasted time further along the process. In other cases it can make it clear you are on the wrong track and saves significant wasted time developing something that wouldn’t have had the impact.

Time in the teaching profession is a precious commodity. Every day teachers have to decide what to prioritise, what action will have the most impact and which deadlines are they going to have to miss. Big ideas get shelved every day by teachers who see a glimmer of an idea then confront one of the following barriers:

I could spend hours on this …
But It might not work
But It goes against a school policy
But I won't be allowed to do it
But I will have to write a detailed proposal (whole other design thinking discussion to have)
But I have so much marking to do
But I would like to see my family this weekend
But I don't have the time!

How might we cultivate the innovations that every teacher could develop?

Design thinking organisations have a culture of failing forward, ideas get ditched if they don't show promise. The way they do this is by having a prototyping culture so ideas are turned into physical artefacts quickly and cheaply to be scrutinised by users without huge investment of money and time. How might this translate into the classroom? The best examples can be found on the Teachers Guild site, developed by Ideo to cultivate teacher innovations. Through empathy, problems are defined for teachers to develop ideas around. Their website provides the tools for other teachers to respond, discuss and develop ideas. The ideas given most support rise to the top and these are the ones prototyped in classrooms and schools.

Here are some of their most recent “How might we statements”...

How might we re-design parent teacher conferences
How might we empower students to drive their learning and authentically demonstrate mastery

Here is how prototyping was used to envisage the future of Augmented reality. No tech involved…



Jake Knapp’s book “Sprint” takes the reader through a design sprint process developed while Jake was working for Google Ventures, supporting businesses grow ideas and products efficiently. During the five day design sprint the fourth day is given over to prototyping the one or two ideas that have been chosen in the sprint. In one day a website experience, chatbot interface, robot and many other technical challenges are prototyped ready for user testing on the fifth day.

So far I have focussed on teacher’s use of prototyping but it can also be a valuable tools for students. Many Technology and Design faculties may have given up reading this as they do this every day with their classes. Outside these disciplines there are still valuable applications of design thinking for students. Community projects, creating the year book, entrepreneurial development and building problem solving skills. The Stanford design school has a free design thinking guide you can pick up and deliver. They focus their design thinking approach around the gift giving experience and look at how it can be re-designed. You could take their resources and adapt around parent evenings, reward systems in your school, learning space design, exam preparation or assemblies and give the learners a chance to redesign and innovate parts of their learning experience through a design thinking approach.

This process is not appropriate for every aspect of school life. Don’t prototype your security measures for GDPR. Study the guidance, be meticulous and consider giving the job to an expert team. However, anything that needs user buy-in and support lends itself to being prototyped.

My own use of design thinking with AppsEvents is based on moving from tool based focus in training to making sure we have problems worth solving in each and every organisation we work with and support. If we can help you develop the right problem to solve and give you tools to create ideas and test them through the G suite tools then we feel there is a greater chance those tools will stick in your organisation and continue to be part of the way you innovate practice and learning each and everyday.



About the author : Ben Rouse | AppsEvents, UK Director

After implementing G Suite at my secondary comprehensive school in UK I was accepted onto the Google Teacher Academy in London in 2013. Since then I have been involved in technology for learning training and implementations in schools in UK and Europe as a Google for Education Innovator and Trainer.

I taught Mathematics for 13 years and had middle and senior leadership roles in schools before becoming an educational technology integration specialist for a Mutli-Academy Trust in UK.

I now work with AppsEvents to help organisations implement G Suite and Technology for Learning effectively.

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