Design Thinking for Teachers

Part of my work with the K12 lab at the Stanford has focused on providing tools for teachers to engage with design thinking. In order for these tools to have a meaningful impact on the work teachers do, they need to be grounded in the work of educators. This means that when we plan our workshops, we design with both the teacher and the student in mind.

One workshop I led applied the prototyping mindset to the practice of storytelling.  With the help of Seamus Harte, I created 3 storytelling frameworks for designers to test how they craft their stories.  The idea was to test what kind of story would foster the most buy in from stakeholders and potential project supporters.

We started by reading the same innovation story:

School lunches don’t work well for kids, and they don’t work great for schools either. Schools want their students to eat healthy food during lunch time, while kids tend to prioritize the social value of lunch above the nutritional one. We want to offer a better way to meet the unique needs of schools, teachers and kids during lunch.

The solution for our elementary school is to have a school lunch where kids sit together at round tables and eat family style. Each table will have enough chairs to seat 6-10 students. A table receives large platters of plates which they share with one another. Staff workers are given their own carts to serve a group of tables. Taking account of the student’s nutritional needs, the food rolls out in specific stages such that healthier foods are brought out first by the workers. This compels students to eat what is served first.

I then shared a storytelling template I had filled in using the school lunch story. Here I told the story of Roundtable through the eyes of a cafeteria worker named Mary.

After receiving one of the two remaining templates, teachers used the school lunch story to fill in the storytelling template. Each teacher selected unique details and drew their own images to craft uniques version of the same story.

They then tested the story with one another. We circled together for the last few minutes and reflected on the effect of the different story templates.


For the final project of Design Thinking Bootcamp, we were challenged to design a solution to the 30 million word gap. Although language development plays a pivotal role in determining how ready children are to get the most out of kindergarten, we chose to reframe the challenge.  Our group was inspired by Alex, a four-year-old child with Autism Spectrum Disorder who struggled to engage his peers in social behavior.

When we first met Alex, we were stunned to learn he was threatened with expulsion from preschool for pinching other kids. For him, the school readiness gap was a social skills challenge, not a language challenge. To help Alex, we designed MuppetMe a customizable ebook that teach children about positive social interactions. The book is customized with a child's face, name, and target behavior.


After presenting MuppetMe to Sesame Street, my partner and I felt enthused with the project and continued to work on it through the Stanford Venture Studio. Although user testing with Alex provided promising feedback, we were curious to see how other children with Autism Spectrum Disorder might respond.

We set up testing with a seven-year-old named Akil and his family. Here are the first few pages Akil's higher-resolution MuppetMe prototype:

We were excited to test with Akil but it didn't go as planned. The second we laid the iPad in front of him, he clicked the home button, found the YouTube App and searched for a video of Woody from Toy Story. For Akil, muppets weren't very engaging. But Woody was a hit.

Using this information, we revised MuppetMe to make iCanGo.  iCanGo is a storymaking platform for parents of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Parents download customizable story spines about a social situation that makes their child anxious. The child's name and image are embedded into the story, making them the main character. Parents can also upload a picture of a child's favorite fantasy character as a supporting actor in the story to motivate. So if Akil needs to feel comfortable about going to the airport, Woody will help him along.

Or if your daughter Abby prefers Elsa:

To further the project along, we partnered with a local autism center. Our goal is to get feedback for two core questions: What type of social situations are most useful for children to experience through iCanGo? How can we make the experience on the parent end as simple and meaningful as possible?