Category Archives: news

How might we use DT to improve our teaching?

In addition to teaching our students to view the world as designers, we are helping teachers to do the same.  As Sandy Speicher of IDEO told a group of educators, “All teachers are designers.  Once they discover that, they are empowered.”  So with that in mind, we set out to empower our colleagues.  

Wednesday afternoons are reserved for Professional Growth time at Town.  On a recent Wednesday, we held a design thinking workshop serving multiple purposes: to introduce the process to teachers, to try to improve each other’s day, to share the DT work we’ve done, and to provide resources for extensions all with the goal of cultivating a design thinking community among our colleagues.  With over a dozen colleagues choosing to attend and throwing themselves into the process, we think we stoked the flame.

The format was as follows:

1) Stoke design activity (5 minutes)

  • We played an improv game called “Let’s plan a picnic!”  We played in two rounds: leading with the phrase “No, but” in the first round, followed by “Yes, and” in the second.  It highlighted the generative result of building versus blocking ideas and got us primed to take on a design thinking challenge.

2) Design thinking challenge (40 minutes)

  • We introduced the design thinking process by having everyone take on a challenge to design for a partner in the room.  The challenge was, “How might we improve each other’s days?”  Grounded in a graphic organizer designed for students, the group was led through a rapid cycle of interviewing, defining needs, ideating, prototyping, and testing.  At the end, they “bragged on their buddies”, sharing the prototype designed for them with the whole group. We observed the diversity of designs: a portable heater, custom alert system, nap pod, and even a superhero robot! It was incredible that such disparate ideas stemmed from the same challenge, highlighting the range of needs in our community and open-ended nature of the process.

3) Reflection (10 minutes)

  • Everyone spent a few minutes sharing potential applications to their own teaching and asking questions.

4) Share our projects, website, and resources (10 minutes)

  • We shared this website with the group to show how we’ve collaborated to create design thinking challenges, as well as resources to help them learn more.  We also offered to schedule individual meetings with folks to discuss ideas for their own classrooms.  Since then, we’ve met with several different teachers to make connections to Kindergarten reading, middle school world history, and foreign languages.  

By framing curricular challenges as opportunities, teachers are embracing their roles as designers. We are looking forward to bragging on our buddies and sharing our colleagues’ projects on this blog!

Interviewing: need-finding, building empathy
Testing prototypes: hoping to get the portable heater to market!

Testing prototypes: hoping to get the portable heater to market!




Bungee Design Challenge Is Underway!

On Friday we kicked off our first upper school STEM project of this school year: The Bungee Design Challenge.  Town School 8th graders are tackling the question: “How might we use a mathematical model to design an exciting, yet safe bungee system?”  This project originated when math teachers Garrett Frank and Hilary McArthur were looking for an opportunity to teach linear scaling in a fun and exciting activity. This year I am thrilled to be collaborating with them, and we have been working to create a challenge where the boys must use their understanding of linear algebra, forces, and the laws of motion to build an elastic tether to safely bungee jump an action figure. The project is structured within the design thinking framework, and the boys will also incorporate a deeper sense of their prospective users to inform their bungee system design. The action figures are scheduled to be launched from above the ENI workshop at the Marina campus on Wednesday, October 9. Stay tuned!

  • Exploration and Empathizing: Students watch footage of bungee jumpers to better understand how linear algebra can help them design fun and safe bungee-jumping system.

  • Defining the Problem: Students frame their challenge in terms of what a bungee jumper would  want to experience (i.e. get really close to the ground, long rebound, etc.)

  • Ideation: Students engage is lively brainstorming session to identify a range of possible solutions to the challenge.

  • Prototyping and Testing: Students rapidly crank out small-scale versions of bungee systems, dropping their action figures from tables, the ceiling, and stair-wells around campus. The goal here is “failing-forward!”
Brainstorming Session

Brainstorming Session

Rapid Prototyping!

Rapid Prototyping!

Ready to Test!

Ready to Test!

Our Test Subjects Ponder Their Fate...

Our Test Subjects Ponder Their Fate…

Exploring New Ideas (ENI) Workshop

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ENI workshop

Today I had the opportunity to take a peek into the Explore New Ideas (ENI) Workshop, which is new to the Lower School at Town.  It’s a great resource for our design thinking endeavors, as it provides space and materials to tinker and build.  There are designated times for 3rd and 4th graders to use the space, and all teachers can sign up to use the space on their own, or coordinate for coaching from fourth grade teacher, Jij De Jesus (“Mr. D” to the kids),  who is managing the ENI Workshop.  He’s shared some background about the ENI with us:


ENI Process

What is it

ENI inspires curiosity and creativity in students through hands-on, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM)-centered inquiry activities.


By creating opportunities for boys to “explore new ideas”, and coaching them through the learning and thinking processes, students develop core competencies and skills that are relevant in all aspects of life. Hands-on investigative STEM activities develop inquiry, promote an understanding of the nature of learning, and allow for students to autonomously engage in the process of knowledge construction.

As a school, we also recognize the unique opportunities presented to us as inhabitants of the Marina Campus this year. We want to take full advantage of the increased space and prime location to maximize the benefits for the boys and their learning. In that sense, ENI will draw inspiration from the Exploratorium, former occupant of the Marina campus, and the surrounding Golden Gate National Recreation Area.


ENI utilizes best practices from a number of innovative teaching approaches to meet the specific needs of our boy learners.

  • Project Based Learning (Buck Institute)

  • Design Thinking (Stanford and Lime Design)

  • Inquiry and Science Process Skills (Exploratorium)

ENI activities and projects will involve investigating and solving a real-life problem, or building and designing a product that successfully meets a given challenge. Students will often work in small teams, using collaboration and communication skills.

Significant academic content will provide a foundation for ENI projects, exploration will be guided by questions that provide focus, and after multiple opportunities to research and develop their ideas, students will be asked to publicly share their thinking and what they learned.


ENI will be integrated into the already existing curriculum and schedule of Lower School classes.

Students in K-2 will participate in ENI activities as scheduled by grade level teaching teams, especially during times where the curricular content is particularly conducive to creative exploration.

In 3rd Grade and 4th grade ENI Workshops take the place of the former electives program. Boys in these grades will participate in 2 of the 4 ENI Workshops this year, 1 per semester. The Workshops offer small group instruction (10-12 students) during one hour-long class each week. ENI Workshops for this year are:

  • Lego engineering

  • How does it work? Bicycles!

  • TED (technology, engineering and design)

  • ENI Challenge Workshop


Most ENI activities will take place in the ENI workshop, located in the northeast corner on the ground floor of the Marina Campus.  At times, aspects of multi-day ENI activities will  be facilitated in students classrooms or outside in the surrounding area.

Our second graders have used the ENI Workshop to answer questions about seed germination (How will I know if my lima bean seed it germinating?  What will it look like?) and we will be heading back later this week to plant our own seeds.  We are looking forward to many discoveries in the ENI Workshop!


2nd graders finding signs of seed germination


2nd graders investigating for signs of germination


4th grade challenge observations


Mr. D and 4th graders testing and evaluating sailboat prototypes

Sharing ideas for sailboat designs

Sharing ideas for sailboat designs


Bike repair in the Mechanical Engineering room of the ENI


We are delighted that you’ve come to visit!  We are at a unique crossroads in Town School’s history, as our school is not only under physical construction, but our focus on teaching and learning is being re-examined.  In doing so, the school has renewed a commitment to encouraging innovative teaching practices, one of which is design thinking.  After a few years of dabbling in design thinking, we are eager to share our work charting the new approach at Town.


Town School, before


Upper School, now


Lower School, now


Town School, next year