Day 2: Redefining Define

The saying “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” could not have been more true for the 26 participants who attended the second session, of four, in our experimental series on teacher professional development, all of which focus on teaching the design thinking mindsets through experiential workshops instead of the process.

Design teams from eleven local schools, which make up the “d.home team,” were told to “come hungry” and “dress in comfortable clothes” but were not told any other details about the day, which took place at Stanford University in November.

Our goal was to focus on the mindset of “challenging assumptions”, most specifically those assumptions we make about our daily routines and norms that we don’t even notice.   We believe it’s the everyday assumptions we accept in our daily lives, like the way we eat breakfast for instance, that are the most ripe for innovation but create the biggest barriers for change.

 It’s these same assumptions which are especially prevalent in K12 education and often get in the way of change and innovation in schools. “We have a set schedule,” ”we can’t do that because of testing,” “we have limited space,” “I don’t have time” or “my administrator wouldn’t let me do that” are just a few of the assumptions we hear on a regular basis and are the same set of assumptions we sought to challenge through this workshop.

Pulling off this challenge was a bit harder than expected.  After being rejected by several Bay Area eateries with our odd request, which was to redesign the eating experience, the Axe and Palm, a cafe located here on the Stanford campus which only serves lunch and dinner was up for the challenge!  Together we staged a typical American breakfast experience for our participants, complete with common breakfast foods, menus, waitresses and table settings.


After eating an ordinary breakfast including yogurt topped with fruit and granola, scrambled eggs with potatoes and bacon and huevos rancheros, the challenge description was pulled out of a restaurant-sized lettuce spinner and revealed to the group:

Participants used their observation and immersion skills from our first session together to create a journey map of their breakfast experience, which began at the moment they entered the restaurant and ended at the moment their plates were cleared.

From this map, the group was asked to identify several assumptions they had unknowingly made about the breakfast experience.

Here are some examples:

  • You eat with the people you came with
  • You don’t talk to your waitress for too long
  • You don’t eat off strangers’ plates
  • You stay in the designated customer areas and don’t go into the kitchen or wait staff areas
  • Certain foods are available at certain times of the day (breakfast foods for breakfast, etc.

Five levers, or “designable elements” were introduced to the group which included: time, space, roles, rituals and objects and participants were asked to come up with additional assumptions under each category as a way to diversify their thinking and create a broader range of possible opportunities for change.

Once the assumptions had been identified, they were either flipped (made opposite) or augmented (made more extreme). For example, the assumption of “you pay at the end of the meal” was flipped to “you buy before you try” while the assumption that “you get breakfast foods only at breakfast time” was augmented to  “you get breakfast foods all day long.”

From these lists, favorite ideas were selected and then translated into storyboards, which served as the first round of prototypes.  To create their storyboards, participants used a story framework to help them explain the “why” “what” and “how” of their idea in a narrative form and then shared it with the rest of group.

Once the solutions had been clarified through storyboards, prototypes were designed and tested with six customers we had invited for lunch.

The Axe and Palm chef, waitresses and restaurant staff all worked in collaboration with our teams to make the prototypes come to life, which made the feedback real and authentic for our participants.


The challenge had ended but the teaching was just about to begin.

One of the variables we are exploring is exactly when to insert the “teaching” in the agenda of the day.  In traditional workshops, the teaching is done at the beginning of the day or before an experience begins.

A typical version of this workshop might have looked like this:

  • We explain what “assumptions” are.
  • We show examples and case studies of assumptions.
  • We invite designers to come in and share how they challenge assumptions out in the field.
  • We ask participants to help us brainstorm and challenge assumptions as a whole group .
  • We ask participants to identify and challenge assumptions in team in a new context.

This order follows the typical “I do, we do, you do” framework of The Gradual Release of Responsibility Model. But being the constructivists that we are, we sought to turn this model on its head by eliminating the “I do” all together, putting the “you do” first (in this case it was the design challenge) and the “we do” at the end.  For us, the “we do” was presenting a list of reflection questions designed to help our participants make sense of the experience and how it relates to the “define” phase of the design thinking process.  This took the form of an interactive gallery walk around Studio 1 at the  Participants were asked to read the quotes, discuss them with their school teams and write down how they interpreted these quotes based on their experience from the day.  

A few quotes we shared are listed here:

“If everything is designed, everything can be redesigned”

“Not designing is an act of design”

“The answer has been here all along" 



A popular crowdsourcing activity called “Top 35” asked participants to write select the most memorable “bumper sticker” summary statement the day.  The top ten statements were shared with the group.

A debrief followed which allowed participants the opportunity to synthesize their experience and learning and provide us, the facilitating team, with meaningful feedback.

We concluded with drinks and snacks to celebrate all of the hard work and critical thinking the participants did throughout the day.


Day 2: Mindsets into Action


We considered feedback seriously before designing our third, of four, d.home Team experiences in our d.home Team series. We looked at videos, interview notes, feedback surveys and “next step” post-its to try to understand what was resonating with our educators from our past experiences together and what was not.

It was clear from the data that the easiest and most popular take-aways from days one and two were the concrete, tangible, activity-based experiences they could easily replicate in classrooms.

Questions around how to merge our participants’ need for the concrete with our desire to experiment around teaching mindsets is what drove our team conversations and debates for the next several days.

Here is what we tried…

Day 3 – Mindsets into Action

We began day 3 by watching this video.  In the video, two executives get “stuck” on an escalator and can’t seem to figure out how to get to their desired destination. Just when they think help has arrived, in the form of an escalator repair man, he too gets “stuck.” The commercial ends with all three people sleeping on the stopped staircase, awaiting rescue.

In our line of work, we often hear many reasons why innovation in schools is hard (time, resources, permission, buy-in, etc). And while we agree that innovation in any context, particularly the K-12 system, is incredibly challenging, we also wanted to make the point that obstacles or constraints that we bump up against are often only a frame of mind.  The idea that “perceived constraints are actually only a mindset” was referred to as the “Broken Escalator Theory” and we used this concept to set the foundation for the day.

In our line of work, we often hear many reasons why innovation in schools is hard (time, resources, permission, buy-in, etc). And while we agree that innovation in any context, particularly the K-12 system, is incredibly challenging, we also wanted to make the point that obstacles or constraints that we bump up against are often only a frame of mind.  The idea that “perceived constraints are actually only a mindset” was referred to as the “Broken Escalator Theory” and we used this concept to set the foundation for the day.

EXPERIENCE 1: Talkers and Listeners

We jumped into an activity called Talkers and Listeners to address the most common “broken escalators” we had heard from participants:

  • I am an introvert and the process of design thinking is for extroverts and I often feel uncomfortable
  • I don’t know how to get my “quiet students” to participate more

In this activity, participants were asked to self identify as either a “talker” or “listener” in their professional context.  In their respective groups, (talkers or listeners) they were asked to identify the reasons they prefer to talk or listen and come up with questions they could pose to the other group.

One goal for this activity was to help participants to feel more confident in how they process information in a group setting, either internally or out loud, and to better understand other styles of communication.  A second goal was for educators to re-think their understanding and definition of “participation” to include internal processing. We often think participation in school looks like students talking, presenting, or writing on the whiteboard, and we hoped that this experience would open up this understanding and help our participants to value and recognize less obvious signs of engagement.

EXPERIENCE 2: Content Based Challenge

We quickly transitioned into content. Participants selected one of two 90-minute design challenges, rooted in literacy or STEM standards, to participate in as if they were students.

The literacy challenge, led by myself, Melissa Pelochino, asked participants to solve for a character in a poem and the STEM challenge, led by Camp Galileo’s Pamela Briskman, Director of Curriculum, and Jamie Diy, Curriculum Manager, asked participants to design and build a grabber arm. Both sessions focused on design thinking across a content area as well as instructional strategies.

While participants were deeply immersed in one of these two challenges, we introduced *TWEET TWEET! the concept of mindset referees. The job of mindset referees was to look for evidence of three carefully selected mindsets and to call them out in real time.

Has a Bias Towards Action

Sees Constraints as Opportunity

Takes on More than one POV 

Upon seeing evidence of one of these mindsets, mindset refs would blow a whistle, throw down the appropriate “mindset card,” (think red card during a soccer game) call out the behavior or language they saw as evidence of that mindset, and then capture it on a “mindset scoreboard.” 

This experiment was designed to help participants identify the mindsets which support the design thinking process in an experiential way. To our delight, participants began calling out evidence of the mindsets for each other long before our mindset refs could even get to their whistles. When designing this experiment, this is what we had hoped for.

EXPERIENCE 3: Work-It Circuit

We wanted to make the point that design thinking in the classroom comes in many forms.  It can be experienced as a five step process or as stand alone, bite-sized chunks. In the afternoon, participants selected four of six stations to attend, where they were exposed to a variety of concepts from organizing empathy data across multiple frameworks to using clay to redefine abstract concepts like “love” to name just a few. Each station was a short 25-minutes long and were led by friends from our community. Check out the 1-page descriptions of each station here. And please let us know if you try any in your classrooms!

Closing the Loop

After reflecting on their learning in journals, participants re-joined their school teams to identify what they wanted to try back at their schools. Each school made a commitment to try something new and posted this action plan on a large board. 

But what about the “broken escalator theory” from the morning?  Participants were asked to identify the potential barriers or “broken escalators” to their action plan on large butcher paper.  In closing, teams stood at the bottom of the stairs, declared their next steps, and shared the potential barriers or “broken escalators” from their butcher paper.  One by one, teams ran up the stairs and broke through their butcher paper. Check out this quick video of the action.

Day 4: Small Moments Matter

Exploring stories of design thinking from the school year

Storytelling often comes into play at the end of the design thinking process – where teams distill ideas to communicate what they created. To flip that assumption, we brought together our d.home team educators, as well as collaborators across the, for their 4th and final workshop as a cohort to engage in a day of storymaking. Storymaking, instead, is about the process and collaboration it takes to build a story and explore its meaning – storymaking uses elements from all the phases of design thinking.

EXPERIENCE 1: I am a Tree. And other insignificant details turned story. 

Telling stories, though an innately human act, can be intimidating, so we framed the day around finding and telling stories about small moments that matter. We kicked off with a few improvisation activities to get warmed up. One was to build stories with three items. Someone would run into the circle and declare, “I am a tree!” The next, “I am a river,” “I am a falling leaf” until two elements peel off to seed another story, emphasizing that stories can be simple in nature and created from anything. Another activity used different gestures to encourage a partner to add plot and color to a simple story, calling to light that sometimes the most basic of story beginnings can be crafted into powerful moments with potent details.

As an example of using the stories of small moments to help one reflect on a larger purpose or direction in life, we watched a Convocation speech for college freshmen. For the speaker, the smallest details that seemed insignificant in his past were actually the most telling in how he shaped his career. Small moments provide powerful ways to reflect on learning. Given this was our last workshop with the d.home team, we wanted to provide them an opportunity to learn and create by reflecting on all they did this year -- and to find the small moments that popped out to them throughout their processes of embodying design thinking in school. And so, sprinkled around the room were…

EXPERIENCE 2: Gifts of memories, tied with a bow!

There were mysterious boxes with images around the room when participants came in. After we framed the day, participants curiously rambled around to find their school’s box. Once they found their boxes, smiles lit up the room as they pulled out pictures they submitted from experiments they recently tried at school, moments of the cohort exploring mindsets together, and objects -- a scarf, a whistle, a cup -- to jog their memory from what they had been through in and outside of school as a d.home team cohort this year.

Small moment cards were also in the box, prompting participants to sketch small moments from the year that items in the box hopefully helped them recall – anything from the day when a student who struggled to express himself to other classmates finally found his voice, to a meeting that they applied a little design thinking to kick off, to a personal journey as an educator.





To explore individual and group meaning in their small moments, we prototyped a new role in classic style, the story extractor. The story extractor, like any curious and empathetic listener, was there to ask, “What does that mean? Now, what does that really mean?” Each school team had an extractor to help them find the story that the group would drill into  and find the deeper meaning in that story. By the end of their time with the extractor, teams used voice memos (an app native to everyone’s smartphone) to record their stories. This was their first test of putting their stories out into the world and shifting from the posture of storytellers to audience members.

The story extractor was the genius idea of our fearless partner in crime for the day, storymaking guru in residence, Seamus Heart. Seamus worked with us long and hard to create the scope and sequence of this day and helped us drill down on what it really meant to extract a story.

EXPERIENCE 4: Story Sprints

After lunch, Seamus led us into workshop mode – all in the name of making a sticky and structured story. He guided us through a series of exercises that mirrored the design process and were inspired by the book, Made to Stick. We defined an audience by creating profiles, narrowed our story ideas from a full page story down to an itty bitty corner of a sheet, and made the story version of a How Might We statements. We then added detail and structure back into the story through the frame of “facts, feelings, and fireworks.” You can access all these resources on our wiki here. Each team drew visuals to accompany their fact, feeling, and firework phrases, and those visuals along with the phrases went in linear order on whiteboards to form a visual storyboard.

EXPERIENCE 5: Production!

With the help of media coaches from the, teams solidified their storyboard, added their own flare, like a sung soundtrack, and then filmed their stories, post-it by post-it, with their smartphones. Teams formed mini production teams with narrators, voice overs, camera men and women, and directors. Like Seamus said, the best way to see when spaghetti is done is throw it on the wall and see if it sticks. The best way to see if your story is ready is to test it by throwing it out there. This was the teams’ final test to see these small moments come to life.

And check out the results!

A whole new form of storymaking prototyping was born. We shared, applauded, laughed a lot, and reflected to conclude our day of storymaking. It is clear that small moments do matter. Educators are going to share back their videos from the day of design thinking journeys with students and colleagues back at school for feedback.

We are lucky we work with such an inspiring group of teachers, administrators, and school leaders who are game to experiment with us -- and with incredible colleagues at the, like Seamus, a terrific group of story extractors and media coaches willing to jump in and help on a dime.

We are excited to share the Version 2.0 of these stories and other oral accounts of the year at our final d.home celebration on May 13th. We also have two school site design challenges coming up in May with Prospect Sierra and East Bay School for Boys, both in the East Bay. We will be exploring integrating empathy into STEM curricula and issues of modular space. Stay tuned!