Inspired Design Thinking

Note: This post is written by Marina Clark , Science Specialist, Calgary Board of Education and is cross posted from her blog, Learning and Courage with permission.

The province of Alberta has entered the river of change through the work of those who understand teaching and learning best: students, educators, parents, and community partners. Through a collaborative and multi-jurisdictional proposal, several school jurisdictions, community partners, and multiple stakeholders have engaged in focus group conversations regarding the redesign of Alberta’s K to 12 curriculum.

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It is with hope that we let the river guide us through this change, knowing we must shift to remain relevant. Through change, we keep what is essential and think ahead to the ways of knowing that will allow our students to be successful as society advances.

As the Science Specialist for my school board, I work closely with the Fine Arts Specialist. This year has been especially poignant for teaching and learning as we embrace the STEM to STEAM movement with the community, in events such as Beakerhead (@Beakerhead); we strive to nurture student learning so they are able to articulate and make visible their growth and development, as inspired by Reggio EmiliaHarvard’s Project Zero (@ProjectZeroHGSE), and Making Thinking Visible.

I am grateful to be an inspired learner of the nurturing of competencies essential for a creative and innovative society through work of some talented individuals. This has included the work of Robert Kelly, several inspirational creativity sessions at the Calgary Regional Consortium designed by Warren Woytuck, and the latest, the !DEAS Conference at the University of Calgary featuring the work of NoTosh and Ewan McIntosh (@ewanmcintosh).

As we sat and worked through The Lab process where Ewan led us through a process of generating ideas, I felt inspired. There was a moment when my colleague and I looked at each other and said, we have to use this at our next focus group conversation.

Back at work we met with @alison_boyd to map out the process. We defined our initial question: How do you envision learning as an artist, maker, entrepreneur, scientist? We used our notes, and the NoTosh website outlining The Lab (Design Thinking in 90 Minutes) to structure the session.

We entered with some trepidation but were determined to take the risk to experience something new. As Matisse said, “Creativity takes courage.” We wondered how the focus group of artists, entrepreneurs, makers, science professors, film professionals, and community science and arts groups would respond and visualize the potential for learning in Alberta. True to the nature of their professions, they stepped outside their comfort zones, dug in to new problems, questioned, created, pushed the boundaries and designed new solutions. Meeting and exceeding our hopes for the day, they really and truly prototyped.

We began with some ideas and images of curriculum in Alberta, set the participants up in triads to interview one another about the nature of learning in their profession and then challenged them to generate a problem worth solving. Ideas were rich and varied, from making time for students to dig deeper in their learning, to finding new ways to connect classrooms and communities to reimagining models for teachers’ professional learning.

Next, the triads generated possible solutions. In ten minutes, some triads generated 25 ideas while others generated 95. The prototyping sketching process yielded further deep thinking of the focus group. In one minute, this sketch, envisioned by an artist from Studio C, how the relationships between school-based curriculum and community-based learning open new possibilities for students. The bottom of the image is the generation of Programs of Study from government moving more broadly from districts to schools to learners and communities.


At the conclusion of the session, we had the participants participate in the focus group questions and post their ideas to the wall of our Learning Commons – the project nest and the central location for curriculum development prototyping. The ideas from this group will be used to inspire future focus groups.

In closing, feedback was sought and provided. Participants commented:

  • I liked getting right to it, leaving no room for complaining or whining
  • Positive process
  • We were very focused
  • Best ideation process I have ever experienced

Now all we have to do is take all of the brilliant ideas and relocate our project nest to a cabin in the woods where we can hunker down with a bottle of wine and dig deeper into all of the new possibilities for the future of education in Alberta.

Interested in learning more? Want to join the conversation? Visit or email


Reference: Wheatley, M. J. (2010). Perseverance. San Franciso, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

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