Participatory design for innovating on the right questions

Translating forces into forms, Alejandro Aravena shares three incredible case studies in design thinking. The forces include the voices of the users. The forms are the solutions that were collectively created by community and architect, working together through design.

Alejandro Aravena: I don’t know if you were able to read the subtitles, but you can tell from the body language that participatory design is not a hippie, romantic, let’s-all-drink-together-about- the-future-of-the-city kind of thing. It is actually — (Applause) It is actually not even with the families trying to find the right answer. It is mainly trying to identify with precision what is the right question. There is nothing worse than answering well the wrong question.

Identifying the right question — that is the value added of design thinking…”participatory design,” as Aravena calls it.

There are three great portraits of innovation in Alejandro Aravena’s “My architectural philosophy? Bring the community into the process.” And the lessons apply to so much more than just architecture? How are you bringing your community into your process?

Creativity as disobedient thought. HMW nurture curiosity over compliance?

Creativity as “disobedient thought” — wonder sparked from our human drive to question.

Questioning is the very source of creative thought. When we get into a cul-de-sac where ritual and formula do not give us the answer, then we begin to question. This beautiful, beautiful human ability. Probably the most precious thing to nurture. — Welby Ings

In his TEDxAuckland talk, “Disobedient Thinking,” Welby Ings examines a bit of the nature of typical schooling — systems biasing compliance over creativity. What is the record of time that school students are able to explore the questions that originate from within them, rather than from the initiation of an adult? How are we nurturing the nature of creativity which is disobedient thought? How are we nurturing citizens who believe questioning is actually at the heart and core of deep citizenship?

HT @TJEdwards62

Inside the Black Box. Simple and Profound Transformations. #Questions #FormativeAssessment

On wait time, the nature of questions, visible thinking, formative assessment and deeper learning:

A particular feature of the talk between teacher and pupils is the asking of questions by the teacher. This natural and direct way of checking on learning is often un-productive. One common problem is that teachers do not allow enough quiet time so that pupils can think out and offer an answer. Where, as often happens, a teacher answers her or his own question after only two or three seconds, and where a minute (say) of silent thought is not tolerable, there is no possibility that a pupil can think out what to say. There are then two consequences. One is that, because the only questions that can produce answers in such a short time are questions of fact, these predominate. The other is that pupils don’t even try to think out a response—if you know that the answer, or another question, will come along in a few seconds, there is no point in trying. It is also common that only a few pupils in a class answer teachers’ questions. The rest then leave it to these few, knowing that they cannot respond as quickly and being unwilling to risk making mistakes in public. So the teacher, by lowering the level of questions and by accepting answers from a few, can keep the lesson going but is actually out of touch with the understanding of most of the class—the question-answer dialogue becomes a ritual, one in which all connive and thoughtful involvement suffers.

There are several ways to break this particular cycle. They involve giving pupils time to respond, asking them to discuss their thinking in pairs or in small groups so that a respondent is speaking on behalf of others, giving pupils a choice between different possible answers and asking them to vote on the options, asking all to write down an answer and then reading out a selected few, and so on. What is essential is that any dialogue should evoke thoughtful reflection in which all pupils can be encouraged to take part, for only then can the formative process start to work.

Inside the Black Box
Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment

Paul Black and Dylan Wiliam

In those few sentences above, one can find some of the simplest and easiest methods to transform teaching and learning in significant and profound ways.

If you spend time visiting and observing classrooms in this country, you know that we all can improve on the methods suggested above.

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NOTE: Just about everything that I have read about assessment in the last decade references and/or connects in some way to Black & Wiliam’s article “Inside the Black Box.” Yet I wonder how many educators have taken the time to read it, study it, and strive to implement it. And, I do not mean to sound accusatorial. I genuinely wonder.

Be cultivators of curiosity and inquiry – Ramsey Musallam #TED

Rethinking our identity…

But if we as educators leave behind this simple role as disseminators of content and embrace a new paradigm as cultivators of curiosity and inquiry, we just might bring a little bit more meaning to their school day, and spark their imagination.

Ramsey Musallam: 3 rules to spark learning,


  1. Curiosity comes first.
  2. Embrace the mess.
  3. Practice reflection.

A piece of “what”: Take 15 minutes to read an article and watch a TED talk – if you care anything about creativity, discoverers, and school.

Questions may be the single most important thing about learning, about school, about nurturing curiosity. If we want creativity to flourish, then we must nurture curiosity in schools.

Is school nurturing questions? How might we experiment with “school” so that we develop the core of curiosity and questioning – of the students, teachers, parents, administrators alike?

Over the weekend, thanks to Zite, I read a fabulous article entitled The Creativity Crisis. It may be one of the most important articles I have ever read. I hesitate to write much on this blog post because I would rather readers spend the time reading the article. In the piece, Bronson and Merryman weave together educational psychology, neuroscience, project-based learning, human development…and hope. Hope bred from motivation which considers how we educate young people. What are we nurturing in young people by the way we are educating them? Do our hopes and needs match our means and habits?

Preschool children, on average, ask their parents about 100 questions a day.Why, why, why—sometimes parents just wish it’d stop. Tragically, it does stop. By middle school they’ve pretty much stopped asking. It’s no coincidence that this same time is when student motivation and engagement plummet. They didn’t stop asking questions because they lost interest: it’s the other way around. They lost interest because they stopped asking questions.

– Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman in “The Creativity Crisis,” Newsweek, July 10, 2012, as found on The Daily Beast.

How might we keep them asking questions! How might we reflect back to them that we are all creatives…all discoverers! We began as such. School should nurture and develop such – for us all.

Are we facilitating the development of new discoverers? How are we balancing time spent in desks and textbooks with time spent exploring, hypothesizing, designing, and experimenting? Are we out of balance in the ways that many schools are operating? Adam Savage, of Mythbusters, sheds some light on the wonders of science and exploration and discovery in his TED talk: “How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries” (and embedded below). How might we re-imagine and re-purpose time in school so that we create the space and atmospheres of exploration and discovery? How might we make school more about getting in the field…couldn’t we flip the field trip? Through whatever means, we must help students understand that they are the discoverers…that they can change the world.

What happens when you look at what the discoverers were thinking about when they made their discoveries it that you understand – they are not so different from us. We are all bags of meat and water. We all start with the same tools.

I love the idea that different branches of science are called fields of study. Most people think of science as a closed black box. In fact, it is an open field. And we are all explorers. The people that made these discoveries just thought a little bit harder about what they were looking at. And they were a little bit more curious. And their curiosity changed the way people thought about the world, and thus it changed the world. They changed the world.

And so can you.

– Adam Savage…6 min, 30 sec mark of 7 min, 30 sec talk

How are you helping to nurture questions, curiosity, exploration, and discovery? If you are not doing so, you are more aligned with the problems than with the solutions.