NAEA's SummerStudio: Design Thinking for Social Equity 2017 Reflection

NAEA's SummerStudio: Design Thinking for Social Equity 2017 Reflection

NAEA SummerStudio: Design Thinking for Social Equity 2017 Group Photo, University of Texas, Dallas.

NAEA SummerStudio: Design Thinking for Social Equity 2017
Group Photo, University of Texas, Dallas.

NAEA’s SummerStudio is the brainchild of Dr. Jan Norman who believed that good professional development was lacking for art educators. Through herculean effort and grants, SummerStudio is in its 3rd year and is highly celebrated by its repeat attendees.

I wrote and won a scholarship through the NAEA to attend this year’s SummerStudio at the University of Texas in Dallas. The original email read, “Design Thinking for Social Equity will explore the visionary role of Human-Centered Design to guide learners in the creative problem-solving process of Design Thinking, an inventive process through which problems are identified, solutions proposed and produced, and the results evaluated.” This bit sounded ambiguous but I understand the challenge of explaining a creative process in exacting words all too well. I also recognize the courage it takes for an organization willing to teach a creative practice to artistically minded people who are all at once open-minded to experience and protective of their own carefully crafted systems. 

Dallas Museum of Art | Center for Creative Connections

Dallas Museum of Art | Center for Creative Connections


My goal while attending this workshop was to determine how design thinking can inform an elementary art curriculum and the positive impact it could have both educationally and socially on students. I was new to the idea of design thinking and listened carefully to leading experts on defining the process that would motivate us, challenge us, and at times frustrate us, throughout the week. The hope was that we would each return to our respective fields equipped with a plan of how to utilize the infinite possiblities of design thinking.


To start the day groups of us were shuttled from the hotel a short distance to Naveen Jindal School of Management, UTD. We convened in a spacious plenary room where coffee and snacks were always provided and lunch was catered daily. The presenters and facilitators experienced sessions with us, leading to conversations that were encouraging and insightful in a way a lecture is not. We were each, in one fashion or another, offered solutions or provided emails for further inquiries. The buzz within the group dynamic was intellectually stimulating as well as informative. It was clear I was in a room with movers and shakers. The group was small by design, creating an intimate knowledge base. By day three we stopped needing to introduce ourselves before speaking and injected candid observations in smaller settings. The group took on a whole range of issues and equally exhibited an impressive ping pong exchange of solutions. Many of us nodded our heads in unison while others still remained unconvinced of what exactly Design Thinking can do for Social Equity. Give me more, their stern glares said.

Dr. Paul is my Dumbledore, full of insight on many topics, including the role art teachers have on the future of education. Dr. Paul Sproll is Head of the Department of Teaching + Learning in Art + Design At Rhode Island School of Design.

Dr. Paul is my Dumbledore, full of insight on many topics, including the role art teachers have on the future of education. Dr. Paul Sproll is Head of the Department of Teaching + Learning in Art + Design At Rhode Island School of Design.

What Design Thinking Is Not*

  • design thinking is NOT a formula or set of algorithms that, if applied
    properly fosters creativity and innovation

  • design thinking does NOT follow a linear structure

  • design thinking does NOT yield predictable results

  • design thinking is NOT intended to yield a single outcome, or “only one answer”

  • design thinking is NOT a ‘tap down/mandated-from-above’ way to instigate or manage or sustain change*


What Design Thinking Is*

Design thinking is a term that describes a loosely linked group of ways for many different kinds of people to plan, engage in, analyze and evaluate processes for doing and making things, procedures, strategies, and communities, as well as systems comprised of any of these.

Simply put, design thinking helps specific groups of people change situations or at least some aspect of them, that they find undesirable, into situations that are more desirable for them. *

The process often includes:

1. defining what it is about it that makes it “undesirable,”

2. considering who other than themselves will be affected by making a change (or changes), 

3. considering how particular social, technological, environmental, economic or public policy issues or agendas will be affected by making a change or changes. **

(**S.T.E.E.P. is an acronym used to describe how design, and design decision-making, affect change in society) *


Design Thinking

helps foster creativity and innovation because it is guided by circular, layered reasoning.*

Design Thinking within Education

In an educational setting, design thinking takes on numerous models. The IDEA model is a framework that was developed by a team of Lead Design Teachers and consulting experts who participated in Art Education by Design: Creating Communities of Learners through Action Research, supported by a grant from the National Art Education Foundation. 

The IDEA model

  • Identify: find the intended problem to be solved and the desired outcomes

  • Define: Investigate and develop required knowledge and skills, supported by cycles of teacher-led instruction, guided practice, and reflection.
  • Explore: Brainstorm, experiment, sketch and construct prototypes, through increasingly independent cycles of creating, reflecting, assessing, revising, and selecting most effective solutions.
  • Assess: Understand and articulate learning and outcomes by presenting and explaining the design solution to an audience and considering feedback for improvement and connection to real life applications.

This model and others were best explained during a session on QX Super Schools. Dr. Martin Rayala and Dr. Cristina Alvarez founded Design-Lab High School in Newark, Delaware, the first public charter school in the state to use Design Thinking as a signature instructional practice. It uses a placed-based learning model, allowing students to learn in buildings and spaces within a 2 mile radius of their community. If students need to learn about government, they go to town hall. Design-lab school's use of placed-based learning is a progressive vision for the future of education and tripled my interest in utilizing design thinking to solve issues in my classroom, school, and community. I agreed with Dr. Rayala’s idea of disruptive design;  in order to improve the current educational climate across the country, we must rid our schools of stagnant systems. Watch Dr. Rayala's TED talk titled Blowing the Roof Off of Education.

Within our smaller breakout sessions, I met two innovative and enigmatic elementary art teachers, Chapin Schnick, Smith Fine Arts Academy in Martinsville, IN, and Kendall Gamelin, Chapel Hill Elementary in Decatur, GA. From Chapin I learned about TAB, Teaching for Artistic Behavior, and how to orient the art room environment for best practices. Chapin has been using TAB for years in her classroom and recently won a grant to turn her school into a fine arts campus. Within 20 minutes of sharing ideas and problem solving with these women, I had a completely new idea for my upcoming school year. 

I was most inspired by Kevin Henry’s presentation on sketchnoting: a visual process of drawing while thinking using simple language: point, line, and plane. A unique blending of words and graphics that encourage a deeper understanding of selected issues and possible outcomes. Speed and space are essential, as are the marks used to connect or highlight key ideas. Sketchnoting is a mapping of visual thought. Not hard, not easy. Ah, Design Thinking. My brain is tingling just thinking about it. I can say it touched a nerve and I can’t go back now. The guilt of not having been doing it this whole time is too great.

Below are a few of my sketchnotes from the week:

I've created a page to record my exploration in sketchnoting and will tweet my progress!

I conclude with a sketchnote video I made for our final Community breakout session challange to define a particular challenge unique to your field and describe possible solutions using a metaphor. 


*prepared for visual arts administration and teachers from the Dallas, TEXAS Independent School District by the members of the Communication Design faculty from UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design

The story of Team Dillo and the Batarmaghorn or 3D printing in the art room

The story of Team Dillo and the Batarmaghorn or 3D printing in the art room

4th graders make action foil figures

4th graders make action foil figures