Assessment Design 3.0 – The Final Checklist

Remember that assessment design checklist I’ve been working on for the past month or so? It is finally complete. In this checklist I have identified 5 questions that I should ask when creating an assessment. In honesty the questions themselves were not that hard to narrow down but explaining why each one was important took a bit of time.

Without further delay, here is the final assessment design checklist…

The black writing is from the first draft, the blue writing is from the second draft, and the red is from the final draft.

To see the full checklist with the supporting explanations and evidence follow the link to Assessment Design checklist 3.0.

The exploration that I did about assessment was immensely helpful in solidifying my ideas. If I were to choose the most thought provoking ideas that I encountered during this process the first would be from Rick Wormeli. In his video he said, ” Students can learn without grades but they can’t learn without feedback!” (Stenhouse, 2010). After years and years of thinking about grades and feedback as one and the same this took some time to rectify in my brain. He is so right!

The second really eye opening idea that I encountered was about using assessment to learn rather than using it to punish. “We have to help students (and teachers) look to assessment as a source of insight and help rather than as a rewards and punishment system” (Shepard, 2005, p. 10). Again, this took some time for me to come to terms with. The description of assessment and grades as a reward and punishment system rather than a display of what students know made me think deeply about how assessments are used in my classroom. There is a lot of room for improvement!

Thank you for patiently following along as I worked my way through the creation of this checklist. I hope it has been as educational for you as it has been for me. Hmmm, I wonder what I can explore next in the assessment realm…

References:

Shepard, L. (2005). Linking formative assessment to scaffolding. Educational Leadership, 63(3), 66-70.

Stenhouse Publishers. (2010, November 13). Rick Wormeli: Formative and  Summative Assessment [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJxFXjfB_B4

Assessment Design 2.0

About a month ago, when I started on this assessment journey, I identified a need for a new assessment in my Advanced Baking class. If you want to go back and read the original post you can find it here. The reason I feel that I need a new assessment in this area is because when the students are creating new recipes they go through many iterations of the recipe before they get it perfect for the bake shop. As part of each step along the way they taste the product and form opinions about the taste, texture, and appearance. Then they make plans for the next iteration. Currently the process is verbal which means that some ideas can be forgotten from one day to the next.

Creating new formative assessment would be the perfect way to solve this problem. As I have been exploring assessment my thoughts on the importance of feedback in the form of formative assessment have been reinforced. In one video I watched, Rick Wormelli says that “students can learn without grades but they can’t learn without feedback” (Stenhouse Publishers, 2010). In an article I read the authors stated that “feedback is among the most critical influences on student learning” (Hattie & Timperly, 2007, p. 81). Both of those statements are strongly worded to drive home the importance of feedback on student learning. It relates to the assessment I am contemplating because the students can’t improve their products, which are examples of their understandings of how baking works, without the constant use of feedback.

My original thoughts on the new assessment:

Some additional thoughts on the new assessment:

The instruction that will take place before the assessment is used will be specific to each lab group. Since each group is creating a unique dessert I will provide instruction that is unique to their needs. For example, if the group is creating a cookie as part of their product I will provide instruction on the science behind creating the best cookie. I will also provide instruction on technical parts of their recipe as needed. The assessment will be applied when the group has created their product and also each time they make changes to the recipe and make it again. After the group analyzes the data from their “Product Feedback” assessment they will create a new plan for the recipe and I will provide more instruction if it is needed. It will be a cycle of baking, assessment, new plan, baking, assessment, new plan until the product is exactly what they are looking for. This assessment plan, in my opinion, touches upon several of the 7 Principles of Good Feedback as defined by Nicol & McFarlane (2006, p. 205). It facilitates the development of self-assessment in learning, encourages teacher and peer dialogue around learning, and it provides information to teachers that can be used to shape teaching (Nicol & McFarlane, 2006, p. 205).

Some basic instruction will be provided to the students along with their assessment, as I explained in the past blog post. The feedback instructions have not changed from the first version. The instructions will look something like this:

This new formative assessment is starting to really take shape. I can’t wait to share the final product with you once I choose a technology application to use and get the formatting complete. So much to do, but so excited to do it…

References:

Nicol, D., & Macfarlane-Dick, D. (2006). Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice. Studies in Higher Education, 31(2), 199–218

Stenhouse Publishers. (2010, November 13). Rick Wormeli: Formative and  Summative Assessment [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJxFXjfB_B4

Assessment Design Checklist – Version 2

Have you been following along as I explore assessment as it applies to my classroom and beyond? Then I’m guessing you have been waiting rather impatiently to see how my Assessment Design Checklist continues to take shape. Never fear, you can find the first page here with a link to the full document with all of the explanations of why I chose each very important question.

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1iIf65b3ByK0JBHIAWibZoCd72gdQS_tgWEabPFnkO10/edit?usp=sharing

Something that I read last week has had a strong impact on my thoughts on question number 3: Is this assessment explicitly connected to the course goals?. Hattie and Timperly identified three big questions for feedback…

1. Where am I going? (what are the learning goals)

2. How am I going? (how will I make progress toward the goals)

3. Where to next? (what activities need to happen to make progress)

(Hattie & Timperly, 2007, p.88). This impressed upon me the importance of sharing the unit goals with students. They need to know what the learning goals are in order to use feedback to reach those goals. If we don’t tell them what the goals are it’s unlikely they will reach them without struggle. Think about it this way, if I give you a recipe with no title and don’t tell you what the finished product is supposed to be, won’t you be frustrated at the end if I tell you it’s wrong? We have to give our students a goal to shoot for.

References:

Hattie, J. & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of  Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112. https://search-proquest-com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/docview/214113991/fulltext/A88FAE310A0B4CE9PQ/1?accountid=12598

A Closer Look At Group Work Rubrics

Have you ever worked on a group project, felt you worked harder than some other group members, and then felt cheated when you all got the same grade? I can imagine everyone nodding with great enthusiasm and disgust (My husband is nodding and complaining as he sits beside me reading this too). This happens often as more and more teachers are utilizing group. I’ve been frustrated for some time now in how that group work is assessed, including (or perhaps especially) in my own classroom.

The subject matter that I teach has traditionally been taught using group work. Introductory cooking, baking, and culinary arts all require a team approach due to the short supply of money, space, and equipment. Teamwork is also a core skill for success in the culinary field. A professional kitchen relies on the “Kitchen Brigade” to work seamlessly to get meals out in a timely manner. Group work makes sense for our subject matter but the way that it is traditionally assessed poses problems.

The assessment of group work typically utilizes a “Group Work Rubric”. This rubric assesses all of the individuals in the group as a whole and can look something like this…

Group Work Rubric (sample)

In this streamlined form six cooking groups, with four students in each group, can all be assessed on a single sheet of paper. The ratings are on a scale of zero to two (0= didn’t complete, 1= somewhat achieved the goal, 2= completely achieved the goal) and the teacher can very quickly assess the whole class. The ease of use and speed with which you can assess large numbers is possibly why it is so popular.

This is the rubric that I was expected to use when I started teaching at my current district. Is it quick and easy to use? Yes. Does it make it possible to put a grade in the gradebook for each lab in the short 45 minutes I have with each group of students? Yes. However, after a few weeks of trying to make it work I found some major flaws. First of all there is absolutely no way to individualize a grade using this rubric. When a student in the group doesn’t pull their weight they still get rewarded with a higher grade than they deserve. On the contrary, when a student is pulling more than their weight in the group they sometimes get punished for the actions of the other group members using this system. Second, it doesn’t do anything except for put a number in the gradebook. The students never really get feedback using this model and it isn’t actually measuring any specific skills. How can they improve if their assessment isn’t telling them what they are doing well and what they need to improve upon?

If I compare this assessment to the checklist I wrote about last week it fails miserably. My first criteria was “Does this assessment inform learning?”. As I stated above it doesn’t tell the students anything about their learning. They usually never see the rubric unless they question their grade. The second criteria on the checklist asks “Does the assessment require students to demonstrate understanding?”. The answer is sometimes, sort of, kind of. They demonstrate understanding of classroom procedures and general topics like safety and sanitation as well as mise en place. However, the rubric never changes with the units so they aren’t being assessed on their understanding of any unit specific knowledge or skills.

I was so frustrated with this rubric that I changed it, and then the next year I changed it again. Each year that I have been there I have made improvements to the rubric and how it is used in the classroom but it still frustrates me to no end. What I would really like to see is a screen that has all of the students listed down the left side and all of the criteria listed across the top with space for me to assess each person in each area. Perhaps with room for comments down the right side of the chart as well. The feedback would not be in the form of numbers but indicators of performance. If a skill wasn’t observed for a certain student on that day then that could be indicated as well. Some of the skills and criteria across the top would change for each unit as the learning changes although others would stay the same.

In my vision of the new and improved group rubric it would all be electronic. As I walk around and observe the students I can update the chart on a laptop or tablet and at the end of the period hit a button that sends each student an individual report. The students could use the report to see which areas they are excelling in and which areas they need to work on. It’s possible that they could come up with an improvement plan based their evaluation of the report.

The joy and excitement I feel at the mere thought of such a system is incredible. I have yet to see a system that works the way I imagine though. Maybe I should approach it like the Kitchenaid mixers. I was tired of waiting for someone to fix them so I learned how to do it myself. (I’m sure my tech loving husband would help)

Assessment Design Checklist – Take 1

When you design an assessment how do you know it meets all of your expectations? A better question might be: Before you give an assessment to your students do you assess the assessment itself? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the answer is “No” from most of you. After all, I’ve never had a checklist or other marking system to match my assessments to and I’ve been teaching for over 20 years. To my knowledge neither have any of my colleagues, at least not the ones in my “inner circle”.

I decided this week that if I’m going to spend so much time reading about, thinking about, and writing about assessment then maybe I should construct something useful with it all. I should create an assessment checklist. It sounds easy enough but I’m being honest when I say I have agonized over this for days. What should I include? What is REALLY important? How should I state it? There is so much that could be included, but if I put it all in this checklist then is becomes too cumbersome to be useful. Quite a conundrum.

My final decision has been to start the construction of the checklist and post it here so I can get feedback from other professionals. That way someone can tell me if I leave out something important or if I’ve included something trivial. It’s always good to get other perspectives! Please, if you have some time to spare, follow the link below and leave me some feedback in the form of comments here on the blog. Please note that questions #1 & #2 are complete at this point and the rest are still in progress.

Assessment Design Checklist

Thanks for your input or for just thinking about assessment right along with me!

Assessment Design 1.0

The one area in my classes that I have a need for a new assessment is in Advanced Baking. In this course the students are much more self directed and they are often tasked with creating new products / recipes for our monthly bake shop. Creating a new recipe is hard work and it doesn’t happen in just one try. It takes many iterations of the product to get it just right in flavor, texture, appearance, and customer draw. Each time the students make their recipe the whole class tastes it and gives feedback in a verbal round table type discussion. This leaves out any students who are not in the room that day and it also doesn’t leave a “paper trail” or notes on the suggestions given for improvement.

I would really like to create a product assessment that students can fill out while they are tasting the products. This doesn’t need to completely replace the verbal discussion but serve as an enhancement of that process. The team that made the product will then have a written account of what the tasters liked and disliked so they can make an informed decision about next steps without relying on memory of the discussion.

I think a practical name for the assessment would be “Product Feedback”. Some students get hung up on words like assessment but feedback sounds less threatening. The format of the assessment would be in multiple forms. Perhaps it could begin by asking students to rate the flavor, texture, and appearance on a scale followed by space to offer positive comments as well as suggestions for improvement. I think the team will need to show how they are using the feedback in their next iteration so they have to consciously practice receiving constructive feedback, evaluating the feedback, and then using the feedback. This isn’t a skill many of the students are taught.

The student instructions for an assessment such as this would need to be clear and standards would need to be set so students know they may not be hurtful or cruel in their feedback. On first draft the instructions look something like this:

Finally, I believe that using digital technology to provide this assessment will assist in many ways. The students will be able to provide their feedback anonymously so they can feel more open to honesty in their assessment. Also, the data will be more easily manipulated if it is collected in a digital manner. For example, if a Google Form is used the feedback can be viewed as graphic representations like pie charts so they can see what percentage of students agreed on each area of feedback.

Assessing MY Assessment

Want to tag along as I take a new look at one of the old assessments I’ve used in the past? Today I’m going to look at it from a critical perspective and you are welcome to come along for this (possibly uncomfortable) ride. Let’s get started before I lose my nerve…

End of Unit Cookie Quiz

To give some perspective, this is an end of unit assessment, that would have been taken after a variety of learning activities and cooking labs. It would be used to assess whether students know the difference between types of cookies and minor information related to how cookies are made. I haven’t used this for a year or two as I have started to transition to more performance assessments but I felt that this assessment would give me more to write about.

As I look at this assessment now I see a few assumptions that I made when I created it. First of all I assumed that the students had experience making all 6 types of cookies. While we do make all 6 types of cookies in class if they were absent for a lab then they were not able to see the process for themselves. A secondhand description from a group member is not the same as experiencing the recipe yourself. I also assumed that they know the specific cookies I used as examples, like Snickerdoodles and Thumb Prints. Not all students would know what those cookies are so they may struggle in answering those questions.

Last week I wrote about 3 things I believe about assessment. In that post I stated that assessment (1.) should measure growth, (2.) should measure that growth over time, and (3.) should match the information or skill being measured. When I look at this assessment, with those three things in mind, I’m not surprised that I’ve moved on from using it. It is a snapshot of a student’s knowledge. Without a pre-assessment to compare it to there is no way it can show growth. It also doesn’t really measure what I want students to learn in the cookie unit. I want them to be able to successfully make a variety of cookies and understand the purpose of individual ingredients enough to make successful substitutions and adjustments to the recipes. This assessment does not measure any of that!

I did a bit of reading about assessment this week and when I look at this test I see it through a new lens. According to Master of Arts in Educational Technology (2020), one thing that helped to shape education and assessment into the system that we still use today was Social Efficiency. Master or Arts in Educational Technology (2020) goes on to say that in the early part of the 20th Century the social efficiency movement developed from a feeling that education could be streamlined to teach just what needed to be learned. Our understanding of assessment largely grew from that idea. The test I shared above reminds me of that movement; streamlined to measure mastery of content in an objective easy to score manner. Unfortunately that model isn’t going to serve our students very well in the 21st Century. In this new era our students are going to need to be able to transfer their knowledge to new situations, be creative, and think for themselves.

One last thing that I learned about assessment this week was from an article by Lorrie Shepard titled “The role of assessment in a Learning Culture”. In the article the author stresses that, “Our aim should be to change our cultural practices so that students and teachers look to assessment as a source of insight and help instead of an occasion for meting out rewards and punishments”(Shepard, 2000, p. 10). The assessment I’ve been looking at so critically is an example of why we need to change those cultural practices. This assessment didn’t help students or teachers. It was just another grade in the grade book.

While I have already started to make major changes in the way I use assessment in the classroom I still have a lot of work to do to get it right. Watch for updates as the journey unfolds.

References:

Master of Arts in Educational Technology (2020, Summer). Course content from Unit 1: Assessment-Driven Instructional Design. Michigan State University, CEP 813: Electronic Assessment. https://d2l.msu.edu

Shepard, L. A. (2000). “The role of assessment in a learning culture”. Educational
Researcher, 29
(7), 4-14. https://journals-sagepub com.proxy1.cl.msu.edu/doi/pdf/10.3102/0013189X029007004

3 Things I Believe About Assessment

Over the past 43 years of my young life, assessment has taken on different meanings at different stages. Even before I started formal education, I was assessed. My grandfather was a man of few words, but when I helped plant potatoes or cantaloupes on the farm, he was quite quick to give criticism of my spacing between plants. His garden had structure, and his workers were expected to do it his way (the right way) every single time.

When I entered public school, assessments became more formal. Quizzes and tests were common, and as far as I knew, they were the only measure my teachers were using to measure me. College was much the same with big exams like midterms and final exams, taking on an even greater significance than they had in high school.

Then I became a teacher, and in my early career, I used assessment in the same way I had experienced it. The longer I was teaching; however, the more my views changed, and that old version of assessment just didn’t feel right anymore.

Now, at this moment, when I think about assessment, I can pinpoint the following 3 things that I believe about assessment.

  1. Assessment should measure growth. Assessment is a measurement tool, but often it is only used to record one measurement with nothing to compare that measurement to. You need to have multiple data points to truly measure what a student has learned or how they have increased in a skill set.
  2. Assessment should measure that growth over time. Even now, in midlife, I am still learning. Learning is a process that lasts the whole life through, and assessment needs to take that into account. When it is used as a snapshot to record what you know at one point in time, it is not a very accurate measure. Assessment should measure what you know at the beginning of an experience, how you grow along the way, and what you have learned by the end.
  3. The assessment being used should match the information or skill being measured. When you are assessing a reading skill, you don’t ask math questions. The evaluation should be crafted to take an accurate measure of the information learned or the level of expertise developed. Often in my baking classroom assessments look like an everyday cooking lab. I measure my students at the end of the yeast bread unit by how successfully they can make garlic knots. Do they keep the yeast alive? Is gluten appropriately developed? Are the knots shaped correctly? Is the hydration of the dough correct? Etc.

If you hadn’t already figured it out, I am starting to explore assessment as a new topic of interest. I look forward to sharing with you what I learn along the way.

Reflecting on Design

In early January 2020, I got the email welcoming me to my newest Grad class. At that point, I had read the title of the course and the brief description in the course catalog but I didn’t really know what to expect. Was it going to be hard? Would I be able to keep up with the work with my full-time job and family responsibilities?  I have to admit I was a bit nervous as I opened up the d2l online learning platform to check out the course. 

The course was CEP 817 and it was called Teaching Tech Through Design. That didn’t give me a lot of clarification. Designing is something we do when we make something right? It’s being creative, or something like that, so how do we teach through design? Oi, I thought, what had I gotten myself into. 

I moved on to reading about the course and the syllabus. It explained that the course was about design as a process and a product, whatever that means.  The last line, however, caught my interest. It said the course was about design as a framework for helping us work through issues, problems, and solutions with respect to education. Hmmm, there are a LOT of problems and issues to work through in education and honestly, we aren’t usually given a lot of guidance to help us navigate our way to a comprehensive solution. This could be useful. 

The grading system seemed a little questionable. Apparently, we were all starting with a 4.0 and there wouldn’t be grades for our assignments, only feedback from the instructors. Now, this was not the first time I’d heard of such a grading system but I had a lot of issues with it. So far I have ended up with a 4.0 in all of my courses, and I felt that I had worked hard to earn that grade so being given a 4.0 wasn’t the problem. I think the issue I have with this grading system is that I thrive in a structured environment. I need goals, benchmarks, and obvious things I need to do to KNOW that I’m on the right track. This kind of felt like I was expected to work my way through a maze in the dark, never knowing if I was getting closer to the goal or just going in circles. 

Unit 1 was full of the usual “beginning of course” assignments. I checked them all off as I worked till I got to the 55 Fiction assignment. We were supposed to write a piece of fiction that was only 55 words long. Not 54, not 56, ONLY 55. Preposterous! Now I have to be upfront here, I used to be a very creative person in my younger years but once I had kids my chances to be creative dwindled rapidly. Most of my days became full of lists of tasks that HAD to be done to keep the family on track. 

The first thought was “What the hell does this have to do with design?”. I even put it off for a few days, hoping it would go away, lol. Then I sat myself down and stared at the screen. My mind was blank. My Mom happened to be visiting for a few days which always makes me reminisce about growing up on the dairy farm. Ok, so why not start there? I’ve known my share of cows so I wrote about cows. Halfway through I even giggled! This was fun and what do you know, I can be creative after all!

The very next section of Unit 1 answered a lot of my initial questions. I learned that design is really a thing. It’s the way we go about changing something from what it IS now to what it COULD be. The way I like to think about it is changing what we HAVE to what we PREFER. Not only is it a real topic but it has multiple models and people study design. 

It was in Unit 1, right off the bat, that I learned that we are ALL designers. I am a designer. Not only did I read about it, and watch videos about it, but I actually believed it. Hadn’t I changed the entire baking program from an empty course that no one wanted to take to one that is bursting at the seams? Hadn’t I changed my circumstances from a farm girl who was stuck in Fulton County forever to a successful teacher in New Jersey (far away from the farm)? I might not have understood design as I was doing it but I had taken a less than perfect situation and changed it into a much better one.  

The final thing I remember learning about in Unit 1 was the Stanford Design Model. I spent a lot of time on their website, exploring. The Standford model starts with Empathize, followed by Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. I took some notes on each of the “Modes” of design thinking and felt like a whole new world was opening up in front of me. It made so much sense! And I started lamenting to my husband that I hadn’t known about design until I was over 40. What a waste of time. 

We worked our way through the design process by choosing a problem of practice to focus on. A problem that we were having in our own classroom or school that needed a creative solution. I chose to use my Advanced Baking class as my problem of practice. The curriculum was all about cake decorating which none of the students had a big interest in. I had been teaching it completely “off curriculum” for a few years trying to figure out which direction to go. It needed a lot of work. 

 We starting with Empathize. In Unit 2 we practiced empathizing and it seemed like the natural place to start. It is always my goal to get to know all of my students and make a connection of some kind with each and every one of them. I hurt for them when they tell me that its not “normal” for a teacher to talk to them like they are people and to show interest in who they are. I think that’s why this step struck me as so darn important. In education, we often start AND end our curriculum and activity design without ever considering the final user, the student. I’m not typical, students are always the center of what I’m working on so I talked to the students to get their view of the curriculum and how it should be shaped for THEIR use. 

This is the point where I became REALLY interested in the design process and how it can be useful in education. I was on board! I started thinking of the many ways I could use the design model to improve my teaching and even my decision making about WHAT to teach. If we changed the way we thought about problem-solving we could be creating much better solutions to some of our biggest problems. 

Unit 3 brought us to Define. Here we spent some time digging deeper into the problem and figuring out what the real root of it was. What I had listed as my original problem was just what I saw on the surface but once I started digging I found so much more to look at. It had all seemed much simpler before this step, lol. I had to pull everything apart and push the distracting parts to the side to find the real soul of the problem. 

With each unit, I was becoming a more passionate proponent of the design process. In our rush to quickly solve problems and move on we rarely (or never) look at them in this depth. The design process taught me to be much more thorough and purposeful in my approach. If we spend the time to empathize and define the problem then the rest of the process will be much more successful. 

Unit 4 blew my mind! We were ideating. This means we were brainstorming, but no, more than brainstorming. Brainstorming usually leads us to the “typical” answers and rarely leads us in a creative direction. In this unit, we were encouraged to focus on the problem and then put it aside for a while. This gives our brain a chance to really marinate on the problem and leads to epiphany type moments. 

I had a few of those moments. I was in the middle of teaching a lesson when one of them struck. I had to take a moment to write it down and even mulled it over in front of the students aloud. They showed interest so I knew it was something to keep in mind. 

This was the first opportunity I had had as an adult where I was encouraged to write it all down, no matter how extreme it seemed. Usually, there are constraints like cost, time, etc. but not for this process.

The last two parts of the design process are different but they go hand in hand and can end up being a cycle. They are Prototype and Test. Basically, you take all of the best ideas from your ideation and narrow it down to the one that will solve the problem most effectively. Then you create a prototype of that solution. It’s a physical representation of your solution. It might be a machine or a draft of a document. Once you have a prototype you then test it and use the data to improve your next prototype and test again, and again, and again until you get it just right. 

The most important part of this is that it is acceptable to NOT be perfect the first time! There will be many iterations of the prototype that have to be tested before you get it just the way you want it. 

I think there are a lot of applications in education for this concept alone. We expect perfection from our students but why? We test them and then hand back the corrected test but what does that really tell us. Wouldn’t it be better to give it back and allow them to make corrections until they have really learned the lesson? This is a topic that I have to spend some more time thinking about…

In Retrospect

Design has applications in each and every part of my life. It could have huge implications in education but also in my daily life. I’ve found myself thinking about empathy when talking to my kids or ideating a solution to the problem we have in the garage with all those darn cardboard boxes that need to be packed for recycling. I prototyped a lesson for baking at home for my students and tested it with my Advanced Baking students before using it for the lower level Baking students. We had to test it twice to get it right. 

We can learn a lot by following modes of design thinking. We can learn about our students in a way we didn’t before. We can open up our thinking to include new and radical solutions to age-old problems. We can learn to be creative again. Now that we are at the end of the course I understand the purpose of that 55 fiction that I dreaded so much. I have to write another one this week but I’m not pushing it off as I did before. I’m saving it for last just like I always save the best for last. 

 

Final Problem of Practice Report

 

The Model

There are multiple design models to choose from and all of them have their own positive traits. The one that I used for this project was the Stanford Model from the Stanford Design School. The 5 modes of design thinking according to this model are Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, and Test. In order to learn about each mode of the model, I worked through the design process with my own Problem of Practice. This was an eye-opening experience and I learned a lot along the way.

The key things I learned about the design process are…

  • It is how we move from an imperfect situation into one that works better for our students. 
  • It requires creativity.
  • It takes a lot of input from all of the stakeholders to get it right.

In order to explain the process and how it works follow along as I focus on each mode of the model individually. I’ll share their meaning and how I worked through the mode for my project. 

My Problem

The problem that I started with is that my baking and advanced baking classes were too similar. Advanced baking was being run as a 2nd level of baking but it was quite repetitive in nature. The students covered all of the main baking information in the first level course so other than making more complex recipes there weren’t a lot of new areas to cover in advanced baking. 

Mode 1 – Empathize

Empathy is important in the design model. It allows the designer to get to know the user to the extent that they can be sensitive to their feelings, thoughts, or experiences. If you don’t know the end user then the solution you design is less likely to actually solve the problem. Some ways that we can practice empathy are by asking questions, listening to stories, observing, and attempting to step into their perspective. 

For my project, I decided to get a student perspective. They are the users of the curriculum and therefore their perspective would give the best clues to how effective it was and how well it was meeting their needs.  I started by giving each student a list of questions to answer and I encouraged them to be brutally honest in their responses. Not all of the students are comfortable speaking their minds aloud in a group setting and I wanted everyone to have input. Then while we worked side by side preparing doughs and batters during the remainder of the week I worked in lots of small group and individual conversations. I was trying to get even more information but I was careful to listen and not lead. 

survey response

I learned that the students all felt that they learned a lot in Advanced Baking. They felt that some of the most positive parts of the course were the bakeshop experiences and the freedom to be creative and create new things. Students also identified areas of the course that they felt needed improvement. One of the recurring answers was that students want more time to work on the areas of baking they identify as either their favorites or the ones they need more time to perfect. They felt that they were restricted by the need to follow the predetermined units. 

Mode 2 – Define

The second mode of the Stanford Design Model is to define. In this mode, you look at all of the information you collected from empathizing and then create a very specific definition of the problem. Sometimes it takes a lot of thought to really find the root of the problem and get a thorough definition. 

For my project, I spent a lot of time reading through the student feedback and writing down the common themes. One that made a resounding impact on me was expressed by an energetic and curious student. I created this point of view framework to express it…

POV

Another big part of the defining mode is the need to dig down to the true root of the problem. What we see on the surface is typically just the beginning. To do this I used an exercise called “5 whys?”. I started by listing my problem of practice and then asking WHY five times in a row. For each answer, I asked why again until I dug down to the heart of the problem.  For my project, the root of the problem was the curriculum document that was old and unbalanced. 

At the end of define mode, I was able to write a more specific statement of my Problem of Practice. My new statement became, “The Advanced Baking course is repetitive, dated, and skewed toward one area of baking.”

Mode 3 – Ideate

This is the mode where you get to start thinking about solutions. Creativity is a huge part of the ideate mode. It is important to include even the wildest ideas on your list and to be radical. Take some time to incubate your ideas. This means focus on them for a while and then set them aside. Your mind will still mull over the ideas in the background and an epiphany may happen when you least expect it. 

I started ideation by presenting the Problem of Practice to my department coworkers and asking them to contribute their thoughts via post-it note on a poster I kept on my workroom desk all week. It was not possible for all of us to sit down together due to our schedules. 

2020-02-29_18-28-24_695

While waiting for my colleagues to provide their input to the brainstorming poster I spent time brainstorming as well.  I kept a journal of ideas that occurred to me as I allowed incubation to occur. As the weirdest times an idea would pop up and I would get excited and add it to the list. This process was exhilarating and enjoyable. The ideation mode gave me a chance to let the ideas fly with no concern for cost, administrative expectations, etc which can really get in the way of creative solutions.

Mode 4 – Prototype

Ideas start to take physical form in the prototype mode of this process. When you exit the ideate mode you have to focus your energies on the one best idea from your list. The idea that will solve the problem in the most effective way. Then you create a prototype based upon that idea as a solution to the problem. A prototype is a physical representation of your chosen solution.

For my problem of practice, I chose to create a new Scope and Sequence for the Baking and Advanced Baking classes that I teach.  I looked at what is taught at Johnson and Wales as well as a few other places in the United States. I also kept the empathy report in mind at all times so that my user feedback was reflected in the final prototype. 

The part that really gave me struggle was making sure I wasn’t skewing the new scope and sequence in any one direction. The Baking curriculum covers the basic information about ALL areas of baking and the Advanced Baking curriculum takes it to the next level asking the students to use what they know to be creative, make new things, run a bakeshop, advance their cake decorating using more complex ingredients, and make super difficult sourdough bread. 

Mode 5 – Test

The final mode of the Standford Design Model is testing. In this mode, you test your prototype and collect data that will help you to make improvements for the next prototype. The data collected does not have to be numbers. Data can be comments and suggestions from a focus group. The prototype and testing modes can become a bit cyclical until you perfect your prototype. It is highly unlikely that your prototype will work perfectly on the first try and that is OK. 

To test my prototype I asked a mix of students and colleagues to look at the Scope and Sequence. My colleagues gave feedback to me via email.  The current Advanced Baking students provided feedback by making comments on a Goole Doc version of the prototype. Finally, my independent study students who have taken both the Baking and Advanced Baking courses in full joined me for a Google Meet session and had a focus group discussion about the prototype. I planned questions in advance but asked everyone to give feedback in any area in which they felt it was necessary. 

My colleagues liked the Scope and Sequence and did not feel that anything needed to be changed. They especially liked the addition of the science experiments and taste testing to give students a real look (and taste) at how ingredients change a product. This was also the case with the independent study students who were the most experienced of all the students that provided feedback. One student commented, “I wish I could take the class again Mrs. K, you added some cool stuff”.  

Conclusion

The Stanford Design Model provides a systematic yet creative way to solve problems. It encourages collaboration and gathering input from as many sources as possible. Finally, it works. I think it has immense application in the education field. If more people took the time to work through this model when creating their courses and big projects then the students would be getting the very most out of the lessons we as teachers are preparing for them. I intend to continue using it and have even found that it applies to problems at home.