Remix Your Learning Experience Design Process

“Remix Your Learning Experience Design Process” was the second workshop in the three-part Ready GO! summit at SXSWedu this year. This workshop was designed to support participants in thinking through a process that innovative teachers might go through to re-design lessons or units–“learning experiences”–to support deeper student learning.
Martin Moran, at the Francis W Parker School in Chicago, and I worked together to hammer out this workshop, and in the process really thought through how we go through learning experience redesign ourselves.
We first pulled out several of our own learning experience examples that we feel best highlight deep learning that develops critical skills. From those examples, as well as examples from resources like Buck Institute for Education, we identified our 10 “core elements” of innovative learning:

  1. My students have choice in the learning process and deliverable.
  2. My students know the purpose and context of learning experiences from the beginning.
  3. My students confront and design for other perspectives and needs.
  4. My students directly interact with the content and directly practice the skills at the heart of the learning experience.
  5. My students problem-solve and design towards their learning goals (adaptive expertise).
  6. Learning experiences have no single “right” answer, and solutions require significant sustained effort by my students.
  7. Learning experiences include appropriate scaffolding for my students to be successful with appropriate challenge and perseverance.
  8. My students contribute to the plan for assessment.
  9. My students collaborate to solve problems as a team.
  10. My students reflect, revise, iterate, and can identify and describe their own learning pathways (metacognition).

Having identified these 10 “core elements,” we then pieced apart a few of our own examples to see whether there was a pattern in how our redesign process took place… How did we take existing learning experiences and redesign them to increase each of those 10 core elements? I used an example of a redesign I conducted with my kindergarten colleagues for a weather unit, as well as an example with my 7th grade social studies colleagues on a unit about the antebellum era of American history.

Kindergarten Weather Redesign Process:

History: Kindergarten has done a unit on weather for a long time. With our new makerspace, they wanted to move a major activity–building a wind sock–into the makerspace.

  • Yes direct & meaningful interaction with content.
  • No student choice, no student design, single right answer, no opportunity for iteration.

Purpose: Other aspects of weather (amount of rain, temperature) are easy to see, measure, and describe. Need to find a more concrete way to see, measure, and describe wind.

Back up from task to learning goal.

Problem: The problem is that wind is hard to measure–shift to students finding the solution: invent and test a wind measurer.

What is the problem, from student’s point of view? Can the student solve the problem?

Activity Progression: Brainstorm, initial drawing, build, test in DIY windtunnel, make improvements, test again, final drawing

Appropriate scaffolding (brainstorm to prevent invention-block), iteration

Materials: Broad enough selection of materials for very open-ended design.

Emphasizes that there is no single right answer.

Final Reflection: Draw and write what you changed to make it better.

Assessment focuses on iterative aspect.

Blog 1 Weather Measurer Maker Ed

7th Grade Social Studies – Antebellum Era Unit Redesign Process:

History: 7th social studies has done traditional lecture/ read/ discuss for antebellum lead-up to Civil War

Engaging, but with none of the “core elements” of innovative learning.

Purpose: Know series of events, think about why series of events resulted in ultimate outcome (North winning Civil War, abolition), intersection of various movements

Don’t try to jump straight to a new task–fully establish the learning goal.                                                                                                     

Brainstorm Activity Possibilities:
What are the ways to visualize these intersections?

  • Map, timeline, diagram, flowchart, Venn diagram, model, diorama, museum exhibit, performance, film

What are the similarities to other events?

  • Compare to series of events in current high-stakes examples

What are the “What If?” s ?

  • What if X event outcome were different?

What problems could be solved?

  • Public awareness, recommendations re: relevance to current examples

What is the connection to local community? (place-based learning)

  • Long term impacts leading to our community today: US, Seattle, our school

What are the many different ways of tackling this problem?*



Selected Favorite: What If X happened differently?

Brainstorm how to meet 10 “core elements”:

  • Assign the whole class to analyze one specific change? Too restrictive.
  • Wide open, choose any single event change? Too little scaffolding, not guaranteed to meet learning goal.
  • Offer choice of themes (technology, women’s rights movement, abolitionist movement, etc), students choose one change within that theme and relate to downstream and ultimately Civil War outcome. Just right.

Appropriate scaffolding, student choice, no “right” answer, significant grappling with the content.
Also, tinkering…

Blog 2 SSGears
*This “different ways of tackling the problem” can look like magic to teachers with less practice in PBL, design thinking or other “innovative” learning experience designs. More on that below.
Ultimately, these two examples show very important similarities and a distinct design thinking bent to the learning experience redesign process I’ve been using.

  1. Develop an understanding the history of the unit and the teachers’ likes and dislikes (empathize)
  2. Follow with establishing the basic learning goal, somewhat in the form of a problem statement (define)
  3. Brainstorm different ways of grappling with the content (ideate)
  4. Think through and plan for maximizing the 10 “core elements” (or making purposeful decisions to not emphasize a core element or two) (prototype)
  5. Finally, adjust on the fly and take notes for future years (iterate)

As mentioned above, step #3 seems to be the step that feels the most like “magic” to many teachers who have less experience with redesigning their learning experiences through a student-driving-the-learning lens. I had come to begin thinking of my own brainstorming as sort of sifting through a hidden subconscious library, and I really wanted to make that library more visible.
I tried to start defining categories for my hidden library, thinking through as many examples as possible from the projects I’ve redesigned with my colleagues over the past two years. In addition to our own examples, I sifted through this giant amazing list of PBL prompts, to try to ensure I covered a wide variety of ways of tackling content.
The library classification system eventually settled itself out to:

  • Visualization / model
    • Static or interactive
    • Literal or Metaphorical
  • Comparison to other example
    • Identify similarities and differences, or create mashup/hybrid
  • Create a hypothetical example based on criteria
  • Debate / take a position
    • Self or other perspective
  • “What If?” / one change
  • Problem / solution, invention
  • Place-based analysis
  • Community service / public awareness / teaching others

This feels quite aligned to a Bloom’s Taxonomy style of categorization, and if Bloom’s is a categorization of depth of knowledge or thinking, perhaps this library could be a categorization of depth of grappling with content. Perhaps it’s just a more specific action-based organization of Bloom’s? In any case, so far it has felt quite useful.
To test these categories, I took three more examples of projects redesigned with my colleagues and tried to brainstorm valid, exciting, students-driving-the-learning project prompts in the other categories.
The bold items below are project prompts we’ve used with students:

3rd Grade Solar System

5th Grade
Ancient Civilizations

7th Grade
Botany/Seed Dispersal

(static or interactive)
(literal or metaphorical)

Create model of the planet, labeled with key features

MaKey MaKey-driven interactive model of city from the civilization, labeled with key features

Draw diagram of different types of seed dispersal mechanisms, with examples

Comparison to other example

Create model of two planets, comparing key features & why

Compare different ancient civilizations

Draw diagram comparing seed dispersal mechanisms in similar habitats/niches around the world

Create a hypothetical example based on criteria

Create a hypothetical ancient civ in an environment with (x characteristics)

Invent seed dispersal mechanism for plant in environment with (x characteristics)

Debate / take a position
(self or other perspective)

Answer: What planet should be the first that we visit and study? (after Mars)

Answer: The development of what technology had the greatest impact on a civilization’s success?

“What If?” / one change

How would (x civilization) have been different with (x difference in local environment)?

How would (x plant’s) seed dispersal mechanism have adapted differently if (x env characteristic) were different?

Problem / solution,invention

Design a human habitat for survival on the planet

Invent a technology that would have saved (x ancient civilization) from its demise

Invent a tool to prevent seed dispersal of (x invasive species plant)

Place-based analysis

Analyze local ancient civ and how it gave rise to features of local modern community

Compare/contrast seed dispersal mechanisms of local native plants

Community service / public awareness

Create public awareness campaign for understanding seed dispersal mechanisms to prevent invasives / encourage natives

Blog Pic 3

Planetary habitats, hypothetical civilizations, possible seed dispersal mechanisms

So, having sort of gone backwards through a few examples of our own design processes, our learning redesign process as outlined feels “right.”

  1. Develop an understanding the history of the unit and the teacher’s likes and dislikes (empathize)
  2. follow with establishing the basic learning goal, somewhat in the form of a problem statement (define)
  3. Brainstorm different ways of grappling with the content (ideate)
  4. Think through and plan for maximizing the 10 “core elements” (or making purposeful decisions to not emphasize a core element or two) (prototype)
  5. Finally, adjust on the fly and take notes for future years (iterate).

If you’d like to give the process a try yourself and see whether it impacts ease, depth and/or divergence of your own redesign process, here are a few documents you can use:

Give yourself time to build up and deepen your library, and recognize projects across all ages and subject areas as potential sources of inspiration for your own classroom.
And finally, as we emphasized in the workshop itself: allow your expertise to vary across the different core elements of innovative learning experiences, and seek out support from teachers whose expertise is in different areas. When we presented the core elements in the session, we asked participants to self-assess themselves in the elements where they feel most confident and the elements where they feel least confident. So few participants felt confident in supporting students in contributing to the plans for assessment, and in developing learning experiences with no single “right” answer–those are hard!
Blog Pic 4
For more blogs by Lindsey, check out:

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Lindsay Kruse

Lindsay Kruse

Lindsay Kruse currently serves as Content Lead for the Educating All Learners Alliance. Previously, she served as the Vice President for the Educators team at (formerly the National Center for Learning Disabilities) and also helped launch the National Principals Academy Fellowship for Relay Graduate School of Education.

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