Teaching as Designing

Teachers as designers, or design-based teaching… this article invites you to flip the reality of education in the last year or so. Reality as not something you think should have happened (as this was a completely new context and old patterns of thinking do not serve to thrive out of), or you planned but rather what your intuition as a teacher and expert in teaching shows. In March 2020, many principals & teachers involved in planning, I met in Finland simply repeated, “I don’t know… we take things as they come for now, why try, experiment, see what it is and then we plan”. So “I don’t know” is a very good point to start designing as a teacher.

teachers from School Development program in March 2019, together with Forum Schule Germany& EUNEOS OY Finland, in experimenting designing

You are an expert in teaching

 It might help to see yourself as an expert in teaching (the pedagogy), not the subject that you teach. Of course, you know your subject 🙂 but as in 21st-century learning “ we are creators of knowledge not holders”. This means you can look at the work that you are doing focusing on the learning relationship, not on the content itself. It brings new perspectives, as this is a possible invitation to go out of the “silo thinking” which focusing on being an expert on the subject can bring. Kirsti Lonka & her research team from Helsinki University said that in the end there is no pedagogical difference on how you approach learning if it is subject based or topic ( phenomenon) base.  There is a difference on your perception & focus, as you allow yourself to be the expert in teaching – you focus on the process of learning & the way of learning rather than the outcome.  It is a feeling of ease you might encounter, there is no pressure on your performance but an inquiry on how you teach & learn with students. 

Meeting them where they are

My guest in the previous article Justyna Mialik mentioned this phrase and since then I kept on seeing it in many situations.  “STEAM in the kitchen” , ART in the kitchen, just to mention some of the program. Looking at where you meet the students and allowing yourself to go there, means you are creating a 21st-century learning environment, where learning can happen anywhere, it also allows you and the students to practice flexible mindset & adaptive capacities, moving through shallow as well as deep learning. As Jarmo Palola Art teacher from Tikkurila High Schools said “sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t”. What we do in both cases is a vital outcome of the creative learning process: we create space for sharing & reflection.

City as Designer project, 6th graders learning “on the streets” & City Hall, here practicing being local officials, Lauri Jantti project manager & Tiia Niskanen class teacher

Entrepreneurship is not taught in schools, it is inherent to human beings

These are words paraphrased from Muhamad Yunus, Novel Prize winner for social business model invited to speak with the Erasmus Program Universities Capacity Building. Entrepreneurship is a key competence of the 21st-century learning curriculum, transversal competencies, meaning doesn’t matter what you teach you should reflect back on how your teaching creates an opportunity for students/ children to practice entrepreneurship. You do not need to create curriculum for that but learning spaces/situations, and allow students to reflect (dwell) on the problems around us, what is relevant to them, what do they want to do with what they learn ( attitudes) in order to help solve those problems, how can they collectively think about the social situations around them. In other words, you again create a situation ( ways & spaces): student select topic important & relevant to them, closest to them so they can relate, teams & roles they practice collaborative thinking & working, ignite & foster problem thinking, it is about the process not the result and teacher keeps the pace for incremental steps for the learning process. 

Using monthly topics 

Teaching with phenomenon, choosing a topic allows teachers to focus & teach the essential, it also supports 21st century education of connecting learning with real life. Connecting subjects means you get help from the other teachers as you “teach together”, you can also get help from universities, libraries, museums, theaters, ready to offer plenty of good quality materials for your topic. During times of disturbing changes it helps feeling you get & receive support. Choosing topics allows students to practice asking questions ( inquiring) to pounder & dwell with the meaning of learning itself- why is it important for me to learn this. Many teachers during these 10 months of more than 25 webinars and more than 1000 teachers in, have collectively manifested their intention: I want students to enjoy their learning and be interested ( present) especially during this online learning period. 

Connecting our classes & our learning experience

As all the world learned where you learned as well- online- you can see how something that looked like a challenge, became an opportunity. Connecting our class’ learning, our own experience with other schools from the same neighboring area, country, the worldwide, and this happens now in “an instant”. So many teachers with whom I have been in contact, say they were able to learn together with schools from the same country, China, US and that in an instant, it was very easy to connect. When we look at this with this perspective, we can see our job as teachers, facilitating multicultural competencies for students- they are able “in an instant” to connect & share learning experiences, views, just meeting students from many different cultures. We do not see ourselves as silos, learning & working in our own bubble but in a multicultural context. As we learn in a multicultural context, students become aware and respectful of their own culture, they practice empathy & compassion vital for the scientific thinking of the 21st century,  they learn to see others’ cultures & values – as different from their own.

Fail quick and in many different ways

The “ thing” with STEAM, art, science in the kitchen is that the student needs failure routine, they need methodology & tools to “tolerate ” failure, look at it with courage and ponder on what has been learned. Many art & science project ideas will fail in the kitchen, we can use this to faster teach our students to learn from any learning situations- failure will mean practice and practice will mean deep learning ( learning for the sake of learning not for the instant gratification of success) . Facilitating their space & proximity space for learning, making matters of learning easier and when they are confident ( as said in previous article) raise the “bar” again. As children learn faster by imitation- allow yourself to fail ( as Ari Ranki head of principals in Vantaa municipality says “make mistakes, learn quickly fail in different ways”).

Interview: My guest for this article is Ida Ruuth from Junior Lab Aalto University, she has been a kind guide together with the rest of the Junior Lab team facilitating teachers’ visits in sensing & seeing how we can bridge education & open up our schools and Universities. Ida is the Coordinator of Arts and Design at Aalto University Junior.

Reflecting questions that can guide you to use this article for your own class reality:

Q: Who helped me during this time of online education? ( parents, libraries, other schools, etc)

Q: How do I trust students can relate and propose ideas for learning entrepreneurship? How do I trust their creativity? 

Q: My 3 strengths as an expert in teaching, not related to my subject, are…. 

Q: Where did I meet my students this past months ( going where they are with their attention rather then reverse)  and how can I do more of that ( ps: meeting the students- I feel they were engaged, curious, relating)

Q:  With whom can I connect my class experience to ( other classes, the school from the country, other countries) ? What can we learn together as sharing the learning community?

Q: How can you ask students what they like to learn and how and what do they need from you as a facilitator ?

Resources for this article: 

City as Designer, the future picture of this article, Lauri Jantti project manager https://www.designcities.net/design-education/city-as-designer-childrens-urban-research-lab/

Building a school for the digital natives generation, http://www.debats.cat/en/debates/building-school-digital-natives-generation 

24h Business Camp Online with Aalto University Junior was a great success, https://aaltopreneur.fi/2020/05/14/24h-business-camp-online-with-aalto-university-junior-was-a-success/ 

 Design Thinking and Education, Teemu Leinonen https://teemuleinonen.fi/2010/05/23/design-thinking-and-education/ 

Growing Mind.fi https://growingmind.fi/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Growing_mind_esijulkaisu.pdf 

Interaction between Learning Environment and Expert Learning.Lindblom-Ylanne, Sari; Lonka, KirstiLifelong Learning in Europe, v5 n2 p90-97 2000

Junior Lab virtual programs https://www.aalto.fi/fi/aalto-yliopisto-junior/online-junior

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