Using elements of Design Thinking in Teaching Grade 3 Science


It has been nice being more deeply embedded in teaching and learning environments again. This school year, I’ve worked at getting back to where the work happens – in schools. Its always been a part of my work as a consultant, but I’ve wanted to do more than surface learning. One of the schools I have spent lots of time in this fall is Buchanan School on Centre St N in Calgary.

In teaching grade 3 science, I have worked at using some design thinking ideas. Here is what I did with a recent lesson focused on units of measure for loudness and how protect our hearing with hearing protection devices.

Using some direct instruction, we started out with a review of the anatomy of a human ear –
Hattie’s Visible Learning research points out that direct instruction is significant influence on achievement.

Next I shared a visual of how sound travels in sound waves –
explaining, and answering questions, and asking students about new questions that this information brings up – e.g. what about when sound hits a window, can sound waves travel through a window? etc.

I then introduced the idea of units of measure for sound loudness – decibels. We talked about how sound that is more than 85 decibels can hurt our hearing – kids asked what part of your ear could get damaged? we generated a list of questions that students wondered about. Then we played a game as a class that asked kids to predict whether a sound was above or below 85 decibels.

After these direct learning and inquiry based experiences, I introduced design thinking as a concept. We talked about what design is, what a designer does, what kinds of designers we find in the adult work world. We talked about steps in designing, how a designer thinks about possibilites, shares and collaborates with others, plans out their ideas, seeks feedback for improvements, gathers materials, creates a prototype, tests the prototype, share the prototype with peers, seeks feedback for things that work well, and design improvements, then modifies their design to make improvements.

The learning task was focused on creating a hearing protection device. The task included building in prediction, hypothesis, and experimentation with design. ‘Create a hearing device that uses different materials for each ear, then test which prototype works best. Then compare with another students prototypes and offer and give feedback for improving the design.’

How did I think about the instructional core in this learning task? Elmore’s instructional core model asks teachers to work with students to design the learning task and assessment strategies while considering their expertise with curriculum. Considering the intended learning outcomes, and framing the learning as experimentation and design work, and student interest in their own anatomy and autonomy in decision making made it easy to engage students in the relevance of the topic and task to their interests. Students could be creative in design, test their prototypes and modify their design with input from teachers and peers along the way.

I have to say, it has been a thrill to work with Liz Laberge, the grade 2/3 teacher at Buchanan on this unit. And of course some of the best professional learning comes from looking at the artifacts of learning to determine how successful our teaching has been in terms of helping students to learn the intended outcomes.

I’m loving my time at Buchanan School.

Roy Strum
Consultant, Env and Outdoor Education
Calgary Board of Education

“0” Influence – “0” Gained!

I came across this great blogpost today – as an instructional leader in the Calgary Board of Education, I have been reading Ten Things that Matter Most by Tom Schimmer. Tom’s ideas have really resonated with me. Roy Strum, Learning Consultant, Calgary

Tom Schimmer

Zeros don’t work; never have, never will!  While a good number of schools/districts have already addressed this issue through a shift in policy or practice, two questions come to mind: (1) Why hasn’t everyone, and (2) What took us so long?  For some of us, our reaction to this post would be, “Ya we know that already. We did ‘no zeros’ three years ago!” However, the knowing-doing gap is still alive and well in some places which is why I think the topic is still important to discuss.

Now before I go on about zeros, let me first tell you that early in my career I was the zero guy. Like many of you, having received no instruction on sound grading in my teacher prep program, I started by doing what was done to me, including the use of “0”…not that I was assigned any zeros in High School! The…

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Reflections of Student Views of Teacher Effectiveness…


I’ve been busy reading John Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers this past few weeks. I’ll tell you I cant help but reflect on my own teaching practice as I read. In his book, Hattie shares 2010 findings from the Gates Foundation Measures of Effective Teaching Project One of the very interesting findings from this research was around student perceptions of highly effective and less effective teachers based on their experiences in these teachers’ classrooms. The research asked students (n=3000) about how they see the classes of teachers who have added higher than expected achievement gains compared with students in classes where gains were much lower. The findings identified several key differences between highly effective and less effective teachers in 7 dimensions of their work – care, control, clarify, challenge, captivate, confer, consolidate.

If you ask my friends where my deepest passion resides they would probably tell you that its focused on engaging children in healthy, active outdoor activity. I love this stuff. Getting kids our on bikes or skis or exploring natural spaces – its what I’ve given my time and energy to for much of my career. I have taught alot of childreo how to cross country ski – my passion has been advancing skill and understanding about efficient motor skill development that leads ultimately (I hope) to increased enjoyment of sport and technical performance of skills in the children of outdoor physical activity. Much of my reflection and learning about teaching kids outdoor physical activity has been shared out on my coaching blog –

Like most teachers, I am to make a difference in the work I do. The Gates Foundation research points out some good things for teachers to reflect on in their work to advance effectiveness.

Care – highly effective teachers make students feel that he/she is cared about. Building relationships that advance learning is critical. In my numerous years of coaching, finding things out about kids and showing interest in them as a whole person has been a key to my work.

Control – students in highly effective teachers’ classes treat the teacher with respect; classes are busy and students dont waste time. I have found that a combination of enthusiasm, high expectation around listening to instruction, and positive reinforcement have worked really well in my work as a PE/OE teacher

Clarify – highly effective teachers can explain difficult ideas well. In my work teaching kids to cross country ski, I have found that the language you use can either make things easier or harder to grasp – pointing out that you want kids to ski on ‘one foot, then the other foot’ is so much easier to conceptualization than ‘improve your weight shift’.

Challenge – in classes where highly effective teachers work students feel they learn alot everyday. Doing more than rolling out the ball is important – building understanding and offering lots of feedback is super important in creating a challenging learning environment.

Captivate – Highly effective teachers make lessons intereating. Feedback from my students and athletes have let me know that relating physics concepts to a skill session is interesting and concept building. Plus I’ve worked hard at sharing enthusiasm

Confer – highly effective teachers create spaces where students speak up and share their ideas.

Consolidate – highly effective teachers check to make sure that students understand. This is the important work of checking in with kids about their level of understanding of the idea being presented. ‘Does that make sense?’

Like most teachers, I learn everyday. I learn from noticing if kids are getting the concepts of the work i am presenting. I learn from sharing ideas with colleagues. I learn from taking some risks with the work I do – trying something new and never, ever feeling like I’ve arrived.

Thinking about improving teaching practice is a conversation I enjoy having. I’m found on twitter at JRStrum if you want to continue the conversation sometime.