Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Me: A User Manual

We started our year in our grade 8 Humanities classes with a design challenge, with a couple of purposes: First, to help us learn about each other, and secondly, to set students up for success in the kind of collaborative work we knew we'd be doing all year. Enter, Me: A User Manual. The idea was for students to create a manual that would help other students know how to best collaborate with them.

I feel like I read about another teacher who did something similar, but after exhaustive Twitter queries, I came up empty. So I don't claim to have invented this idea, but I don't know who to give credit to. If it's you, let me know and I'll credit you!

The design question we aimed to answer through this project was:

How might we communicate so we might bring our best selves in collaborative situations?
We started with a reminder from Brene Brown about the difference between Empathy and Sympathy.

Then, students got into groups of three to do an interview for empathy.

From dschool-old.stanford.edu/wp-content/themes/dschool/method-cards/interview-for-empathy.pdf
The purpose of the interview for empathy was to learn about what gets the person excited, and what they're doing when they are their best selves. We did this in threes so one person could be a notetaker while the interviewer focuses on really digging deep. We had the notetaker use an empathy map to take notes with:
You can find this on Slide 6 in the slidedeck
Next time, I might have the notetaker just take jot notes and then have the interviewer sort those notes and organize them into the empathy map. I think it was a bit too much to pay attention to for the notetaker and the quality of information suffered.

After this, we invited students to bring in an object that they cared deeply about for a show and tell (Note: Eighth graders are AS excited about show and tell as Kindergarteners are). The idea here is that by bringing in a physical object that matters deeply to them, students would be able to drill down into what really matters to them most. We had students again get into a group of three (different from last time), and used a circle protocol for them to share their object. A circle protocol is a method gifted to us by many Indigenous cultures whereby each person has a chance to share, and the rest of the members of the circle witness their testimony silently, without interruption. After they shared, they wrote a quick 3x3 to summarize the object and its importance to them: three lines, with three words each, and it doesn't have to be grammatically correct.

The next day, we did some improv. We wanted to nurture camaraderie, and I'm forever indebted to the dSchool's Stoke Deck, a set of cards with improv games sorted into categories for what you need, be it to energize a group, create focus, get personal, communicate mindsets, or, in our case, nurture camaraderie. We reflected afterwards in our journals about what we learned about ourselves by engaging in these activities.

After this, we honed in on the concept that self knowledge is self care. We used an edited video from School of Life, which you can find on slide 14 in the slidedeck. It introduces the idea that our behaviours sometimes say something that can be misinterpreted by others, and that life would be so much easier if we could come with a user manual that would tell others why we were malfunctioning and how they could troubleshoot this. This is where we first introduced the concept of creating a user manual for ourselves.

We focused first on strengths. We used a beautiful video called 30,000 Days to focus us in on what makes us special, and an accompanying document called the Periodic Table of Strengths from the organization who made the film, Let it Ripple.




They chose a few of the strengths in this table that they felt they demonstrated strongly, and gave examples of how they demonstrate these strengths. We started focusing in on collaborative situations, too, and asked them to think about what strengths they show most strongly in collaborative work.

Then, we reflected on needs, and asked them to think about behaviours they show during group work, why they do them, and what might help troubleshoot this behaviour. For example, "Behaviour: I might not jump in with ideas right away because I need time to process and think. Solution: Give me some time to think about things before asking my opinion."

Then, we had the students look at a bunch of actual user manuals, using post-its to list what they noticed about language, about visuals, and about format. From these noticings, students created lists of features they'd include in a user manual about themselves. Then, we speed-dated to ideate, where the students shared ideas of things they'd include with each other, and added to their own lists based on good ideas they got from classmates.

After this, they prototyped a low-fi version of their manual, which they shared with a group. Then we had them collaborate with this group on a task related to another curricular area, and tested how the user manuals worked to help make group work meaningful. They spent some time reflecting on what they learned through the test, what they needed to add and iterate, and then they started working on high-fi versions of their manual, using this success criteria that was aligned with the standards (stems) we needed to assess:


  • Communicates personalized likes, dislikes, and preferences for working in a group. (Stem 7)
  • Communicates potential challenges and solutions (troubleshooting) when working in a group. (Stem 7)
  • Is formatted to reflect the look and feel of a user manual. (Stem 2)
  • Language and word choice is formal and appropriate to the genre of a technical manual. (Stem 2)
  • Uses visuals and diagrams to support and enhance the text. (Stem 10)
  • Reflects on and articulates the learning process, particularly in how information was evaluated and decisions were made to curate the final product. (Stem 3)

There are some big iterations needed in this project next year. I think this project would be a lot more purposeful and meaningful if we started by looking at user manuals, what and how they communicate meaning, and then did the design thinking process, stopping after each exercise to build out a page of their manual. Our hope was that the discovery/empathy work they did by interviewing each other, exploring treasured objects, doing improv, and identifying strengths and areas of need would transfer over into the actual manuals, but this was not consistent amongst our students. We underestimated the amount of scaffolding some of our students needed to be able to do this successfully. The building blocks to this project are good ones, but they needed to be built out bit-by-bit, as Angela Stockman would say. We needed to define what the blocks of a user manual are, and then create within them. That's work to revise for next year.

Another big change I'd make would be to purposefully use the user manuals in collaborative work for the rest of the year. This was the intention, but it didn't end up happening. I'd take the time to print, laminate, and bind the user manuals and would incorporate them into norm-setting activities at the beginning of any collaborative project from that point forward.

Resources to share from this project:

Note: Once again, this project was developed with Tara, my amazing teaching partner.
Be First to Post Comment !
Post a Comment