As education stands at the moment, exams are part of the curriculum. While this might change in the future, for the moment we as teachers need to ready our students for the stress and slog of end of year exams. This means the dreaded revision period is inevitable. What’s worse than cranking out an essay on Shakespeare? Rehashing it again and again to prepare yourself for rehashing it under time constraints in an exam. That’s what revision time has felt like for me.

That is, until this year.

Technology is powerful when students start to do things, create things, debate things. But how do you do that when revision rears its ugly head?  I decided to apply the Design Thinking model to my revision lessons. I have to thank Richard Wells for the following graphic representation of this plan:

Thanks to

Next, I thought about the students working in groups. How often do we simply divide our classes into groups, give them a task, and hope for the best. For too long we’ve had ineffectual group work going on in schools across the country. More often than not, the bulk of the work is done by a few hardy students, and then you get those that hang around for the ride. With Design Thinking it’s important to add time pressure, which means getting everyone involved. So I added these time constraints:

In a nutshell, the plan was as follows:

1. Get students to form groups of four. Give them Post-it notes and sheets of paper or white boards.

2. Give them the issue or problem. In my case it was a range of essay topics, a different one for each group. This can range from Shakespeare to the impact of a great telescope.

3. Give them time to reflect (in silence) on aspects of the issue, and then share their thoughts with their group.

4. Build up a series of facts or evidence around the issue, using the whiteboards. They might need their devices at this point to access their evidence. And they could use the handy app Post-it Plus, where they can scan and digitise their notes, then rearrange and edit them.

5. Get students to think of ways to empathise with the characters or the themes (in silence again). And then share these ideas with their group. In this way they can look at the author’s intention: what impact did this issue or problem have on them, on society, on the wider world?

6. Select what they think would work best to define the issue, with evidence.

7. Iterate the ideas that work best together.

8. Pitch their ideas to the class.

9. Get the class to critique their ideas.

Computational thinking with iteration of ideas is important. I explained to them how apps, and IOS, go through many iterations, and they really got this concept. So too their plans and ideas should be planned, pitched, critiqued and tweaked. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

In this way, instead of simply rote learning ideas for the exams which seems pretty fruitless and totally boring, students develop their key competencies, and at the same time learning, sharing and growing their ideas. The time limit on each aspect of the activity is because pace and speed are important for innovation. Put pressure on the students to come up with solutions.

How did the revision lessons go, you might ask?

The first important step was that I allowed students to work with someone of their choice, then I put pairs together, forcing them to talk to a new group of students. We discussed why this would be important and they came up with sound and logical reasons. The result: I actually saw and heard students help and talk to students they had not interacted with previously. I did have to remind them after lesson one to draw out the shy voices, and perhaps shut the loud ones up. Lesson two worked far better in this regard. I found the class was buzzing and there were lots of positive comments. I had to remind myself that they were doing revision which is typically quiet, introspective and boring.

The next important step was to stick to the time limit given. For all nine steps, stick to the time limit. This was good as it made students work under pressure. And they produced some impressive solutions.

As a result, we had FUN! Their pitch (stage 8) was the most pressurised of all. I gave them a time limit of 30 seconds to do their pitch. What I asked them was this: What is the one golden nugget you can give the class? What is the one thing that you really want your fellow students to take away? Each group had a brilliant golden nugget, with some critiquing to go off and work on. And one group actually got a standing ovation. From their peers. For revision.

Design Thinking is well worth doing, and can be adapted for so many curriculum areas. It gives group work impetus and meaning. It means that students go back to the drawing board and iterate their ideas again and again, instead of accepting mediocrity because that’s the easier option. And all it takes is a bit of planning, a timer and a buzzer.

The aim is for this agile approach to become the norm in my class. And I feel so passionate about Design Thinking, I had to really stop myself from over-using exclamation marks to show my enthusiasm in this post.

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