The power of (positive) disruptions
Alarms that yank you out of peaceful slumber. Power outages that plunge dinner-party plans into chaos. Traffic jams that sweep away your best-laid plans. Disruptions are often thought of in negative terms — except in Silicon Valley. Here, disruption is a positive outcome and the goal of nearly every organization. In the Silicon Valley sense of the word, disruption is a path to improving the way we live on a daily basis. If only this were the case throughout K12 education.
Disruptions in K12 education are often perceived as negative. They range from small annoyances to sweeping policy mandates. These negative disruptions can take the form of behavior management issues that prevent teachers from teaching or mandated testing that prevents students from learning. There are fire drills, boring assemblies, irrelevant professional development sessions, snow days — all things that prevent individuals from getting down to the business of teaching and learning. Then there are the massive disruptors — those attempts at silver-bullet solutions to education reform. In either form, large or small, these disruptions are widely seen as negative in education.
I am learning from my time at the d.school that disruption in K12 education can be positive. The truly inspiring and inspired learning experiences we design for students here are evidence of this. We package a syllabus as a glossy trifold. We pass out project assignments in wrapped packages. We play music, share food and start classes with improv exercises. All of these choices are designed as small, surprising, mindset- and posture-shifting, positive disruptions. Do we want to change the world and disrupt the status quo? Of course we do. We’ve chosen, however, to do so by creating these small, positive disruptions in a consistent way and on a persistent basis. We also have a strong point of view that students are a force for positive disruption. We believe that learning experiences are best when students are engaged in charting a new, unexpected course for the class or for their own learning. When we allow students to ask “disruptive” questions and engage in new ideas, we relinquish control of their learning and empower them to get to places none of us could have anticipated.
I would argue that the design thinking methodology overall revolves around this notion of positive disruption. Take what you know and how you work, then flip it on its head. Start with people and their emotions. Fail often. Create small, half-baked prototypes and put them in front of users immediately.
I have been working on the SparkTruck, a project housed in the K12 Lab Network, while observing and absorbing these carefully crafted pedagogical design choices. The SparkTruck is an educational build-mobile: a converted delivery truck that now houses a laser cutter and other maker tools. SparkTruck travels to schools with hands-on activities and guided curriculum development. Mulling over the public’s seemingly endless excitement over the truck helped me realize the potential power of “positive disruptions” to change the way we think about designing educational experiences for students.
The SparkTruck is the ultimate symbol of a positive disruption — its presence on school campuses screams, “I wasn’t here, now I am, what am I all about?” Students, family members, educators — they are all drawn to the truck. Many of these folks want to participate in a SparkTruck activity before they even understand what we do. The power of the SparkTruck to upend a typical day and get students and teachers to take a different posture has taught me a lot about how we might change education for the better.
In light of this, I’d like to pose an open question: How might we design small, positive disruptions in our day-to-day lives? Whether it is surprising your partner with a fancy dessert tomorrow evening, taking a new route home on your commute, or passing out homework sealed in an envelope — how could you shake up your routine and compel others around you to sit up and take notice of what you are all about?
We have seen educators in our network do it with great success — from having students build their own desks during the first week of class to facilitating young people adopting a maker/inventor mindset after just one afternoon of tinkering.
So, the ask from me is simple: find a routine, break it and then tell us about it. Post your thoughts in this form or drop me a line on Twitter at @kkrummeck. We will compile the ideas we gather and share them out to the community.
Try something new. Design a surprise. And, if you do, tell us what happens. Here’s to changing the world one positive disruption at a time.