Design Thinking in Schools: Which personas are in your school?

Students are categorised by grades, level of need, progress from starting points and in some cases background or ethnicity. There are other categories some teachers might wish to use too. Could we use very different characteristics to provide the best learning opportunities for all children?

Clearly I am not busy enough being head of maths for 3 days a week and Technology for Learning lead across a Multi-Academy Trust for the other two days. To fill in the slack I signed up to an online course on Coursera. The course title is “Design Thinking for Innovation” which has content and cohort discussion over 5 weeks with an assessed reflection at the end.

Why Design Thinking?

Design thinking provides a methodology and toolset for developing innovation (innovation is something we can all produce) and I am keen to apply it where appropriate to the way we work in schools. One aspect of the ground work needed to create conditions for Innovation is to go deeper rather than wider to understand the situation in which you are operating.

Ewan McIntosh’s book “How to come up with great ideas (and actually make them happen)” is a great place to start your design thinking journey.

How would it work in schools?

An example for a school would be to consider putting the whole school excel sheet to one side and take time to conduct interviews with 10 to 15 students. The interview in Design Thinking needs to be conducted carefully, taking time to listen. The themes that come from a few deep interviews can provide more understanding of a problem than data from 100s of students.


The course is not education specific, in fact it is mostly business focussed. However, I have found relevance in most of the sessions. One in particular led me to write this post.

A case study showcased the Design Thinking used by a healthcare start-up who interviewed 20 ‘users’ to define the things that influence their health and well being. From this work the company developed a set of personas to encompass their users, including strategies to help each persona improve their health.

Consider if in schools we used design thinking to get an understanding of the personas of our students in order to develop strategies for each that help them become better learners? Leaders may also consider this for their staff as recruitment becomes tougher it is valuable to know what will keep your staff motivated and happy. These things won’t be the same for everyone!

Would this be of use to teachers and staff in your school? 


If your school takes an approach like this please do share. I will be using this idea as my reflection assignment for the course.

Further Reading

Have a look into design thinking in education via the Teacher’s Guild.

Other books you may wish to consider are:

  • Designing for Growth: A Design Thinkers Guide for Managers by Jeanne Liedtka and Tim Ogilvie
  • Edupreneur: Unleashing Teacher Led Innovation in Schools by Aaron Tait and Dave Faulkner





Bridging the Gap in Mathematics post 16.

The Problem

Every year we face the same challenge with a number of the students who have completed their compulsory mathematics and choose to study it past the age of 16, many are not ready or able to deal with the jump in effort needed to achieve a grade.

Students who have achieved the minimum requirement to study the subject in our sixth form often have large gaps in understanding or have taken a pragmatic approach to learning mathematics for their exam so they do not retain much of the content expected for the next level.

We have tried to address this in a number of ways:

  • Summer induction day
  • Summer work
  • Bridging the gap test in September
  • Extra classes in September
  • Honest and frank discussions with students and parents

All of these are focused on getting the student to realise the challenge ahead of them. Many don’t react to this, we said GCSE would be hard and they pulled it out last minute so they assume it will work again.

There are a number of issues at play

  • Spoon-feeding at GCSE
  • Intervention that removes responsibility
  • Teaching style to a very mixed ability class
  • Motivation to study independently

I am not writing this to open a wider discussion but to catalogue my efforts to work on this with the use of technology for learning.

My Solution

In order to differentiate I am going to introduce a flipped classroom aspect to the course I deliver to my Pure mathematics group this coming academic year. This will involve providing videos to learn the basics and use lesson time to develop the application of the skills. I was about to proceed and develop a site or blog for the students to follow when Oli Trussell released a new add on for Google Sheets. It is based on some script he wrote for his own school. I will let him explain the rest…

The new add on “Super Quiz” has the potential for me to prepare for my own class and produce something for the whole faculty to use at the beginning of the year to assess the understanding of our students and focus on the areas they need support with.

Oli has created a site to lead users through the Super Quiz add on step by step and this is how I have been creating the questions. To help other maths teachers I created this template as I want the rest of the faculty to submit a set of questions for a topic each so we can start to create a resource to be used throughout the year. I have found that by creating expressions using the g(math) add on you get a link to the image, which is useful.

Here is an introduction to g(math)

BREAK – stopped writing and actually did it…

It took me half a day to create the form with 16 questions related to prior knowledge essential to begin A-level maths in UK. To the forms necessary to use it prior to each topic for the entire year I would need to repeat this for aproximately 16 topic areas. So in theory that is 8 days work.

We can now get an idea, per class, of the level of understanding the students are beginning with them from their long summer break and plan around their strengths and weaknesses. Now I need to convince the rest of my faculty to put in a day and we can have this knowledge all year.


As with anything in education someone will want to see the impact, which could come in several forms:

  • Improved grades
  • Fewer drop out later in the year
  • More drop earlier and swap courses
  • Teachers adapt their planning based on the data
  • Students independent study improves (tricky to measure)

I will let you all know how it goes.

The Super Quiz add on can be used to create pre-topic assessments from primary to secondary and is a great tool for flipping instruction and improving teacher’s assessment for learning in order to personalise learning in their classes.



Ben Rouse

Making Videos for Learning in the Flipped Classroom

As part of the flipped classroom I have created a series of videos for my students to watch to help them understand key concepts and review tests and exams. The second use has been a revelation as I always struggled with exam/test feedback as it was never appropriate for all students for the whole lesson. So now I make video solutions for the entire test and give them their tests back in class with comments and advice to improve. Their homework is to go away and make full corrections. Replacing the “going through the test” section is a series of tasks designed to help plug the gaps identified by the test.

To create the videos I past the questions into Smartnotebook. Using an AIPTEK tablet and pen I can write solutions onto Smartnotebook and use Jing Pro to capture video of what is happening on screen while it also activates the microphone to allow my commentary to accompany the solutions.

Once complete there is an option to upload the video straight to youtube so their is no need to take up file space on your computer. Once uploaded code to embed the video is placed on your clipboard and I then paste this into my wikispace to embed the video there and then. A cheeky ifttt recipe which automatically tweets when I upload a new video to youtube gets the information out there and hey presto, piff paff puff classroom time has been saved and more reflection, review and feedback can take place.

Go my wikispace or my youtube channel (mrbrouse) to view the results.

If making the videos is not something you are ready to do then try using other people’s. You are welcome to use mine or otherwise try these youtube legends:






Developing towards an independent learning environment

I think I have had a vision of the classroom I want to develop.

I have been investigating QR codes (2D bar codes that can be scanned by smartphones and webcams) and how they can be used in the classroom. A site that has given me no end of ideas can be found by following this link. It seems that the smartphone can be a useful tool in bringing information to the students. One of the main concerns of educators is that we try to give students independence by setting them a project or investigation only to receive a copy of the first website generated by a google search. If a project information sheet contains a few QR codes directing students to valuable information then we could start to help them learn from investigations more often.

Another project I have set myself is to start creating videos for my students to view. So far I have started by demonstrating exam questions for my upper sixth class rather than subjecting the whole class to a demonstration of a question half of them can do. I am using jing, on the advice of a colleague, and it seems fairly straight forward and the subscription is very affordable. My colleague is a long way ahead of me and is beginning to develop some truly differentiated lessons where students can choose to work on questions, sit with him and discuss concepts they are unsure about or watch a video explanation he created for the lesson. How often do we deliver examples and explanations to an entire class irregardless of whether all, most or some of them already have a good grasp.

So, imagine this… the students enter the room and are given a worksheet, project sheet or exam questions. They can start immediately if they understand or can join you for further explanation after they have read the instructions. In additon to that the worksheet, project sheet or exam questions there are a few QR codes printed on the sheets or left around the room that link to a variety of resources such as:

1. lesson notes from a previous lesson saved on google docs or alternative file sharing site.

2. video tutorials you created the day before aimed at common misconceptions or key methods

3. revision websites

4. lesson evaluation form created in google docs so they can feedback on the process to you each lesson.

5. grade descriptors so they can self assess and set targets

6. mark scheme for exam questions so they can self or peer assess.

Am I being naive to imagine this scenario? If so let me know or please let me know if you have tried any or all of these ideas out with a class.