Preparing to Leap

On Top of the World
‘On Top of the World,’ by collette v

We start a new Design Experience today, just a few hours from now. It’ll be our third in Digital Shop, but the first purposeful, authentic, truly mindful exercise in pursuit of getting our students to be ‘Life Ready.’

This moment has been six weeks in the making, and I’d like to give you an idea how I go about planning these experiences. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever been through. It’s exhilarating, exhausting, and terrifying.

Six weeks out: having just completed the prior Design Experience, this week is time to reflect on what worked, what could have been better, and to not think too much about the next one. But I do so anyway, since I know where we need to end up (relative to the capstones), and have a pretty good idea what skills and abilities the kids will need to reach their potential. Lots of reading, talking with colleagues, idle dreaming.

Five weeks out: with the reflection on the prior week finished, I can start thinking more seriously about what I want for the next series of lessons, but I’m not gonna do that. I coast, focusing on iterating the current Design Experience (in other words, teach) so that it’s the best it can be.

Four weeks out: ok, so the next Design Experience is a MONTH away. PLENTY of time, yet. A bit less coasting, and the formal start of what I refer to as ‘background planning,’ which is how I refer to the process of actively sorting through a seemingly endless stream ideas and concepts in the back of my mind while doing a million other things. I toss random but relevant ideas that I continually encounter into a Google Doc for later review. I hunt on Twitter, Facebook and blogs for inspiration and connections. There are no lesson plans on the Internet that will help me; no databases I can scour for activities aligned to standards; no handouts others have used that I can co-opt. I’m building all of this. Myself. Brick by pedagogical brick.

Three weeks out: ok, time to get serious. If I have hard target(s) in terms of basic goals, activities, and deliverables, this is the fun part. Depending on my schedule, I might sequester myself in the Ocean City Library’s ‘Quiet Study Room’ for most of a Saturday to construct the contextual frame, identify needed supplies, review the standards I’m applying, and plan the basic flow. More heavy contact with people in my network occurs here, as I need people to bounce ideas off. I’ll fall down multiple rabbit holes, often to emerge with new information that takes my thinking in entirely new directions, sometimes scuttling entire chunks of previously planned work. I begin to flesh out the slide deck, mostly to organize my thinking, and note where I still need to go deeper.

Two weeks out: buckle down mode. I need to finalize the approach, activities, materials, assessments, supplements, outline for each daily session, etc. I smash the plan against my student mix to see how it scaffolds up and down, trying to envision how my students will react to and interact with the content, what they’ll be able (and inspired) to create in response. Who will excel? Who will falter? Why? I try to anticipate how best to support those who will need it most, and propel those who are going  to reach escape velocity.

One week out: organized panic. What have I forgotten, overlooked or oversimplified? What activities are missing, too weak, or too aggressive? What assumptions have I made that I should challenge? Will kids have fun with this? Do I have everything I need materials-wise? (Thank God for Amazon Prime…)

Three days out (approximate, also usually the last weekend before the new Design Experience debuts): time to go off the grid. If there are still gaping holes in my plans (highly likely), activities that aren’t well thought out, or connections to the Manifesto that are lacking, they need to be … eliminated.

One day out: final pre-flight check. The plan is as good as it’s going to get for the first iteration. Though I may have a sense, there’s really no way to know what’s going to go well, what’s going to blow up, what’s going to inspire, what’s going to bore. Have I tried to do too much? Too little? Does it all connect, make sense, progress logically, and inform our progress towards the capstones? Most importantly, have I implemented the Manifesto with integrity?

So there you have it. A few hours from now, thanks in large part to contributions from Mary Cantwell, David Jakes, Denise Wilbur, and several others, we’ll kick off The Weather Experience Challenge, our first real, organized, purposeful foray into human-centered design.

Wish us luck.

!Design Experience Three


  1. avatar
    Barbara Lee

    From my perspective, I’m awfully excited for you & your class! So glad I’m coming out to visit next week so I can see first-hand how things are going. Have you considered using Evernote to house all your accumulated thoughts & ideas? That’s my ultimate go-to resource for big projects (and little). 🙂 See you next week!

    • avatar
      Mr. Jarrett

      Hi Barbara! Thanks for writing! Looking forward to seeing you. Never became a fan of Evernote, great app, just never really clicked with me. See you next week! -kj-

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