Reframe Problems as Opportunities to be Creative

Blog Series, Learning, Smart Teachers

We LOVE teacher bloggers. Especially those who are student-centered in everything they do. Moss Pike is one of those teachers. He recently joined Getting Smart in co-authoring Elevate and Empower that described the unique role of world language instructors as leaders in the shift to competency-based, blended learning. And, as a member of the #dtk12chat community, he most recently shared what SXSWedu meant for design thinking. In this blog by Elsa Randolph, that first appeared on Medium, Moss is featured as a teacher leading in the design thinking.

Are you a teacher interested in blogging with Email [email protected] with the subject line: “Teacher Blogger.”

Elsa Randolph

Moss Pike is one of the Teacher Coaches on The Teachers Guild where he will act as a mentor to community members throughout the various stages of the design thinking collaborations.

Teacher Coach: Moss Pike

Moss Pike is a Latin teacher at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, California, where he has been teaching for the past eight years. At Harvard-Westlake, Moss is infusing the curriculum with design thinking and using technology to create opportunities for students to work on “20% time” projects. As a Google-Certified Innovator, a co-organizer of the Edcamp Los Angeles and PlaydateLA “unconference” events for educators, Moss is always in search of creative outlets, thriving on the process of innovation, and is eager to collaborate with other educators both in person and on The Teachers Guild.

“I’ve always wanted to teach, whether I knew it or not, since I enjoy working with ideas and building new ones with other people. I love the daily interactions within the learning environment and the fact that each day is different.”


Q: What does it mean to be a teacher designer to you?

A: Design thinking is a mindset rather than a tool, and as such, it reflects a way of thinking that influences the way we see the world. It’s about looking at problems as opportunities to be creative, and the design thinking mindset encourages us to look for these kinds of challenging and complex problems, rather than answers, given the rewards that they promise. Having a designer’s mindset and its bias toward action then compels us to actively work through solutions to the problems. Most importantly, perhaps, is the “systems view” that the design mindset builds by forcing us to see potential connections between otherwise unrelated nodes, which helps deepen our understanding of the overall system.

“The design thinking mindset has helped me to think of myself as a teacher designer, which has made it increasingly difficult to accept the status quo and the argument against new ideas that, “we’ve always done it this way” or, “we tried that before.”

Design thinking naturally welcomes collaboration, and so infusing it throughout one’s professional community can help create the “Yes, and…!” culture that embraces ambiguity and evolution.

My engineering background and experience in graduate school have shown me the value of having a good question or problem to work through, so for this reason I am most inspired by the “discovery” phase of the design process. We understand problems far less than we believe we do, which often leads us to build inadequate solutions. Consequently, I most often find myself in a flow state when I’m digging for the most essential parts of a problem and am then able to explain it in clear terms. Problem-finding is hard work, which is also likely why IDEO’s “talk less, do more” philosophy also resonates with me.


Q: What is a solution you’ve created using the design thinking process?

A: At the 2014 FUSE conference hosted by the Mount Vernon Institute for Innovation in Atlanta, we were given the opportunity to work through a problem of our own choosing. We worked on the problem of time, focusing on rethinking our school schedule.

Through interviewing a few students and faculty members, however, we realized our problems with time and our schedule were simply symptoms of a much more critical problem that we hadn’t even been aware of: we needed to address the methods by which we engage with each other throughout the school day.

The collaboration included a few students, faculty members, and our department chair. We all took turns describing how we make use of our time on campus, including what currently works and doesn’t work for managing time.

Based on the stories we told each other, we drilled deeper with follow-up questions through which we built a better understanding of the issues. We are still trying to create buy-in within the rest of our community on the solutions we’d like to prototype. There is growing interest in the questions we’ve raised and we’re hopeful to start wider discussions with more members of our community.

Q: What are some words of wisdom?

To find success and fulfillment with the design process, it’s critically important to put necessary time and effort into the process and trust each step, including building the right kinds of community relationships (since, after all, design is all about people).

I learned that the way I view problems and solutions don’t always reflect how others think, and so it’s crucial to build solutions that work for as many people as possible, knowing that everyone won’t be pleased all of the time (including me!).

For more on Moss, check out:


Elsa Randolph is Co-Founder and Director of rethinked…*. Follow her on Twitter, @ecf29.

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