Back from Camp SXSWedu

At the beginning of March, I spoke at SXSWedu in Austin, Texas on “In The Trenches with K-12 Design Thinking” with Trey Boden, Dan Ryder and Alyssa Gallagher. Together, we  made a diverse panel speaking about the nitty gritty, down and dirty secrets of doing design thinking in schools.

In the short 1-hour panel, we talked about everything from getting started, the challenges of make time and space for design thinking, the value of light touch design thinking and developing a culture to support failing up. 

#SXSWedu 2014 - 13

Being a part of the panel, always re-inspires me for the work that we are doing and reminds me how lucky we are to be thinking through some seriously wicked problems. As the consultant on the panel, I am humbled to be asked to be a part of the conversation and to be valued for an outsider perspective. It is a welcomed position to be in from when I first started being involved in education conversations.

The best part of being on this panel was the chance to sit alongside Trey, Dan and Alyssa. This group came together from our Twitter Chat community, every Wednesday night at 9pm EST we get together on the hashtag #dtk12chat and talk about everything from design thinking in elementary school, focusing on the process rather than the product to education and social change. Every time I join in, I know I am bound to have a fruitful conversation and catch up with old and new friends.

For many of us, SXSWedu was our first face-to-face meeting with a group of people who we have been talking to for nearly 8 months. This week quickly turned into the foundation of friendships and community that I hadn’t anticipated. The greatest conversations were the ones that happened outside of the conference usually over a table of delicious Austin food. I realized that this is what it must feel like to go to Summer Camp. You never want to miss a moment of hanging out and yet your brain is drained from the stimulation. It was amazing knowing that at any moment at a conference of over 3000 people a friendly face was never too far away.


Our community is built on a culture of “Yes, and”, challenging assumptions and nurturing one another to fail up. I think this fostered connections and welcomed unexpected conversations simply because it was built on a foundation of design thinking.

We welcomed others to join in our chaos at a DTk12 Live from SXSWedu chat experience. It was too much fun being part of the The Show aka Dan Ryder as Oprah at SXSWedu and I think the very nature of being in the same place with Trey and Dan on the show to close off our excitement is something I will always remember and cherish.

Check out our madness:



SxSW Edu: In the Trenches with K-12 Design Thinking

This week Jennifer Chan & Exhibit Change are in Austin, Texas for the 4-Day SxSWedu conference.

This is a jam-packed week filled with some of the most energetic and innovative leaders from all aspects of the education system in North America. This week we’re looking forward to making new connections, exploring potential collaborations, and pushing the conversation of how to bring positive change through design thinking to the way we teach and learn.


Starting off the week strong, Jenn joined 3 other speakers yesterday on the panel “In the Trenches with K-12 Design Thinking.”  Not only was it a great conversation about learning through failure and the challenges and opportunities of using design thinking, it brought to life many of the great relationships that have formed through the weekly #dtk12chat conversations.


Stay tuned for more updates from #SxSWedu as the week unfolds. Also follow Jennifer Chan on Twitter to see the action as it happens.


TEDx Talk: The Awkwardness of Collaboration

Did you miss out on Jenn’s TEDx Talk earlier this month? Not to worry! We have the whole video right here.


For the 5th annual TEDx event at the YMCA Academy, Jenn’s talk was centred on the importance, and sometimes awkwardness, of collaborations. Jenn joined 9 other speakers from all facets of education to discuss the theme of EduMakers and sought to explore how might we create new connections between social innovators and educators.

With the YMCA Academy TEDx Talk under her belt, Jenn is heading to SXSW next week where she will be pushing forward the conversation of bringing design thinking into education. If you’re in Austin, TX for south-by you can see Jenn speaking on the March 3rd panel called “In the Trenches with K-12 Design Thinking.”


TEDx YMCA Academy: EduMakers

I feel honoured to have been asked to speak at the 5th TEDx event at the YMCA Academy this coming Saturday. I have attended 2 of the previous TEDx events hosted by the Academy and it’s always a welcomed source of inspiration to see the culture of dedication to learning and sharing that the Academy provides.

The TEDx YMCAA talk that has always stood out for me was by an actual student from the Academy who spoke about his experience of searching for, and eventually finding, a place where he wanted to learn. Having struggled with other schools, he liked the fact that YMCAA teachers respected you enough to let you call them by their first name and showed him that they genuinely wanted to get to know their students. He spoke of his experience at other schools where he went through the motions, did the homework but never felt it was worth his while to share what he had done with his teachers who, to him, didn’t seem to care at all about whether he was succeeding or not.  At the Academy, he’s always proud to show his work.

EdCampAnother TEDx moment that stands out for me also reinforced my understanding of how truly dedicated the Academy is towards making sure their students have a chance to succeed. It was an unscripted moment when halfway through the event, the Head of School Don Adams made an apology to 2 of his students. These 2 students were originally scheduled to talk at TEDx but both students had decided that it was too much pressure to speak. In a show of empathy, Don felt like he had asked a lot of them and he now owed them a great deal of respect for agreeing and having the courage to say they weren’t ready. He wasn’t worried about disappointing the crowd but mending his relationships with his students.

It was this passion and dedication to Don’s students that brought us to hosting Islands of Excellence, an education conference within the Academy and why we continue to work on our relationship with the school.

This Saturday at TEDx, I will be speaking about The Awkwardness of Collaboration. Here is a short blurb:

The Awkwardness of Collaboration

We have all been there, at the crossroads of trying to approach the conversation of how we are going to work together, facilitate our mutual success and wanting to tie each other up with rubber bands. There is a delicate balance to strike in the zone of playing nice, giving time to build trusting relationships and navigating how much to push one another. If at the root of it all, collaboration is meant to be greater at its sum then how might we question, provoke and evolve through the process?

Be a part of the conversation.

Twitter @ymcaacademy #TEDxYMCAAcademy #TEDx

RETHINK: EWB National Conference – Engineering Change

Over the weekend of Jan 10-12, EWB Canada convened their greatest minds and hearts to their National Conference, RETHINK. Focused on Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and Partnership for Global Development, EWB Canada is working to solve some of the world’s most wicked problems: poverty and inequality.

It was a pleasure to be there in a spectrum of capacities and to speak on 3 different panels. Our relationship with EWB Canada goes back to when we delivered a design thinking workshop for a pre-deployment team in 2012 and since then our admiration for their vision, ability to pivot and invest in people has only grown.


On Saturday, I was on a panel called “Physical and Non-Physical Spaces for Collaborative Entrepreneurship” and on Sunday, I was on 2 panels “The Future of Foreign Aid” and “The Innovation Forum”. Each panel was uniquely different and demonstrates the breadth of knowledge EWB Canada is working on bringing to their membership.

Along with 4 other panelists, we spoke about “Physical and Non-Physical Spaces for Collaborative Entrepreneurship” from all corners of the work. From academic, to government, to non-profit, social innovation and back again. Wearing our variety of hats, we spoke about the physical tactics of having white boards everywhere and different working environments – formal and informal, to the benefits of convening thinking spaces at events and during meetings and of course to the culture and trust in collaborative relationships. Throughout the diversity of perspectives it was clear that the overlaps were built from the community, how the space is formed, how the culture evolves and how the relationships spur collaborations.

Putting my Masters Student hat on, I had been given an opportunity to work on strategy and foresight for EWB Canada over the past semester and our group was asked to present on “The Future of Foreign Aid”. Our delivery provoked some deeper thinking around how EWB Canada will prepare for the uncertain future.

photo (1)

On Sunday afternoon, “The Innovation Forum” on “Facilitating in Complex Problem Environments” rounded out the conference for many with an opportunity to dive deeper into their own challenges. Through some unconventional methods we exposed a range of challenges that face facilitators and those operating in complex problem environments. Individually we may each have hesitations about our role, but together we are all facing similar challenges and learning together grows our ability to tackle the world’s most wicked problems.

It was a pleasure to share the weekend’s “stage” with Ryerson University, Hub Ottawa, Camaraderie, Ashoka, OCAD University, McMaster Innovation Lab and MaRs Solutions Lab alongside all the participants from EWB Canada.

“With new abilities to understand how problems connect, we are called to share and collaborate in our work, to create solutions larger than single organizations.”  – RETHINK website


ECOO 2013 Bingo

I am heading to ECOO later today and presenting tomorrow. While watching some of the twitter conversation. I am inspired from Audrey Watters work at #SXSWedu and figured I would take it upon myself to see where I could contribute some reality gaming to the conference.

Let’s see what happens and what I might learn from this experiment.

If you are around at ECOO tomorrow, come check out my panel with Andrew Campbell on “How Technology Can Break Down The Walls of School?

Play along via twitter at #ecoo13 or face-to-face 🙂

ECOO Bingo

Learning at //fuse 13


Over 2 days, 100 educators from 10 different States gathered together at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School in Atlanta, Georgia for an intensive design thinking workshop.

The design challenge: How might we improve the first week of school? 

Earlier this year, at EduCon in Philly, I had the opportunity to connect to two amazing educators who are just as enamoured with design thinking as we are. Mary Cantwell is the coordinator for the Centre for Design Thinking at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and Greg Bamford is the co-founder of Leading is Learning, these two made me feel more than welcome as part of the facilitation team.


What is Fuse? “Fuse is the circuit that sparks new action. It’s the fusion of two people working together to make something new.” Together, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School and Leading is Learning created a jam-packed two day adventure to bring educators through the process of design thinking and the task and maintenance of team work. It was a lovely blend of learning the complex process of solving for wicked problems while navigating the complexity of working with people you don’t know on wicked problems. It honoured the fact that as learners, we are used to a certain level of comfort and in this case we were purposely putting you in an uncomfortable space.

As part of the facilitation team, I got to learn and share with a team who are practicing and doing everything they can to spread design thinking throughout education and to co-facilitate with Scott Sanchez, Stanford d. school instructor was simply phenomenal. I am thankful for Mount Vernon’s open and collaborative approach to //Fuse. It was clear that we were learning together and that we were all facing similar challenges that we didn’t have the answers to. I specifically remember our facilitation meeting after the first day and the time we spent going over the participants experience, the iterations we need to make to build their learning experience and our reflections as a team and as individual facilitators.


I was honoured to be a co-facilitator of the Empathize phase. At Mount Vernon, they have adapted the design thinking process to work for their whole school. They use D.E.E.P – discover, empathize, experiment, produce. Empathize is the phase where they get to know their user. It is hugely important that participants make the shift of seeing themselves as users towards seeing themselves as designers. This is the part that I find most people struggle with and the fog continues as you move into defining your “Point of View” and coming up with your own “How Might We”. Together with figuring out your team, going through the process while trying to connect and relate to your design challenge; this is the combination for a tiring day 1 and I am always grateful when everyone still shows up for day 2.

Being part of //Fuse was seriously so rewarding. To see a school that has embraced design thinking for nearly 5 years, go to Georgia to meet fellow #dtk12 educators and really get to build a lasting bond.



Our #Educon Session

Last year I met Andrew Campbell on twitter and since then we have been collaborating and discussing everything in education from how people learn to the spaces we learn in. Andrew is a grade 4/5 teacher and has been teaching for 20 years, we come from extremely different perspectives and experiences which I think fuels the ways we influence one another. In the summer, Andrew shared a story with me about going to Rome and visiting church after church after church just to soak in the beauty and awe of the buildings and he began to question why don’t we travel the world to see schools? In conjunction with my passion for breaking down school walls, we launched into a journey to find where are the beautiful learning spaces? The conversations moved from twitter to a blog of Beautiful Learning Spaces where we collect inspiration for what schools could be.

We were privileged to be able to share our project at EduCon 2.5 on January 25-27, 2013 in Philadelphia at the Science Leadership Academy.

Our session was on Sunday afternoon, right after lunch. We were a little nervous. We planned as much as we could to both speak about where we were coming from and to facilitate a conversation about beautiful learning spaces. We were so pleased with the group that turned out and got fully engaged into a conversation about space, school and learning 🙂 We created this google doc to record some of the conversation.

My biggest insight/take away from the session was how interested people were in co-working spaces and being able to choose where you work on what day depending on what you need.


My #Educon Adventures

I was in Philadelphia for the weekend of January 25-27 to present “Where are the Beautiful Learning Spaces?” with Andrew Campbell. The conference, #EduCon 2.5 was hosted at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) which is a public school that was developed in partnership between the public school board and the Franklin Institute, the science centre. The Franklin Institute, as the founding partner, launched SLA to promote science and leadership in education, the project is highly successful and an inspiring example of putting good ideas to action.

educon legos

Together, SLA and the Franklin Institute is bringing museum education, inquiry-driven, project based curriculum to life and sharing all the way, as demonstrated by #EduCon.

For me, #EduCon demonstrated to me how schools can be entrepreneurial, thought leaders, provocative and participate in bringing together some amazing people together. While the conference is highly supported online via Google hangouts and the massive twitter feed (actually went trending several times and then we started getting spammed…) there is nothing that can beat being there in person and getting to connect with people.

I got a chance to meet many people who I have talked to online and I feel like those in-person moments will solidify the existing relationships. Here are a few honourable mentions; Christian Long, educator of The Third Teacher, Dan Callahan, EdCamp; Alex Gillam, Public Workshop; Greg Bamford, Leading is Learning. Each of these people are making things happen in education, they are inspiring my work and I was ecstatic to meet them. I also met a slew of new people to add to my inspiration list; Christina Jenkins, designer of Quark Cards; Karen Blumberg, TedxYouth@School EdCampNYC & RoboExpo; Mary Cantwell, Deep Design Thinking and the most important people of all, the ones that come to our session! (More to come on that in another post)

me and Christian Long

I was surprised and loved the fact that a lot of the sessions were around design thinking. It meant that people spoke my language. Educators and designers who were using design thinking in the classroom, in education consulting and in thinking about the education system. It was simply marvellous!

Like all conferences, at some point we go back to our day jobs and all you can do is try and hold on to the memories to see what it may spark. I can say that there was more then a few ideas that were sparked and propelled by my weekend in Philly. Thanks Educon for inspiration, the cool peeps and the chance to eat a Philly cheese steak IN Philadelphia.

See you again,


And an extra special thank you to Patti Walker, President of Marathon Learning Materials Ltd. I couldn’t have done it without you. Your unconditional support is unbelievable!