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Design Thinking and the DMV

It is amazing how many people hear the letters DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) and begin wincing. What the DMV needs is some Design thinking…

One of my reading obsessions right now is design thinking. IDEO, D-School, NuVu, Creating Innovators, and of course STEM curriculum seem to be everywhere I look these days. After spending an hour at the DMV today I have some Design suggestions that would make the experience better for everyone.

1. Don’t make people wait in line like cattle to get a number. Use the restaurant system of a pager. This way, people could sit and relax while they wait.

2. Make the waiting rooms more cozy and welcoming. The sterile environment only furthers the madness often seen as people become more and more frustrated due to the wait.

3. Allow food! If you are going to spend an hour, or two or three waiting to get a driver’s license or tags for your car the least you could do is let people fulfill human needs.

4. Supply things to read, t.v.’s to watch, or devices to play on – again – think of a doctor’s office!

5. If you do all of the above items, you may not need 3 security guards to keep the peace. By keeping people happy during their wait there will be less acts of aggression.

6. Customer service training for employees. Again, the nicer the employees the less likely that people will become unreasonable in their reactions.

7. Think like a business – not like a government agency. What would make people WANT to come to the DMV and like it?



Year Round Schooling Solved

During a recent dinner party our conversation turned to education. When I was asked what I thought about year round schooling I paused. I could argue either side of this issue with ease. However the next day after some reflection I had a better solution!


I love looping. I once had the privilege of looping with a group of 7th (and a year later) 8th grade students. It was the most amazing experience for the following reasons:

1. The learning began on day 1 of year 2.  We literally picked up where we left off on the first day of school – no need to explain my rules/procedures or philosophy – straight to learning.

2. I was also able to individualize the learning on day 1 since I already knew the students.

3. We became a family by the end of year 2 – these were not my students, they were my children.

4. Did I mention the learning began on day 1?

I realize that looping in secondary settings are not a simple task but I believe it can be done. So the next time someone argues that students “lose” so much over the summer, I am going to explain my experience with looping. I don’t believe the problem is what the students lose as much as it is they have a new teacher(s) that will spend the next 3-4 months getting to know the students well enough to individualize the instruction.

Looping… if you have not done it – try it – and let me know your thoughts.

The Bike Part 2

I distinctly remember learning how to ride a bike without training wheels. I was turning five years old and my Dad and I spent what seems like countless hours sweating and arguing (and me crying) in our driveway.  Looking back I am sure it didn’t help that we lived on a hill.

Last summer when we decided we would teach our almost seven year old son to ride a bike I anticipated an experience similar to mine. He would be crying, my husband and I would be sweating, and we would need a few band-aids.  I could not have been more wrong. He learned immediately! Within one minute of going to the parking lot he was riding around in circles and wearing a smile as big as the sun. Maybe I should not have been so surprised. He was older and he had been riding a razor scooter for the past two years which I am sure helped him learn balance. But still… he got it on the first try.

My younger son is probably going to have a bit of a tougher time than his older brother. His gross motor skills have always been delayed and even now he prefers riding his trike to his bike with training wheels. However, I am not worried. I am sure one day he will decide he is ready to learn and we will take another trip to the parking lot to try to teach him. It may take him longer than son #1 but I am sure he will get it eventually.


The point is –  it doesn’t matter how long it takes to learn to ride a bike. It is a skill and once you have mastered it you can enjoy bike riding for a lifetime. I often use this analogy when describing my philosophy on grading my students. As a math teacher my goal is to have them master the skills in the curriculum. It doesn’t really matter to me if it takes them one try or one hundred. I want them to master the skills so they can use them for a lifetime. Some people may call me an easy grader – I would argue that I am committed to having my students master the material.

Just imagine if I had only had once chance to learn how to ride a bike…

Actually, It’s all about the Bike

Sorry to Lance Armstrong for the reference but I just cannot get bikes out of my mind right now…

Bike Post #1

Your child has two choices: Identify the parts of a bike on a worksheet or Given all the parts of a bike and a resource (manual, the internet, etc.) build a bike.

Which one would result in more learning? I think we can all agree that the latter would result in significantly more learning, higher order thinking, and problem solving. It would also require perseverance, probably some collaboration, and most importantly – trial and error.

Too often in school we are still teaching with the worksheet. I hope we can start to work on building the bike.

Just in Case = Just a Waste

I have heard the phrases “just in case” learning and “just in time” learning several times in the last few weeks.   The concept has really stuck with me.

What if we took our curriculum and separated each section into one of these two piles?  What would the piles look like?  Even split?  I doubt it.

I would venture to guess that most secondary curriculum would fall into the “just in case” pile. This is a problem – I believe this is why our students forget the material months, days, even hours after they are tested on it. How many students really need to know how to find the axis of symmetry in a quadratic equation to live their life? How many students won’t be able to get through their afternoon without knowing the date the First World War started? Is there any surprise they forget it from one test to the next? Think of all of the time, energy, and effort teachers take everyday to teach concepts to students “just in case.”  It seems to me like it might be a waste.

What if we only taught “just in time” skills and content.  School would have to become individualized, differentiated, and would be much “harder” for the teachers to prepare and be experts in their areas; but I bet it would be SO much better for the students.



An Open Notes Kind of Life…


I love buying books. I buy so many I don’t remember what I have bought and often end up with multiple copies.  I even buy books I have already read just in case I want to read them again or give them away.  I definitely have a problem.

As an adult I also have the excuse of buying “self-help” type books.  You can actually follow the progression of my life by the books on my shelves. There are books about: being a teacher, being a single woman (my favorite is The Girls Guide to Fishing and Hunting), getting married, getting pregnant, getting your baby to sleep, potty training your child, disciplining your preschooler, and of course my newest collection – books on raising a child with special needs. I have not read them all cover to cover.  I am more of a skim as you need type of reader.  For example, I only open the sleep book when my kids are not sleeping.  I never even opened the potty training book – I figured that one out on my own.  The point is:

I DID NOT HAVE TO MEMORIZE WHAT WAS IN THESE BOOKS!  I can open them whenever I need help or advice or expertise because LIFE IS OPEN NOTE.

So why isn’t school?



If life is a journey then child raising is a very long cross country road trip.  The trip is filled with beautiful scenery, unforgettable moments, lot of laughs (especially if I am doing the driving), and most likely – some detours.  Those detours which require you to:

1. Take a different, unexpected, unfamiliar, and off course road

2. Spend more time than you anticipated

3. Feel anxious because the new road is not familiar

4. Completely overtake the good parts of the trip (see above) and turn your entire to focus onto – WHEN WE WILL BE ABLE TO GET BACK ONTO THE ROAD WE WANTED!

The detours for many parents occur when their children are in school.  It can happen at various times, from preschool (when your son is continually hitting the other kids and you are so appalled you feel the need to continually apologize to everyone)  to high school (when your daughter is struggling so much in her math class that she is crying every night, you have hired a tutor, and your mantra becomes “let’s just get through this with a “C”).  But these are the small detours – they only derail your road trip for a short time.  It is the big detours which are really frightening.

Like:  when your child gets kicked out of school – or when your child gets diagnosed with a learning disability – or when your child is being bullied in school.  These are the detours that leave us not only frustrated and exhausted – but TOTALLY OVERWHELMED.

I have a friend who is just hitting the detour signs… she is at the beginning of the detour when you are in denial ~ “maybe the road isn’t really closed” ~ she is also angry ~”why do they have to do construction right now!?!” ~ and she is scared ~”what if this detour doesn’t get us back on the main road and we are late?”

It is easy for me to identify with her situation because I have been on a detour for the last few years with my own child.  My detour has not ended, instead, our family has rerouted our entire journey. But now that we have rerouted and we know we will never get back on the main road – we are able to enjoy the scenery again, have lots of laughs, and enjoy all of those unforgettable moments we signed up for when we decided to become parents. There are still days I wish we could have seen the other road but not many – I have learned to accept and love the road we are on. I know my friend will get there too – she just has to take the time to figure out a new path for her trip.