In the words of my favorite educator from my home state of Vermont, John Dewey, “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” However, as educators, finding ways to make reflection truly engaging for students can be a challenge.
During a recent collaboration with Bethel Elementary School, I got a chance to witness Ms. Kathy Fechter and her 4th & 5th grade students take reflection to a new level using WeVideo’s podcasting tools. Ms. Fechter had learned about design thinking during the Create Make Learn Summer Institute and was eager to kick off the school year with a Design Thinking Challenge:
“Design an invention that would make it easier for a classmate to eat their favorite food.”
As she shared the story of her students navigating each phase of the design thinking cycle using nothing but cardboard, tape, and recycling to create their inventions, I proposed an ambitious idea—what if her students recorded podcast episodes recapping their inventions through the lens of the design thinking process? Kathy loved the idea of pushing reflection beyond worksheets into audio experiences.
The Challenge: Capturing insights of ALL her students as part of the podcast
We quickly ran into the “time constraint”. Due to an early release school day, we only had 75 minutes with 23 fifth graders and 30 minutes with 27 fourth graders to record the content for a whole podcast series. Undaunted, we crafted a plan to capture each student's voice and collaborate on episodes after the visit. Thankfully, both WeVideo and Google’s tools have powerful collaborative features that helped us put our plan into action.
The Hook: An authentic audience
I explained to students their podcast would be featured on my website, Create Make Learn, to showcase their design thinking skills for other teachers. Having an audience beyond their classroom motivated students to bring their A-game to recording day!
The Gear: Microphones make it real
I brought my pro-quality Blue Yeti mic to Kathy's classroom so students could record narrations worthy of a real podcast. Leaning into the mic, their voices ringing clear, you could see the kids stand a little taller, excited to contribute to something authentic.
Recording reflections during classtime.
Scaffolding reflection through purposeful questions
Ms. Fechter assigned student groups to each of the five phases of design thinking, while I managed the tech setup as "producer." Ms. Fechter helped students reflect on the design process by asking probing and purposeful questions as the interviewer. Students recounted their process, challenges, and insights.
Live teacher-student dialogue during the recording process.
One of the most impactful moments during the creation of the podcast happened when we asked students to reflect on one final question: “If you were given unlimited resources and the experts with the skills to invent something new, what problem would you try to solve?” The thoughtful answers brought tears to our eyes as we listened to students who now felt empowered from their design thinking experience to imagine solutions to problems ranging from global warming to endangered animals, to homelessness.
Tough edits lead to deeper learning
We ended up with over an hour of amazing audio reflection and decided to break the podcast into three episodes.
- Episode 1: Empathy and Define Stages of Design Thinking
- Episode 2: Ideate and Prototype Stages of Design Thinking
- Episode 3: Testing and (& Feedback!) Stage of Design Thinking
While we were editing each episode, we noticed that we were going through our own reflection process as educators. Just by assembling clips into narrative flow, we better understood the student learning arc and the process became a formative assessment tool.
The Takeaway: Student-driven learning, teacher-led reflection
While it took effort to facilitate rich reflections, the final podcast episodes told a story we couldn't have gleaned from the classroom display of inventions and the written narratives stored on their Google Drive. Immersed in WeVideo’s tools, Kathy used some of the audio from the podcast, some stock media from WeVideo's media library, and created a video highlighting the process for her school board.
Ms. Fechter's video that was presented to her school board.
Students opened up to the mic, proud to be heard. And for Kathy and I, it sparked discoveries to improve our own practice. Most excitingly, kids are already planning their next podcast pursuits.
I hope this gives you ideas to reimagine post-project reflections in your classroom. Because as John Dewey knew, true education doesn't end when an activity does. The real learning — for both students and teachers — happens when we take time to reflect on our experiences.
For more information on this project, visit Create Make Learn.