Problem of Practice Final Report

Problem of Practice Final Report: The Design Thinking Process


As a high school special education teacher, I am often faced with the problem of students not completing their homework.  I have a caseload of 17 students in addition to four co-taught Geometry and Algebra classes.  I am busy printing out the names of missing assignments and hounding students to get their assignments turned in.  Sometimes I meet with them individually or remind them of assignments daily when I see them.  It is a lot to keep track of with my caseload and remembering which teachers have late policies or accept late work.  Missing assignments is a huge problem because for many of them turning in just one more may be the difference in them passing or failing the marking period.  Many of my students do not test well so getting their assignments turned in is important.

This is a complex problem I face because there is no clear-cut solution that will work for every student.  Through the design thinking process I found that there were a number of reasons that my students were not doing their homework.  As I moved through the stages I came up with a potential solution to the problem that found some success.



For the empathize stage of the design thinking process I used my caseload of students for my group of users.  I decided it would be best to employ two different techniques for gathering information through methods of empathy.  First, I checked their grades from the first semester and made notes about missing assignments.  For many, there was a correlation between the two.  The more missing assignments they had, the lower their grades were.  I pulled their IEPs, reread what teachers and parents had reported in terms of homework completion, and tried to draw some conclusions.  I have held twelve IEP meetings either this fall or winter.  Therefore, I have built some strong relationships with my students and parents already.  I reflected back on how those meetings went and if there was any conflict between the parent and child in terms of why homework was not being completed.  I used this information to help create the five-question survey that helped me narrow down my problem and focus for my questions, especially in giving my reasons as to why the homework was not getting done (survey question 4).  Each student is unique and has their own home situation, class schedule, level of organization, motivation, and knowledge of the material.  That is what made narrowing down this issue so difficult.

The results of the survey were pretty interesting:

Question 1: Question 2: Question 3: Question 4:
Always: 5 Always: 7 Multiple times/day: 1 I forget I have it: 9
Most of the time: 10 Most of the time: 8 Daily: 4 Don’t have time: 6
Seldom: 1 Seldom: 1 Weekly: 8 Don’t understand: 4
Never: 0 Never: 0 Rarely: 3 Forget materials: 4
    Never: 0 Forget to turn in: 6


The define stage helped me come up with a more specific solution for my problem.  I took my broad topic of students not completing their homework and narrowed it down to some possible solutions.  It was interesting to use the five whys analysis and the why how ladder because I feel that I am always asking myself why?  Asking why allows us to gain new information and this stage helped me gather more ideas about my students as they were the topic of my questions.  Ultimately, I concluded that there were two root causes including students forgetting that they have homework and students saying that they did not have time to complete their homework.

5 Whys?  Root-Cause Analysis

First Scenario:

  • Why are students not completing their homework?
    • Because they forget they have it.
  • Why do they forget they have it?
    • Because they don’t have it written down.
  • Why do they not have it written down?
    • Because they don’t like using their student planner.
  • Why do they not like using their student planner?
    • Because it is big, bulky, and not convenient.
  • Why is it big, bulky, and not convenient?
    • Because that is the planner the school provides and the student handbook is printed in the front of it.

Second Scenario:

  • Why are students not completing their homework?
    • Because they don’t have time.
  • Why don’t they have time?
    • Because they have activities (practice, band, choir, clubs, etc.) and do not manage their time wisely.
  • Why do they not manage time wisely?
    • Because they do not know how to manage their time.
  • Why do they not know how to manage their time?
    • Because they are not used to having this much homework every night.
  • Why are they not used to having this much homework every night?
    • Because they didn’t have this many homework assignments in middle school.

 Why-How Ladder



Ideation is a process that occurs in stages.  In order to produce a number of ideas you need to spend time with others collaborating and being creative.  When I first started the brainstorming stage, I was a little frustrated.  I am a very analytical thinker and did not want to write some of my ideas down at all because I thought they would not work.  I struggled through this and appreciated ideas that others provided me.  I also learned that it was important to give my brain a rest.  There is value in taking a night off and re-visiting a topic the next morning.  I discovered some new perspectives and thoughts during my “incubation” period journaling that I would not have had if I stopped working after the brainstorming stage.  This really brought to light how many different solutions there could be for my problem.

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During the prototype stage I decided to continue with my spreadsheet sketch from my ideation.  I used Google Sheets to create spreadsheet that I could use to track my students’ grades and missing assignments.  I love to make lists and organize my thoughts so I really enjoyed this stage of the process.  I played around with different layouts and changed around my ideas a few times before finalizing my prototype.  I put the student’s classes on the left side with columns set up for letter grades and missing assignments.  If the student has a C or better I highlight the box green, D is yellow, and an E is red.   Our district uses Skyward as a system for grades and it is hard for my students to see where they need to improve.  I thought that the color coding system may motivate some students and give them a feeling of accomplishment.  They will also be able to see their growth and how grades change over time.



The test stage was the longest in my design thinking process.  I wanted to gather as much information as I could in testing my prototype and our school schedule was hectic due to spring break and state testing.  I focused on five students on my caseload that struggle with assignment completion.  The group was composed of two juniors, two freshmen, and one sophomore student.  I created a Google Sheet for each student I was testing which listed all of their classes on the left-hand side with rows for grades and missing assignments.

After checking in with my students, I individually interviewed them regarding the spreadsheet.  I chose to use this method of receiving feedback from my students because I have strong relationships with them and felt that they would be comfortable telling me the truth.  The feedback I received from 4/5 students was that they really liked using the Google Sheets.  A couple of them noted that they really liked the color coding system because they could see that they were improving by turning things in.  In addition to hearing back from students, I gathered feedback from a colleague in the special education department at my school.  It was amazing to hear about one of my students raving about the spreadsheet to her and hear her support of my prototype.

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Design Thinking Reflection

This design thinking process was an overall great experience for me.   The biggest take away that I had from the process as a whole was that it is a continuous cycle.  The process is never really finished because after testing you want to go back and improve anything that needs fixing.  As a special education teacher, I have never thought of myself as a designer.  I did not think that a lesson was a product to be used; however after completing this problem of practice I recognize that teachers are designers.  Designers are actively problem solving and trying to find solutions to difficult problems which is what we are constantly doing in the classroom.  Designing is being empathetic, brainstorming, collaborating, analyzing, incubating, and testing your ideas.  Designing takes time and perseverance in order to find success.  I am happy with my results from this project and I will continue to use the prototype that I have implemented in my classroom.  I can also see myself using this design process to help improve my teaching skills and strategies in the future.



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