Thoughts on LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani

In April, I read LAUNCH: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring out the Maker in Every Student by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani.  Spencer and Juliani propose that a new divide is emerging between people who passively consume and those who actively create.  As a counter to this, they offer that embedding design thinking into our courses can provide much needed structure for creative endeavors.  They term this structure the LAUNCH cycle. After discussing the need for creativity in schools and a teacher’s role, the authors systematically explain each phase of the LAUNCH cycle.  

The first two chapters of the book focus on creativity, its place in the classroom, and the varied ways in which it manifests.  The authors state that “the more we recognize the diversity of the creative mindset, the better we become at integrating creativity into the culture and curriculum of the classroom.”  They acknowledge some of the challenges presented when teachers start incorporating design thinking into their classes. Teacher can use the LAUNCH cycle to provide a framework that minimizes the messy, unstructured, and unwieldy work of creativity in the classroom.  In the rest of the book, Spencer and Juliani describe each phrase of the LAUNCH cycle and offer classroom examples. Here’s a summary of what the process involves:

  1. Look, listen, and learn – The goal of this phase is for students to expand their awareness of a problem, challenge, issue, or situation.  The authors offer seven very practical ways to go about this.
  2. Ask tons of questions – Students ask as many questions as they can about their focus.  By the end of this phase, they should have a solid list of questions that they need to investigate.  
  3. Understanding through research – Students research the answers to the questions they generated in the prior step.  The authors intentionally expand the definition of research to include reading, multimedia, interviews, and hands-on activities.  Through research, students develop an understanding of the problem they are trying to solve.
  4. Navigate ideas –  Groups of students talk to each other about their ideas for what they want to create to address their focus.  This phase includes brainstorming, choosing an idea to pursue, identifying necessary steps and resources, and assigning roles.  
  5. Creating – Students do the hands-on work in this phase.  They build, write, program and do whatever it takes to bring their idea to fruition.  
  6. Highlight and improve the product – Students go through a process to reflect on what is working and what needs improvement.  Then they make necessary tweaks and edits.
  7. Launch – It’s during this phase that students share what they have created with an authentic audience.  Students spend time clarifying their audience, identifying marketing methods, and, finally, launching their product.

As soon as I started the first chapter of this book, I had a feeling I would be a fan.  I agree with the authors’ view that we need a broader definition of creativity and appreciate the time they spent describing how we might view creativity differently.  Early in the book, they name some of the common challenges that teachers encounter when designing and implementing creative work in their classes. The challenges they identify ring true with my own experiences and so I see the value in the LAUNCH framework.  Their explanation of each stage is clear, thorough, and very practical. They provide examples of how to scaffold the process to create even more structure for younger learners. I think the book is a great read for teachers who want to integrate more projects that require students to create.  It offers a clear pathway for teachers to follow as they think through how to structure creative work in their own classes and discipline.
In May, I am reading Elena Aguilar’s book Onward:  Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators.

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