I often get asked to do short design sprints with leadership teams and teaching teams. One of the major areas to focus on is having people talk about REAL problems, challenges, and opportunities they are currently facing (instead of hypothetical situations). 

Instead of just talking about challenges at your next meeting, use this design sprint to start planning solutions. Then share out your thoughts in the comments below!

Get access to the slide deck here.


Today we are going to solve the biggest problem in education.

And that is going to require all of us to roll up our sleeves, get our fingers warmed up for typing, our minds spinning for innovative solutions, and our vocal cords ready for talking.

This is not going to be a “sit and get” session.

This is an “earn to learn” session.

Sorry if you thought otherwise ;)

Ok, are you ready to get to work?


The first thing we need to do is get set up.

Can everyone pull out a device (or open one up) and go to_______________ – this site will have all the resources you need for today’s session.

Second thing is to look around you. See any paper you may have in your bag or on the table. See the people and spaces around you. Use them all to the best possible means today as we are working. Think like Jason Bourne.

Third. We are going to move extremely fast today. There is going to be time to talk, but that talk should lead to action. And the action should lead to some type of outcome or solution.

If you feel pressed for time, that is a good thing. If you feel like there is a lot going on at the same time, that is also a good thing. This is the world we live in now. Lots of noise and not much time to get things done.

*Note: The numbers on the side are a general marker for time (in minutes) throughout the activity.

5: Here are the 21st-century skills that we love talking about:

The problem is that these skills were created 20 years ago, and a lot has changed since then, much of it not “predicted” well.

What I found during my years teaching and in a leadership role is that the 21st-century skills are a great starting point, but they should be just that: a starting point.

If we want students who are future-ready, we must add the following skills to the mix:

  • Developing and Navigating Choice
  • Inquiry (ask the right questions)
  • G.R.I.T. (guts, resiliency, integrity, tenacity)
  • Authentic Challenges and Environments
  • Pace Management

Any classroom that has learners developing and working through those skills, is an innovative classroom.

Ok, enough of me talking. Time to get to work.

10: What (in your opinion) is the biggest problem in education. And the biggest challenge in your classroom/school/district?

  • Why is it such a problem?
  • Can you solve this problem in your school?
  • Can you solve this problem in a specific classroom?

15: Get in a group (2-3 people) to share your problems – see which one is shared across the group. 2 mins per person to share – then 2 minutes to see which one is shared across the group.

Example: Students are worried about grades and not concerned about learning.

25: Choose one problem to tackle today…

Understand the challenge: 1 minute for each question

  • Who does it impact?
  • Who makes decisions impacting this problem?
  • How has it impacted you and your school (stories)?
  • What do you and your group have control of, influence over, and no control of…?
  • What circumstance might lead to a solution?

Example: The game of school leads students to believe learning is always tied to a grade, and always needs to be something they are “forced” to do by a teacher. Students need to see that they learn all the time. I have control over my classroom (to a point) and a circumstance would be students learning because they excited about the content or possibilities of that topic/project etc.

30: Ideation: Creating and evaluating ideas for solutions.

  • What are some opportunities to solve this challenge?
  • Who are some people that could help? Can you contact them?
  • What can you write, record, create, build and/or promote to solve this challenge?

40: Prototype: Time to turn that idea into reality.

Choose an idea for a solution—
Use your device, hands, or mind to sketch out what this might look like.

50: Get feedback — jigsaw groups for 5 mins (share quickly – 30 second pitch – 30 second feedback)

  1. What problem are you solving?
  2. What are you making/creating/building to solve it?
  3. Feedback

55: Build (make and do something!)

Put the idea into action.

Take three actionable steps to make this a reality.

65: Evolve (something to think about today, tonight, tomorrow, and later this week)

  • What are the next steps to solve this challenge?
  • What did you do well and can build on?
  • What did you do poorly and should scrap?
  • What did you learn from mistakes/failures and what did you take away from successes/wins?

70: Whole Group—Reflection

Check those 21C skills off the list…

Check those new skills off the list…

Today we solved one of the biggest problems in education:

Talking about what we should do, instead of taking action.

Sometimes innovation is simpler than we think. Sometimes it’s about taking one action, then building on that with another action.

It’s going to be messy. We are going to make mistakes. But the innovative classroom needs students to experience exactly what you all experienced today: a choice, a challenge, and a reason to fail and keep working for a solution together through any means necessary.

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Join the discussion 5 Comments

  • Tracey says:

    I’d try it! But first I would want to understand your numbering system 5: 10: etc. Is that estimated minutes into exercise? Also, does your slide #11 coincide with the additional 21st Century Learning Skills added to statement 5:
    *Developing and Navigating Choice
    *Inquiry (ask the right questions)
    *G.R.I.T. (guts, resiliency, integrity, tenacity)
    *Authentic Challenges and Environments
    *Pace Management
    – which relate both to the teacher’s thoughts about creating the activity as well as the student’ approach to and progress with learning.
    I didn’t see these in the slides and wondered how you share them.

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Yes, those numbers were minute allocations that I used – although, it changes with each group depending on size and how much time is available. Those skills were things the group talked about and we added – try to use real skills that the group you are with values and is focusing on!

  • Lisa says:

    I’m excited to share this with one of our district committees. The commenter above mentioned timing suggestions. Can you please tell me where these are? What is a good estimate of total time for this exercise with a group of 15 people?

    • AJ Juliani says:

      They are the numbers in bold next to each step. I would say with 15 people you could easily do this in 50-75 minutes!

  • This is fantastic and something I absolutely want to use with the teachers I support! Are these slides you would be okay with us modifying to use (while still giving proper attribution)?

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