EDEx | Education Design Experience


EDEx Educators Experience: Laut Design

EDEx invited guest bloggers from the 2017-2018 EDEx Educators Cohort to share perspectives from our year together. This week’s guest blogger is Melaine Rickard, a CASMT award winner and AIG Teacher with Alamance Burlington Schools. Melaine is sharing highlights from our Mentor Meeting held on November 16, 2017 at Laut Design. Thank you again to Laura and Mike Laut and Vaishali Patel  for hosting us. We had an inspiring night at Laut Design.

I’ve been asking myself the wrong questions. Instead of asking “What problem can I have my students solve?” I need to ask, “Who has a need or problem that my students can address?” That’s the difference. It’s who, not what.
— Melaine Rickard


It’s our first time back together as an EDEx group after our initial meeting and the Hopscotch festival. It’s mid-November and we’re all knee deep in school. Holidays are approaching fast. We’re tired.

On the drive to Raleigh I’ve tried to sort out what I know about design thinking and how it might work in my classroom. How does it fit in with STEM and engineering design? How is it different? Mixed in my thought process is how am I going to make this happen amidst all the other stuff I have going?

I know it’s about creating and solving problems and a process, but I am still not quite sure I can make a distinction yet.

At Laut Design, the first item on the agenda is to catch up with your talking partner, which is fun because my partner is just interesting and very different from me.  Before long though, Sonja throws a curve—design a name tag for your partner. Now the stakes are higher. I need to create something that will represent him and he will be comfortable wearing. (Later I realize how genius this assignment was). This is stressful for me. I’m not crafty or visual and my own style is pretty minimal. But, I get it done and come up with something that I hope works. At least my partner was tactful enough to not laugh aloud at my product.

Next up, dinner with the designers and catch up with the cohort while peeking around at the lab. What strikes me most is the emphasis on hands-on creation as opposed to digital. There are CNC machines, drills, saws, 3D printers, cardboard, but not a lot of computers.

After dinner, Mike Laut talked to us about his background and process that he uses at the design firm. He’s really really talented. He’s creative. He’s a risk taker. He’s interesting. But most of all, he is a great communicator. He talks to teachers about the technical design he does in a way we understand. He answers questions, tells funny stories, talks about his staff and goals and challenges. I’ve been up since 4 a.m., worked all day, driven over an hour to get here, and I’m fully engaged. He’s good.

On the way home, about 20 minutes into the drive, I realize what it is about Laut and design thinking that distinguishes it from STEM, and PBL, and engineering design. I get why Sonja made us create the name tag for our partner. It’s the client, the other person, who is the focus in design thinking. It’s why Mike Laut was so good. He took time to think about us, the audience, and meet us where we were. He designs to solve a person’s problem or make a person’s experience better.

I’ve been asking myself the wrong questions. Instead of asking “What problem can I have my students solve?” I need to ask, “Who has a need or problem that my students can address?” That’s the difference. It’s who, not what.

Six months later, after my students shared their design thinking projects with their clients and their parents, I’m even more convinced that it’s the emphasis on people and the connections among people that define and distinguish design thinking. I watched my students grow as communicators and they listened to and responded to clients’ wishes. I watched them gain a different perspective when the client wanted to go in a direction different from their wishes. I watched them beam with pride when they displayed their final products to their clients. Pretty impressive for middle school students.

The focus on people and connections is also a reminder for me about what’s important. School isn’t about the content or the test or the paperwork. It’s about the students and parents and colleagues. It’s about the who and not the what. I need to remember that.


Melaine Rickard
AIG Teacher
Alamance Burlington Schools

Sonja McKay