[Wk 3 - Reflection] Designing for Wide Walls


In this week’s video and readings, Mitch introduces the idea of “wide walls”: designing learning experiences where people can create a variety of different projects in a variety of ways, based on their interests and styles.

What do the wide walls look like in your practice? What are some of the design choices or facilitation strategies that you already use, or you plan to use to widen the walls?

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[Wk 4 - Reflection] Reflect in Small Groups
listed #2


It happens to me sometimes that when the walls are too wide kids get lost and don’t know where to start or what to do. Do you experience the same?


Wide Walls for me is seen rather easily in my Design classes. For example, the only starting guidance we gave to students in one of the classes is that they have to make the Perfect Gift for somebody else, but they couldn’t just ask that person “What do you want?”

Now, students are making all kinds of different projects, like a dog carrier for a car, a robotic alarm clock, a toy chest, some apps, and also some training videos.


That’s actually pretty common I think. Many kids are (sadly) not used to be given such wide walls, so it’s just normal that they don’t know what to do in a situation where they expect some very specific instructions… and they don’t have them.

I’d try to give them ideas open enough but that can inspire possible paths. Also maybe showing some other stuff done with that media, again as different as possible between them.


I had the experience last winter of working with youth experiencing homelessness. To identify visible pathways to career sustainability. We learned that creativity is the most sustainable skill to possess. And to focus on CAREERS over JOBS. While building PRODUCTS that are JOB -serving.

I made daily visits to a youth center for those with unstable housing. Spending time to be a friend. Motivating.

While I found that Google’s CSFirst Themes tested the best, when brand testing –

  • First Friends
  • First Art
  • Game Design
  • Sports
  • Music & Sound
  • Fashion
  • Storytelling
  • Animation

– It is personalized project-based learning that is the best way to provide ‘wide walls’. The work at iScoil is informative:

Imagine a personalized learning live site. Using VOICE & CHOICE. To let youth lead learning inquiry. Clean Questioning and Metaphor provide a systematic approach to elicit non -biased student learning interest.

Image result for clean language and metaphor

How might tech criticism fit into technology edu?

Yes. I wish educators would talk more about this struggle: Self directed learning doesnt always lead to passionate engagement.

Some of my students, for example, seem totally stuck. I’m not sure how to help them thru it. We do have a design review on Tuesday to check in on progress. But Im not sure if that will motivate them to get working or if it will shut them down. Sometimes shame kicks in. Ugh.

Also, I wish educators would talk more about how they struggle as individuals to teach in a way that is really meant to be team taught. I’d much prefer to teach with a team, but it’s not economically feasible.

I’m more interested in struggles than celebrations. I don’t mean to be negative, I just want to break through some of these barriers and get on with doing the work. I hope you understand.


Sounds like a job for technology. To overcome these challenges of resource and time.

Honestly, education is in open conversations. Not orators and scribes.
I think we hermeneutically seal ourselves off from understanding.

What are some examples of things in the past that have worked?
How would you solve this now?

LMK. Then We can talk about a more sustainable future, together.


I do find this. Choice is hard, especially when it’s new or when students are mark-obsessed instead of learning-obsessed.

I get around this through a variety of exploration, brainstorming, and planning activities. Students can individually explore the news, media, etc for ideas. Then in a large group, we can fill a whiteboard with ideas. Then in small groups they can try to plan what is needed to complete the project.

Of course, my wide walls are always constrained to some degree. I teacher computer science so I always have techniques that need to be covered. I also like limitations - but I’ll talk about that in my post in a bit.


I like wide walls. In fact, I’m always that annoying person who when “low floor” and “high ceiling” come up in meetings I put up my hand and let them know that “wide walls” are also important.

That said, I like my wide walls to have constraints sometimes. I find that requirements often focus the inquiry just like the requirements of a sonnet increase creativity.

For instance, I just finished teaching selection in my semestered course (I teach both semestered and non semestered courses). The idea of the project was to explore how programming can be used to help medical professionals in their work. So each student had to find a medical screening tool or other paper medical tool and turn it into an electronic tool. I provided some websites that would be helpful for finding these tools. I also implemented my own “Are you a duck?” tool so students had a simple exemplar.

The responses I got from my students were amazing. Many went beyond the techniques of the unit to independently learn data structures and looping structures that would allow them improve the user experience. One even told me he shared his tool with his friends, one of who screen positive and went to speak to a doctor.

I also have more traditional “wide wall” assignments where students can learning programming concepts while exploring a wide range of topics, but I thought the example above showed how putting some limitations can really bring out the best in students.


I agree! Coming from an art background, I often forget the walls are there! But even when I try to take on a creative project, I need some kind of guideline, wide though it may be. For example, I’m doing the #Inktober challenge–drawing one ink drawing each day this month. There is an official list of one-word prompts that participants can use to get ideas rolling. I find that super-helpful.

I also liked the question presented to students–“If you could create [an invention that makes the world better], what would it be?” The words in the brackets can be changed, or the question re-framed, but I think the walls are just wide-enough, but also still there.

As far as the struggle goes, I’m remembering a TED talk by Elizabeth Gilbert…will have to try and find that one…but I remember her talking about the struggle of trying to be creative versus waiting for the right conditions for creativity to just happen. Sometimes the magic is in the struggle.


I have a question for educators. What if, when providing students with wide walls–opportunities to pursue their passions or interests–they get stuck in the same sort of things, maybe things that parents wouldn’t want them dwelling on in school? For example, I had a student create an online comic last week. The only walls were to use 2-3 vocabulary words in it, and he did. But the comic was about fighting. I’m not at all against video games or action movies, but what if kids’ passions often take them right to guns and violence? Another time, I had the kid use the grammar to talk about his favorite character’s likes and dislikes. The sentences he ended up writing was that this anime character likes drinking beer. No worries in an adult class, but the kid is 11. I was worried what his parents would think we were doing in class. Even if students are accomplishing something important creatively, or with the material to be learned, it might look bad to parents. Or maybe the students just need to get out of a rut of the same routine of crude jokes and violence and expand their horizons. Any experience with this?


I use this metaphor for creativity a lot. This TED Talk,

is a great example of redefining ‘Genius’ as place -based. I have a side project is named GENIUS LOCI. It is in response to Smart City developments in Columbus, OH. I argue that smart is not enough. We must be GENIUS LOCI .


Tough one :wink: @Danissima

Youth have been programmed to include these behavioral metaphors. When asked to express ideas. We use our metaphor skills. No matter how vile it may seem.

One may approach at-risk youth. Trauma-sensitive.


Wow. I dig the inktober exercise. I just finished up a mezzotint class. Still have ink under my fingernails. Love that!


This phrase from chapter 3 resonates with me:
"Passion is the fuel that drives the immersion-reflection cycle."

And I agree that an architecture of wide walls, low floors, and high ceilings creates the right environment for students to discover a project that they are passionate about.

I create Low Floors by doing simple exercises with students at the start of a semester. This is the only time I will lead a class, really, and I let them know that. Doing this, just once, builds confidence in students and helps them get on the path of figuring stuff out with their peers and on their own.

I create High Ceilings by including weekly “maker appreciation” assignments. I do this by giving students a genre and then they have to find makers working in that genre and write about them and their work. They often find makers/projects that are working at an advanced level and this helps them understand how “high” they can take a project if they keep at it.

I create Wide Walls for my students by giving open prompts with constraints on materials, budget, and time. I also teach them how to brainstorm and evaluate their ideas (for the latter, I encourage them to start with ideas that are “wild” but also easy to execute). For many students, this works well. They find project ideas that they are excited about.

It gets hard for many students once that initial excitement wears off. For this, I like this phrase you have, “Hard Fun.” I will start using that. Giving difficult things a name is useful. Not just in class, but in life.

I also like a tip that Scott Belsky puts forth in his new book, The Messy Middle. He argues that the middle of a project is hard and that to get through it you must short-circuit your reward system. Create little goals for yourself along the way, even if they are silly. Kind of like the blue smoke badge, yes? These little goals emerge in the reflection part of the reflection-immersion cycle.

What tricks do you have for helping students keep their passion through the messy middle?


Struggles are where most of the learning develops and sticks. I find supporting and celebrating! student struggles can be more important than successes.

I prefer to co-teach and collaborate with teams as well.


I’m working to support the idea of wide walls with classroom teachers through design thinking and makerspaces to name a couple things.

Also, I’m trying to work with teachers to break away from all students doing the same project. Instead, helping teachers to develop creative choices (stop motion, scratch, Makey Makey, video etc ) for students to choose how they want to demonstrate their understanding.


"Wide Walls " when I hear this word i remembered many things would like to share here,
Learning is a continuous process, there is no age limit.I am very passionate about learning new things,i can learn anything in my own pace.
Wide Walls was well explained by MR,

since 3 years i am teaching government schools students in my students have different interest ,different passions & abilities.i followed the usually in my classroom is blended learning approach,it mainly consider class room activities,computer activities,peer activities.

based on my understanding teacher or parent should able to help them to identify their strengths,interests,abilities then they can move around the walls of their sides.

some of my facilitation strategies include
1.Student centred learning on my sessions
3.real life experiences
4.think pair share


My first thought was be a lighthouse. I grew up on the ocean, in a town with its very own historic lighthouse. The lighthouse has many roles, as a beacon for a lost ship, as a warning of the nearby rocks. The lighthouse’s role is to shed light on the water, but its is still the sailor who navigates. As educators we can be lighthouses, when the students have difficulties they can find us and we can guide them. Maybe they need to start in a harbor with a protective jetty if they are not ready for the ocean. Start small, with room to expand. I remember the first time I sailed outside the harbor in open water. I loved the horizon, but I kept the lighthouse in sight.