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Activity: Brainstorm Solutions and Refine Ideas

Ideate a range of potential solutions to your problem


Once you have defined an important problem to address, it’s time for your design team to creatively brainstorm tons of potential solutions – including the innovative, nontraditional ideas that are especially important for districts trying to approach teaching and learning differently. A brainstorm’s success is judged by the quantity and range of the solutions generated.

As you brainstorm potential solutions, consider the range of teaching and learning-related “levers” you can push and pull on (in other words, the parts of a school system that you can change). Our Innovative Learning Implementation Framework may help you spark thinking about the various places within your district where you can push and pull. For example, to increase student engagement, one district might consider exploring changes in their “community and culture,” another might revisit their use of “learning materials and tools,” and still another might play around with use of “time” in their district.

Steps to Implementation

Suggested time: 1-2 hours

  1. Before coming together, conduct external research around your problem of practice. Consider promising strategies you might draw upon from other districts or disciplines.
  2. Gather your team in a room (in-person or virtual) with access to sticky notes or a digital alternative, such as Google Jamboard; make sure your team has defined a clear problem of practice aligned to your district's most pressing needs.
  3. Review IDEO’s 7 Simple Rules of Brainstorming to set the stage.
  4. Reground your team in your problem statement (i.e., your “how might we?” question).” This is the question for which you’ll be brainstorming solutions.
  5. Have each member of your design team spend about 5 minutes individually putting as many potential solutions as possible on the Jamboard; put one solution per sticky note and encourage quantity over quality.
  6. Come back together as a group, read through each sticky note, and cluster together similar solutions.
  7. Give members of your team a chance to explain their ideas so that everyone is on the same page about what each set of solutions means. Document explanations to come back to when you select from your list.
  8. Summarize your brainstorm by documenting the list of potential solutions your team has developed.
  9. Next, you will narrow down the options to one solution.

This activity was inspired by IDEO’s Brainstorm Rules.

Note: Some teams may choose to replace this activity or supplement it with alternative exercises; see below for examples.

This strategy is a part of TLA's Real-Time Redesign release, a practical toolkit for improving equity and resiliency in schools. Explore the full guide to find additional strategies, insights, and resources.

Ensuring Equity & Resiliency

In this activity,

  • Equity looks like bringing a diverse group together for brainstorming, including people whose perspectives and identities differ from members of your design team (alternatively, you could brainstorm with your design team and then get feedback from students, families teachers, and classified staff). Equity in this activity also looks like intentionally brainstorming solutions that address the barriers to equity that your team has identified. For example, for a problem of practice related to increasing student engagement, revisiting your data – say, a major trend showing that Black and Latino/a/x students were less likely to see connections between what they are learning and their real-world experiences and goals – should lead you to brainstorm ways to make learning more relevant, especially for these student groups.
  • Resiliency looks like intentionally brainstorming solutions that fall outside the bounds of your district’s current constraints. Ditch the assumptions you have about what “cannot change” about school schedules, the role of the teacher and the student, and others. Consider pain points to address as well as successes to build on. The more wildly creative your ideas are, the more likely your solution will improve your ability to respond and adapt to changes in the environment and/or to individual student’s needs.

Strategy Resources

Cedar Rapids: Brainstorming Ideas for Student Goal-Setting and Feedback

Cedar Rapids Community School District (CRCSD) sought to address a key problem in their district... Learn More

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Mastery Charter Schools: Brainstorming Ideas for Blended Learning that Foster Independence

Mastery Charter Schools sought to address a key problem in their district: “How might we... Learn More

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Monterey Peninsula: Brainstorming Ideas for Flexibility, Personalization, and Student Sense of Belonging

Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (MPUSD) sought to address a key problem in their district... Learn More

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Getting Started Guides

When brainstorming potential solutions to a district problem of practice, it can often be helpful... Learn More

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IDEO: 7 Simple Rules of Brainstorming

When brainstorming potential solutions to a problem of practice, it is important to think outside... Learn More

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Article: How to: Run a Crazy Eights Exercise to Generate Design Ideas

When brainstorming potential solutions to a problem of practice, a structured brainstorming activity can help... Learn More

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IDEO Design Kit: Get Visual

When brainstorming potential solutions to a problem of practice, a visual brainstorming activity can more... Learn More

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