Redefining success in the classroom



MiddleTree was determined to revitalize students’ passion for learning

My Role: 

What we created:

Cognitive Theories:



Join a team of designers, taking the lead during research and ideation

A textbook that redefines success, meeting needs of students and parents

Defined parameters of end product based off Social Cognitive Theory 

Design Thinking, User Interviews, Low-Fidelity Prototyping, User Testing

Narrow down the target student's age to better address to specific learning needs 

initial task

MiddleTree, a non-profit education center, asked my team and I to come to their center and see if there were any areas of the user experience that could be improved. Specifically, MiddleTree wanted us to implement a solution that would help them achieve their goal of creating an environment that revitalizes students' passion for learning.

user research

We spoke with eleven users at MiddleTree, ranging from students to teachers to parents. Yet, Patricia’s story stuck with me.

Patricia recently started sending her child to MiddleTree, but when asked if she saw any improvement in her child’s performance at school now that he was attending Middle Tree, she said had not even thought about it. I was surprised by her apathy; however, as I dug deeper into the interview I discovered why she was disinterested in her child’s academics.

My son’s school did not have the resources to support his learning, so for years, I was the only one teaching him.

I did not know how to teach him, so we ended up spending hours trying to finish homework, fighting non-stop-- I was the homework warden

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Now at MiddleTree, he is able to get his homework done here. He’ll never have the grades at kids have, but we get to play football now. He loves sports.

When I initially told my team about Patricia, they were unsure about how her story related to the larger project. However, as I explained to them: Patricia's story highlights the relationship between a child and their parent when it comes to academics. If we were going to try to develop a way for students to revitalize their passion for learning, we would need to consider students' experiences at home with their parents and not just focus on their experience in academic centers. 

We wondered

How might we reignite excitement for academics again at home again?

How might we reignite excitement for academics again at home again?

Tell me about a time you felt successful as a parent?

To better understand how to increase feelings of academic success , my group and I spoke with other parents about when they felt most successful as parent and when they felt most excited about school.


All our conversations confirmed our original findings; yet, an interesting insight we discovered was that parents hardly talked about "traditional" moments of success (such as grades, college acceptance, etc). Instead, parents would speak would moments that were more intimate and specific to their child. For instance, one parent stated his proudest moment was seeing his child perform "a science experiment at the talent show" because he was proud of his child's intelligence and courage. We realized that we needed to create more opportunities for parents and their children to focus on these more personal moments of success.

An online profile that measures student’s success outside of test and scores, specifically measuring social performance (ie. how the child engages with other students)





An alternate report card. In addition to showing grades, report cards showed child’s “other” successes, like if they were making more friends or participating more in class.

However, as we learned from user feedback, these prototypes were not impactful. The teachers were the one’s redefining academic success, not the children, and as a result, they did not resonate with parents



initial prototypes

finalized product: growth workbook


We used design to make sure the product felt good

We wanted the workbook to feel like a textbook, to prevent the book losing its value and feeling like a "participation" trophy. Thus, the workbook is structured in manner that makes it feel like an elementary school textbook. We realize that the "feel" of the book would need to change for older students, but we narrowed our focus to elementary students for this prototype.

I used cognitive science to make sure the book offered impactful learning.

Pulling from Social Cognitive Theory, the workbook offers different worksheets for students to practice self-observation, self-evaluation, self-reflection, and self-efficacy. At the end, students have concrete examples of how they are successful in the classroom, even in a non-traditional sense.

In other words, students define new standards of success through self-created academic goals, reflecting throughout the year on their progress and growth. At the end, they would have a concrete measurement of their personal success in the classroom.

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lessons learned

Reflecting on the project today, I would invest more time testing the workbook with the students. 

While this project showed me the importance of recognizing the needs of all users and exploring extreme users, during the project, my group and I became a bit too focused on meeting the parents' needs. We created a general workbook for elementary students, but in reality, the workbook would have to differ slightly for the varying age groups.