Why Teach Design Thinking?

This year Roycemore has launched a new initiative to include design thinking in our curriculum. We are embracing this process for students as a further step in our educational philosophy that embraces a combination of both pragmatic and progressive pedagogy that we believe provides students with both fundamental academic knowledge and skills as well as provides them with skills in critical thinking and creative problem solving.  In August representatives from Adobe Corporation conducted a two-day workshop with our faculty to take them through a design thinking process so that faculty understand what it is and can learn how to teach our students this skill.  

Another way to describe design thinking is “creative problem solving.”  The approach, however, involves a specific process to approach problem solving that begins with consideration for the “user,” ie. to empathize. In the image below, this is part of phase 1.  The creators of design thinking hail from Stanford University.  The approach was developed in the 1980s and 1990s and then was adapted for business use by a Stanford mechanical engineering professor, David Kelley,  who founded the company IDEO.  Today design thinking is employed in nearly every business sector and many schools are finding that it is a great skill to teach young people.

The image from IDEO below illustrates the process:

Last spring Roycemore families told us (through your participation in a feedback survey) that in addition to the core academic fundamentals, you also believe the following to be very important and wanted us to focus on- character education, leadership development, social-emotional health, and technology.  Building the design thinking approach into some of our curricular assignments helps students strengthen their skills in many of these areas.  Through an integrated process, student practice empathy.  They develop leadership skills that include leading by positive influence as they collaborate on projects and learn to communicate their ideas.  Working with classmates on projects using a design thinking approach enhances their social-emotional health as they learn to negotiate, to be adaptable and agile in their thinking.  And in the experimentation (or prototype) phase of design thinking, students are often leveraging technology, whether it is using presentation software, creating an animation, or a 3D printed sample of their product.  In the vastly changing world around them, students fluency in this problem solving technique will serve them well both in college and in life.

Just in the first weeks of school students have begin projects utilizing a design thinking approach.  Students in Algebra II were asked to use a design thinking approach to solve the problem of how to make their class more “engaging.” Ideas included using songs to enhance memory and make the class more fun as well as using the game Kahoot to prep for tests. Students in an Upper School English class (Story & Structure) were assigned the problem of how to encourage Roycemore students to read more.  Resulting ideas include campaigns that involve motivational posters and bookmarks, and one that involves messages on tea bag tags to inspire adults to read more. Adults who embrace reading serve as good examples for their young children who want to model what their parents do.  Middle School students in their P3 (Personal Passion Project) program are using a design thinking approach to re-imagine different spaces in the school building.  Students designed google surveys and sent them to fellow classmates and teachers for feedback, which is step #1- Empathy/ Discovery.  First grade students also had an opportunity to employ design thinking.  They were given a STEAM Challenge to build a ramp for a toy car using cardboard tubes, tape and string.  They had to design what it would look like first, then talk to their partners to collaborate on a design, then build it. 

As the design thinking initiative gains traction, we expect it will likely become an approach to problem solving that our students will draw upon naturally, even outside of their assignments, as it is an elegant and useful skill that will serve them throughout their lives in combination with the strong academic skills that they are already learning at Roycemore.

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