This article was written after the communication I had with a group of educators from the USA, who had read a previous article of mine about Design Thinking. So they contacted me and kindly asked me – if there is time – to devote some articles to this approach. This message gave me great joy, mainly because in this period I am dealing with Design Thinking both in relation to People Development Management and to STEM.
Design Thinking has become an increasingly popular approach in education as it fosters creativity, and collaboration, and focuses on solving real-world problems. At the core of design thinking is human-centered design, where the needs and perspectives of users are central to the process. In a classroom applying design thinking, means viewing students not just as recipients of information, but as active partners in shaping their own learning experiences.
When students are positioned as partners rather than passive learners, it transforms the traditional teacher-student dynamic. Educators take on the role of facilitators who guide students through an iterative process of discovery, ideation, prototyping, and testing solutions. The challenges tackled in this way are often open-ended problems with multiple possible answers, mirroring the complex issues graduates may face in their careers. With the support of their teacher, students have the autonomy to explore topics that interest them and develop solutions based on their unique skills and perspectives.
Treating students as partners recognizes their agency and validate the knowledge and experiences they already possess. It encourages participation by making students feel ownership over the direction of their learning. In a design thinking project, students provide feedback that helps reframe problems from multiple viewpoints. They act as testers for prototype ideas, offering honest, constructive feedback that can improve outcomes. Partnering in this way cultivates empathy as students learn to see issues from others’ perspectives to collectively arrive at the best solutions.
A learner-centered approach has benefits beyond academic skills. Participating as equals in collaborative problem-solving builds students’ self-efficacy and 21st-century “soft skills” that are highly valued by employers. It teaches them to seek out diverse perspectives, communicate effectively across differences, and work flexibly in team environments. When the classroom shifts from a top-down delivery of information to an experience of co-creation, students become more invested, motivated learners.
How can Design Thinking be implemented in different subjects or disciplines?
Presenting Design Thinking we considered it necessary to list both some ideas about the fields of application/implementation as well as some corresponding examples for the way of application in the classroom. For this purpose, we needed the help of some experts from each field, whom we would like to thank. So here are some ideas for how Design Thinking can be implemented across different academic subjects and disciplines:
- Science: Have students work through the design thinking process to identify a scientific problem in their community, research it, generate hypotheses, design and test experiments, then share results.
- Math: Pose real-world math challenges students must solve, such as balancing a budget, and allocating resources. Students work through each design thinking stage to come up with solutions.
- Language Arts: Present students with a communications challenge and have them conduct user research, brainstorm ideas, prototype communications tools/strategies, test them, and then iterate.
- Social Studies: Introduce a social issue and task students with designing policy solutions using design thinking methodology and collaborating with various stakeholders.
- Art: Give students client briefs for designing products/experiences, then guide them through each design stage to develop final concepts and pitch ideas.
- Music: Challenge students to redesign music education programming using human-centered design and input from students and teachers.
- Coding/Technology: Present an issue related to technology use/access and have student teams apply design thinking to develop and prototype solutions.
- Health/Physical Education: Pose a health/wellness problem and guide students through researching root causes, ideating preventative programs, prototyping, and testing with users.
The iterative, hands-on nature of Design Thinking allows it to be applied across disciplines by reframing lessons as open-ended challenges for students to tackle collaboratively.
Examples of how Design Thinking can be applied in a classroom
Consequently, here are some examples of how Design Thinking can be applied in different classroom subjects and settings:
- Science: Give students a real-world environmental problem and have them research causes, brainstorm solutions, prototype a model, test, and iterate based on results.
- History: Present a historical event/period and challenge students to redesign an aspect of society using knowledge of that time. Have them prototype and pitch their concepts.
- Language Arts: Pose a communication challenge and guide students through each step to a research audience, ideate format/content ideas, develop draft prototypes, test with peers, and refine.
- Art: Provide student teams with client designs briefs. Have them research design needs, ideate concepts, build prototypes, present initial ideas, and iteratively improve based on feedback.
- Physical Education: Identify barriers to exercise for specific groups. Have students research causes, brainstorm programs, test initial prototypes, gather user input, and refine solutions.
- Music: Challenge students to reimagine music education using Design Thinking. Research needs, prototype new curriculum/teaching models, test in class, and iterate based on results.
- Debate: Pose a controversial issue for students to address using Design Thinking. Research perspectives, brainstorm solutions, test proposals, and refine stances based on constructive criticism.
The examples show how Design Thinking can transform lessons across disciplines by reframing them as collaborative problem-solving challenges.
How Design Thinking can foster creativity and innovation in the classroom?
Design Thinking has the potential to greatly foster creativity and innovation in the classroom in several ways:
- Open-ended challenges: By posing open problems without single right answers, it encourages divergent and creative thinking compared to traditional lessons.
- Low-risk exploration: Early ideation stages like brainstorming take place in a supportive, low-risk environment that allows students to freely generate novel ideas without judgment.
- Multiple perspectives: Researching user needs from different angles opens students up to considering the problem from new perspectives, leading to more original solutions.
- Prototyping breeds innovation: The iterative process of rapidly prototyping ideas helps students learn from failures and gives them the confidence to take risks, try new things, and adapt/improve their ideas.
- Collaboration stimulates ideas: Bouncing ideas off peers in collaborative teams exposes students to even more diverse thinking and helps spark ideas they may not have come up with individually.
- Comfort with ambiguity: Learning to work with an ambiguous brief at the start teaches students to be comfortable with ambiguity and not avoid uncertainty, fostering their creativity.
- Growth mindset: The learning process emphasizes that innovation happens through experimentation versus one right answer, promoting growth over a fixed mindset for developing novel concepts.
By reframing lessons as challenges that require creativity, Design Thinking cultivates an innovative mindset and skill set directly transferable to the real world.
Overall, Design Thinking creates an environment where students fulfill their potential as active partners. It positions young people not just as recipients of knowledge but as knowledge-creators in their own right. This empowering dynamic has the potential to deepen learning while also developing independence, resilience, and other transferable skills vital for future success.
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