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Design Thinking in the Classroom

Even though design thinking began as a method used by artists, engineers, interior and graphic designers, it has nowadays found its way into almost every other discipline you can imagine. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that educators have also taken note of it.

In the world, where each year introduces us to more new technology and changes in society, learning through design thinking is probably the best strategy a teacher can employ in his or her lesson plans. It might even be considered a necessary step, especially when many still use the dated lecture-only approach, negatively affecting the creativity of their students.

Design Thinking

Design thinking is one of the approaches to problem solving. Instead of simply thinking about the solution, you begin by focusing on its future users first. Start by learning about their problems and personalities. Figure what they need the most, what do they enjoy, what is their everyday routine. Put yourself in their shoes.

Design thinking includes lots of questioning: regarding your target as well as your ideas. Initial solution is almost never the definitive one and constant iterations are the way to go.

This approach gives a boost to creativity, makes people become better at brainstorming and dealing with unexpected situations in life. It also teaches to be more empathetic towards your audience (and people in general). So, what is the best way to implement it into lesson plan?

Look for Problems Worth Solving

Begin by finding a problem to solve – preferably one that will resonate well with your students. It can be something that affects them directly or a thing in their lives that they find annoying. Long queues to the cafeteria, trash in the nearby park or a school activity they don’t enjoy. Alternatively you can make them solve somebody else’s problems. They can attempt to help children their age from a different continent or a person, who lives nearby and suffers from some difficulties like disability.

If you’re teaching younger classes you can go for problems of imaginary characters from movies or books your students like. These stories often deal with some sort of dilemmas and making your pupils figure out how to solve them will keep the class extra engaged.

Finally: you can just choose an item they interact with everyday or an activity they often perform. Make them figure out what’s wrong with it and how it could be improved.

Brainstorm a Lot


After choosing a problem to solve, it’s time for exchanging ideas and brainstorming. Ask some general questions and make sure the class understands what sort of issue are they dealing with. Note some keywords down on the board.

Next move away from mass discussion and divide the students into groups. Make them work on potential solutions. This will ensure that the conversation won’t get dominated by 2-3 students and will make groups come up with different ideas. After first concepts are created, you can shake things up by switching people between groups.

If you’re planning a longer project, it might be good to organize short brainstorm sessions regularly and collect ideas for a couple of days or weeks. This way students may come up with additional answers, that they didn’t think about at first. The solutions will evolve and take new shapes.

Remember that empathy towards a person whose problem you’re tackling is key here. If your class is working on somebody else’s issue, make them imagine what that person may do, like or need.

Create a Solution

You should have at least a dozen of different solutions by now. Remember: no answer is wrong and none of them should be judged or ignored. After a discussion, make each group pick one of their own concepts. You can also decide to choose one or two collectively, and work on them together.

Time to begin working on prototypes. Feel free to choose any medium you want. Younger students can make mock-ups from dough or modeling clay, build cardboard models or create their own comics explaining how their solution is going to work. Whichever you choose, it’s important that the ideas take some sort of physical form. This way they’ll be easier to understand and may show aspects that weren’t so obvious before.

Test It

When the prototypes are finished it’s time for testing. Make each group present what they have created. They can describe it, make a digital presentation, show off how it’s supposed to work and explain how it resolves the problem.  The rest of the class will comment on each prototype, interact with it, list what they like and how they understand it. Try to figure out what things can be improved. Alternatively, you can switch prototypes between groups and make each, discuss the one they got.

At the end of the process, you should explain to your students, how iteration can make their concepts even better. Make them discuss possible tweaks, that they learned about during the testing phase. If you have time, task them with improving their work to include all the feedback. Final prototypes can be shown off at some place at school or on a social media channel.

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