Design Thinking: One Bite at a Time

What is design thinking?

Today, my Design Engineering team, along with two 6th grade teachers, had the pleasure of engaging in a Google Hangout with Ellen Deutscher, co-founder of #DTK12Chat, inventor of Design Dot cards, and just an overall awesome Design Thinker, teacher, and human being. The original intent of the call was to discuss Design Dots. If you haven’t yet seen Ellen’s Design Dots, it’s a deck of 50 cards with quick ideas to integrate design thinking into ELA instruction.

What is design thinking?

Quickly, the conversation became a rich conversation around how design thinking creates a mindset shift for students. When teachers build in students the core abilities needed to navigate the design thinking process, students not only develop a greater understanding of how to use design thinking processes to solve problems, but they also become more empathetic to the world around them. They begin to see needs in the world, and act as changemakers. But in order to make that thinking shift, teachers need to be intentional in using the language of design thinking in all they do, and not just during design thinking challenges. Key to this is realizing that design thinking does not have to be a start to finish project. It can happen in “little bites,” Ellen reminded us. Each element – empathy, define, ideate prototype, test – can stand on its own or be combined with the others, depending on the task at hand.

Consider, during the course of a school day, the myriad of tasks students are completed. Now tweak them to reflect the design thinking approach. Can you ideate when writing an essay? What about when working to solve a math problem? When discussing story characters, can students build empathy for those characters? Can they define the problem the character is facing, and then develop a needs statement? How can students prototype during science labs? And test those prototypes? When the language becomes part of what teachers and students use throughout the day, students realize that Design Thinking is not just a project done once a year like a science fair. It’s a catalyst for change.

When asked how to show parents the value in integrating design thinking with standards in the classroom, Ellen pointed us to Mary Cantwell, creator of DEEP Design Thinking. Mary, Ellen told us, had generated a list of the skills she observed students demonstrating through a design thinking experience.

Not surprisingly, these skills match up with our district’s “Skills That Matter Most,” one of three key levers in our five year plan to ignite student genius by transforming the learning experience. And also not surprisingly, these skills are often listed by employers as being in high demand for the employees they hire.

So how might we develop the design thinking mindset in today’s students so as to help them develop the skills that matter most for their future success? Well, for starters, we can do it one bite at a time.

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