Design Thinking


Design Thinking is a human-centered, inquiry-based mindset and process we engage in to learn the thinking skills necessary to solve complex and real-world problems. When engaging in a Design Thinking mindset, it is possible to solve large, complex problems with innovative solutions. The process values critical thinking and human connection, or the WHY for the learning, over the end product, or the WHAT. The process is non-linear, wherein the components can be used interchangeably.     

While there are many inquiry based processes that are used throughout education, Design Thinking has the unique ability to work within many of the inquiry approaches. Its human-centered approach includes:

  • Problem-focused process
  • Opportunity for Novel Solutions
  • Collaboration throughout Process
  • Feedback and Reflection Loop
  • Demonstration of Learning
  • Opportunity for connections beyond classroom walls ​​


Because Design Thinking is a human-centered, inquiry-based mindset, engaging in Design Thinking is about much more than building a prototype, or creating a project. It’s about changing how we look at a problem so that we can better address it. To help facilitate that shift, outlined are four different ways in which design thinking methodologies can be used within the scope of the classroom.


Engaging students in the individual components of the Design Thinking process (for example: focusing on empathy building activities) helps students build capacity to think critically. Exploration can introduce students to the Design Thinking cycle without being confined to standards or the need for an end product. 


These experiences are designed around specific grade-level standards. The goal is to apply grade-level standards to design potential solutions supported by research of a current need and/or challenge. This builds a greater understanding of the world around us, and how content learning connects with that world.

Context/Issue Driven

Context or Issue Driven experiences are responsive to a current need/challenge in society, such as a natural disaster or homelessness. Although the students will learn standards/content within the experience, the focus is on thinking critically about a real world challenge or need. 


Some experiences lead to opportunities for student advocacy. For example, following a Design Thinking unit on “Tiny Homes” for urban sustainability, a group of students presented their findings to the City Council to advocate for an initiative proposed by the city council to build affordable tiny homes.

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