Much of the work I have done with learners over the last few years has been built upon the process of Design Thinking. Whether it be planning and programming at the STEAM Enrichment Centres, working with teachers around innovative practices that support student-driven, creation focused learning, or guiding students through the creative process while working on Destination Imagination Team Challenges; all these elements involved some form of design thinking.
Design thinking is a creative process to support our thinking and doing. It can be used to approach a problem/task that serves as a model or roadmap for learners. It has universal applications across all subject areas and disciplines, and can be implemented regardless of what students are creating whether it be;
- creating a sculpture
- solving an ongoing classroom issue
- planning a campaign for a school-wide initiative, or community need
- building a tower
- writing a poem or essay
- coding a simulation
- devising an experiment
- designing something using 3D imagery
Design thinking is a mindset. The ultimate goal of design thinking is creative solutions to solving problems.
Many educators in my school division use this model of Design Thinking to drive the work done with students in this area. Building common, consistent understanding and shared vocabulary across, grades, classrooms, within schools and even beyond is very beneficial.
There are also other valuable models such as the ones below:
(Left to Right: TMI Robot from Invent to Learn-Stager & Martinez, Stanford’s d.school Design Thinking Model, & AJ Juliani & John Spencer’s LAUNCH Cycle)
As a former Inquiry Support in a K-8 school for 10 years, I have many strong beliefs about the power of Inquiry-Based approaches to learning. I have given a lot of thought and had many rich conversations with colleagues around how Design Thinking fits into an Inquiry-Based model. In my mind, Design Thinking is just one of the many entry points to using an inquiry approach in the classroom. The image below I co-created a couple of years back helps to illustrate this concept. There are many entry points on “THE INQUIRY LANDSCAPE”.
Sometimes our students we may need more of a “wander and wonder” model that starts with a topic or question and is more “research” focused. Sometimes we use the scientific method if applicable. And sometimes when we are starting with “creation in mind” whether it be a product, idea, campaign, sculpture, structure etc. we may move towards the Design Thinking Process to guide our inquiry.
What may in some respects make the DTP unique from some of the others is the very natural way questioning comes out through the creative work often in “need to know” kind of ways as opposed to starting with questions in mind. In the end, I view, inquiry like the “umbrella” term or concept with multiple entry points or models as the “spokes of possibility” below.
Having multiple strategies to support student learning is nothing new. When we guide students in learning to read we offer them a variety of strategies to use when they come to word they don’t know ( ie. Chunky Monkey- chunking the word, Eagle Eye -looking at pictures for clues) When kids are faced with a word problem in math, we support them in developing a variety of problem solving strategies (work backwards, develop a model etc. )to tackle the problem. We constantly strive to build multiple tools for students to have in their toolbox in a variety of contexts. I see inquiry models and processes through that same lens. Different ones are going to be needed to be used at different times.
Design thinking as a process may be used by students to drive a task assigned by a teacher or to tackle a challenge the student has identified as a need in their surroundings (school, community, world). Regardless of what Design Thinking Process model we are choosing, or whether students are using design thinking to build a structure, construct a piece of art, design a PSA (public service announcement) to address a community need, create code to program a device, or develop a solution to a math problem,the steps of the process remain similar, as does the powerful opportunity for learning.
The ultimate goal of using a Design Thinking Process with students is the development of students as creative problem solvers. If we can support students starting in the early grades by giving them simple design tasks or challenges as opportunities to learn to understand the process of design thinking we set the stage for them as learners moving forward. If we offer students the chance to be innovative thinkers with ample opportunity to empathize, anticipate need, ideate, design, build, develop, invent, mashup, collaborate, and create we further empower them as learners. When we support students in developing a design thinking skill set throughout their years in school we fill their toolkit as the creative problem solvers we need for the future!