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5 Steps to Incorporate Design Thinking Into Your Classroom

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January 02, 2024


What is Design Thinking?

If you’ve never heard of it before, design thinking is a form of problem-solving. It’s a process often used by inventors and tech gurus when they come up with something new. However, design thinking is not just for inventors or techies. Teacher Laura Guevara says,

Like the scientific method, design thinking is just another inquiry cycle that guides students by giving them steps to conduct research.

It is an inquiry cycle, and in many ways, it mirrors the scientific method, though it is more readily applicable to multiple disciplines.

Steps of the Inquiry Cycle in Design Thinking

Design thinking is useful any time you have a problem to solve. It can be used by teachers and students alike with a few simple steps.

Step One – Empathize

In this step, you must ask LOTS of questions. In many ways, this step is similar to the ‘observation’ step of the scientific method.  Go beyond basic questions and instead ask deep questions. Whatever the topic is, you’ll want to examine it from all angles. This means examining your own beliefs and actions as well as your own thinking. Where did your thinking or belief come from? Try to find the root of the problem rather than merely treating symptoms.

How Teachers Use It: What is a recent issue from your classroom? Perhaps you are dealing with a reactionary student or conflict among students.  This step allows you to examine the problem from all angles. You get to take someone else’s perspective and see things in a new way. You may gain new insights at this stage that can steer you in a new direction.

How Students Use It: It is ideal for when students are exploring an in-depth topic or solving issues they are facing in the classroom. This method is a great way to introduce students into doing research, a skill they will likely need further in their educational career. Kids can work together and ask questions and discuss a topic. Science and social studies are two areas that lend themselves to using this method. Any problem that needs a solution can benefit from this.

Step Two – Define

What is truly the problem? What is the path to success or solving the problem? This step is similar to ‘hypothesis’ in the scientific method. In this step, we are figuring out the ‘need.’ It is helpful to write out a statement that clearly defines the need in a way that you can take action to meet that need.

How teachers use it: If your problem is that a student is having meltdowns in class, then you might say the student needs the skills to cope with difficult situations in class. If your issue is a group of students who are not getting along, then you might say students need problem-solving and social skills to apply when they are in and out of the classroom.

How students use it: When students are examining the topic they should focus on the needs of the problem. They can write a statement as well. This statement will help keep them focused.

Step Three – Ideate

This is the time to imagine, dream, discuss with peers, and brainstorm. This about what it would be like if the problem was solved?

How Teachers Use It: Think about the end goal. How would your classroom change if your disruptive student was more on task? What would that look like? How can you imagine it working? Do you imagine the student using some coping techniques or going to a particular spot in the classroom to work through their feelings without disrupting others? Your solution will be rooted in what you imagine here.

How Students Use It: Students are great at this, often better than adults! Their minds are naturally very creative.

Students can come up with innovative solutions. Some of their ‘solutions’ may not be very feasible. That’s ok! This is the time to let the juices flow and get them thinking.

Step Four – Prototype

What is your part in all this, what steps do you need to take? What do you need to ‘create?’ Now it is time to narrow down your solutions to those that might work and address the needs you’ve identified.

How Teachers Use It: List what you can do to solve the problem. Which solutions are feasible with the resources you have? Which ones could you potentially get more resources for? Who can help you with your answer? This is an excellent time to gather resources, enlist help, and make an action plan.

How Students Use It: This is an excellent time for kids to get hands on. They can use different materials to create, sketch, and make a plan. They can assign roles and figure out the details of how to get their needs met.

Step Five – Test

Try it out! What works? What doesn’t? Does your plan need tweaking or is it back to the drawing board? This process isn’t entirely linear. The test phase can be one you come back to again and again. Try it out, give it some time and see if your problem is solved. If not, take a minute to reflect, go back to one of the previous phases and come up with some new ideas.

Design thinking gives students and teachers a simple process to boost creativity and streamline problem-solving. These clear steps encourage students to stick with the problem-solving process and implement these steps into a variety of areas of life.

By: Amy Curletto

Amy has been teaching for 12 years in grades K-2. She has a bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood and Elementary Education and also has endorsements in reading and ESL. Besides education, her other passion is writing and she has always dreamed of being a writer. She lives in Utah with her husband, her 3 daughters, and her miniature schnauzer. She enjoys reading, knitting, and camping.

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