Thu 10th August 2017 - 12:43

The Beginner’s Guide to Design Thinking in Education

As a teacher, you often tell your students how extraordinary the human mind can be. You teach them about inventors that have practically changed the course of history. Have you ever wondered how the minds of these extraordinary people worked?

Behind each innovative design, there is a process called design thinking. It’s a precise methodology that makes the complex process of design a tad simpler. A design-oriented mind is focused on solutions instead of problems. That approach can be brilliantly implemented in the classroom. You can turn your students into design thinkers. That is the right way to set the foundation for their future success.

The Five Stages of Design Thinking

1. Empathise

During this stage the designers are trying to understand the problem they want to solve. They observe how it affects people’s lives and they empathise with them.

2. Define the problem

The designer analyses all information they have in order to define a clear problem that needs a clear solution.

3. Ideate

This is the creative thinking stage. The designer is trying to solve the problem through new ideas, which haven’t been implemented before.

4. Prototype

This is the solution, but scaled down. It’s executed in a cheap version for the sake of experimentation.

5. Test

Through the prototype the designer sees how his idea works in action. They constantly think of improvements that could be made to the quality and performance of the product. If necessary, they go back to earlier stages of defining and prototyping.                                           

This seems like an effective process for product development, doesn’t it? But what does it have to do with education?

Maria Daniels, an education expert, explains the link:

Teachers are constantly putting their students in front of challenges. They don’t want solutions by the book. They need to spark creative thinking, and they can achieve that goal through this method. For academic writing projects, in particular, design thinking is a pretty effective approach. The best part in design thinking is that it gives them room to fail. It teaches them that trying is important. If they don’t make it, they can always go back in the process and try again.

The Beginner’s Guide: How to Implement Design Thinking in the Classroom

First, you will need to think of a problem you want your students to solve. This will be the foundation of the creative thinking process. For example, you can ask them to write a paper on how they see society in the future. This will inspire them to analyse the problems of today’s society and think of the ideal system that would lead to a better future.

If you are teaching a science class, then this method is just perfect for you. You can ask students to build a prototype of a rocket, a plane, or a bridge.

As a teacher, you have the important role of a supporter. Your support is essential through all stages of the process.

1. Teach your students to empathise 

Empathy is the ability to understand how other people feel. When a product designer is trying to think of an energy-efficient oven, for example, they empathise with people who are paying too much for electricity. They want to understand the problem, so they provide the most appropriate solution.

Empathy is a powerful tool for understanding someone’s perception. Let’s say you want your students to write a history paper; you should help them to understand the topic area first.

2. Defining the problem

This should be an authentic research experience for your students. Whatever problem you chose for them to explore, you should support the research process and provide the resources they need. If it’s about World War 2, show them documentaries and photos. If you want them to come up with a new design for a classroom, show the current problems in the classroom.

3. Teach them how to think creatively

Your students have acquired knowledge throughout the previous stages of the design thinking process. Now, you want them to implement that knowledge and have other ideas of their own. This is not simple brainstorming – it is about generating concepts that might work.

Make them wonder: how would this idea look if it was implemented into practice? Would it work? What would be the potential problems related to it? If this is a team project, you can all pick the best idea and proceed with the prototype stage.

4. The prototype

If this is an academic writing project, the idea in the draft version will be the prototype. If it is a construction project, you can create something that would look like the actual product, but in a scaled down version. You don’t have to construct an entire bridge – just make one with cardboard.

5. The test

This stage is all about checking the effectiveness of the solution. If it is an academic writing project, you should make them question every aspect of it. Did they consider all potential pitfalls of the solution they thought of? Did they neglect an issue? If it is a prototype of a bridge, you can see if there are problems with its structure and execution.

If there is anything wrong with the prototype, you can go back into the process and think of another, better solution. Assure them that failing is part of the process. As Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” The idea behind design thinking is to keep thinking and keep trying.

Encourage students to present in front of an audience. You can also start a blog to promote these projects and inspire other educators to give design thinking a chance.

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