Learning From The Best: First Steps of Building a Design Thinking Mindset into a High School Curriculum

December 10, 2012

When I travel around the world sharing stories and information about Gould Academy, I am energized by the positive responses I get to what we are doing in a very special place.  The breadth, depth and variety of experiences our students share is remarkable.  When I have the chance to convey this with those who do not know Gould well, I naturally become very proud who we are, what we are doing and where we are going.

I also make a point to bring something back to Gould along the way.

Earlier this fall, I had the opportunity to visit two incredible schools and meet the amazing people who are at the forefront of project-based learning.  The d.school at Stanford University and Nueva School have both integrated Design Thinking into a solution-based learning experience.  Though not a new concept to the business world, there is real application to this mindset in an academic setting.

Other than spending time on Wikipedia to learn more about Design Thinking, I would like to share a diagram and story that should help frame your understanding of Design Thinking and its application in schools.

There are five phases of the Design Thinking process.  Starting with empathy, or as Nueva calls it, the “deep dive” and ending with testing of the different ideas until one is clearly the best.  Though a clear path seems to be drawn, they are careful to emphasize the importance of revisiting previous stages to inform the next.  While I was at Stanford, teams were problem-solving the two-year displacement of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art during an upcoming expansion project.  Their goal was to not only help the museum survive, but thrive during a time of adversity.

Take a look at this article and video from ABC News on an amazing design project in India.  The deep story of empathy, problem clarity, brainstorming, model building and testing turns a longtime problem of the staggering mortality rate of low-birth-weight babies into a $200 dollar a piece solution that is estimated to help 1 million babies in its first year of widespread use.  The different Design Thinking stages are not spelled out in the story, but the application of empathy, ideation, prototyping and testing are clearly identified.  A longer, more descriptive video can be found here.

Here are some examples of other “problems” d.school students have attacked:

  • D.Light, a safe alternative to kerosene lanterns in developing countries
  • Pepper Eaters, developed a safe tool for women who process hot peppers in Ethiopia
  • Juntos Finanzas, a startup that provides personal financial tools to Latino communities

While project-based learning in the classroom sounds attractive, many teachers will tell you that the balance of skill and knowledge acquisition through repetition and practice is a staple of preparing students for standardized assessments like the SAT and AP exams.  It is difficult to deviate from traditional curriculum to build many of the 21st Century Skills for which colleges and the work force are clamoring.  The beauty of building a DT mindset is that there are no clear boundaries, no hard and fast rules and no curriculum.  If our teachers and students have experiences with the process, they will find the creativity to build their own applications within their curriculum, not in place of it.  Not only will teachers be able to teach the core principles their subject matter demands, but they will also help students learn about innovation, collaboration, creativity and resilience.

I am eager to continue my  research to find ways to add Design Thinking to the toolboxes of our teachers and the mindset of our school community.  First up will be an exercise with our faculty to work through a d.school project designed to introduce the concept, its process and what you can learn from the experience.  I look forward to sharing the results.






2 Responses

  1. Avatar Tedd Brown says:

    Great blog entry as to what many might call child development. I watched the video clip of the 4 children that will be followed for 1 year and it looks extremely interesting. Thanks for such a fruitful blog entry…..all the best to you…..Tedd

  2. Avatar toddormiston says:

    I imagine you would have a lot to say about how these experiences could prepare someone for life after school. I am sure that your everyday work at Cruiser Solutions demands all the phases of problem solving!
    Thanks for sharing.

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