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Design Thinking: Teaching Kids to Think Differently

Much has been made about the use of technology in the classroom and how it can prepare kids for the future.  Whether it is the introduction of projectors, computers, tablets or even new tools like 3D Printers or robotics kits, today's classrooms often look differently than those of our own youth.

However, some schools are taking new steps to prepare kids in a novel way.  Design Thinking is a process of creating new an innovative ideas as well as solving problems within constraints. This creative approach to problem solving looks at all aspects of an issue with the person at the center of the solution.  Design Thinking was created by David Kelley from the Silicon Valley industrial design firm IDEO.  He defines design thinking as "a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success."

While at first glance, the "business success" metric may appear to be out of place in a preschool or kindergarten classroom, the reality is that everything can be viewed through the lens of design thinking to create new and novel solutions.  But more importantly, these new approaches to problem solving force the "designer" (in this case the child) to look at the problem with "different eyes." 

While the concepts are frequently used in business - either through leading design firms like IDEO or with internal design efforts in companies - they are just starting to make inroads in schools (and most of these are starting with older students in middle and high school).  However, elementary and preschool students can benefit from these new methods.  IDEO and the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University have partnered on a Design Thinking curriculum for schools.  Using human-centered design and storytelling provides amazing opportunities to get kids thinking (and problem-solving) in new ways!

Design Thinking utilizes multiple stages to solve the problem:

  • Empathize - Observing and putting yourself in the role of the person experiencing the problem.
  • Define - One you understand the problem, define what it is (and what it isn't).
  • Ideate - Concentrate on idea generation while "going wide" on concept generation.
  • Prototype - Build a possible solution to test and learn.
  • Test - Test your prototype and iterate.

Innovation in education is more than just installing tablets, computers and apps.  By bringing in new ways of thinking, we can create a new generation of problem solvers and creative thinkers.


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