Teaching Design Thinking

This week, Jennifer Baker and her 6th grade art classes continued to tackle design thinking.  In short, Design Thinking is the problem solving practice of empathizing, defining a problem, ideating, prototyping and testing solutions, all in rapid succession so that groups ‘fail fast’ in order to get to the best solution as quickly as possible.  It is a fantastic tool that many in design professions know and may take for granted, however, it isn’t a common practice.  People tend to want to solve a problem once quickly, do it perfectly and be done with it, but in reality, the best solutions come out of continuous iteration, AFTER the root of the problem is understood for a specific user.

The problem the students were given was to find a way to increase STEAM outreach into the school.  This problem came directly from the Westminster Middle School Atlanta K-12 Design Challenge (AK12DC) team of teachers.  They thought that the best way to empathize with the students was to literally have them conjure up and make prototypes of how they thought STEAM could be incorporated into their lives.  Their proposals will be ready later in the semester when they present to the AK12DC team, however after 2 weeks of seeing their progress, there are two takeaways:

  1. Design Thinking is incredibly hard for 6th graders…and children in general…to grasp.  We are lucky to be at a school that actually teaches Design Thinking in elementary school, and we do a fantastic job with it, however it still is a challenge for children to do…and do consistently.  There is a fine balance between ‘spinning wheels’ and ‘thoughtful prototyping’ that must be mastered.  The only way they are going to truly understand the concept is by exposure and repetition until it is ingrained as second nature.
  2. The results after a practicing Design Thinking are profound…especially with children.  While their final projects aren’t complete yet, the solutions being proposed are rich and will likely help the AK12DC team immensely.  The student’s solutions are vastly different then what the teachers would have come up with and by having this information, the ultimate solution(s) will be that much more robust.

We hope to share some of these solutions with you later in the semester…stay tuned!


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