Saturday, September 28, 2019

Digging Into the Design Process

Several articles I've recently read discussed how the design process was often a staple in the high schools, but not always in the elementary schools. That's almost downright silly, as PK-5th grade is the perfect age for making and inventing. The illustration here highlights the design process we use with our elementary students, one we've been using for over 6 years. It's a key part of our MakerLab activities and something I've written about before.

Teaching about the Innovation Mindset, you come to see the importance of problem solving, brainstorming, planning, testing, creating prototypes, retesting, redesigning & iterating, then finally sharing. We discuss the key feature of "failing forward" (and I often refer to "fail" as "First Attempt In Learning.") It governed us as we learned to walk, ride a bike, and do many new things in our lives. We can only get better by trying and retrying something, modifying as we go. As Lily Barnett wrote in Peninsula Press' "Design-Thinking Trickling Into Elementary School Classrooms," it's a key feature in Carol Dweck's growth mindset. It builds confidence through the creation and ability to tackle challenges.

Empathy too is an important part, because it helps with the tie-in of real world problems. By trying to take on the vantage point of another, students can see the importance of trying to solve a problem that serves the needs of others. Empathy is a piece that is significantly missing in today's world. Just check out social media or today's partisan politics!

As Rikke Dam & Teo Siang wrote in Interaction Design Foundation's "Design Thinking: New Innovative Thinking for New Problems," it is through new ways of thinking that problems are solved. We need to be able to think outside the box. As educators, we need to help shape our students to be the next generation of people to bring about better solutions to our global problems. It becomes the merging of both logic and imagination, science and creativity, empathy and analysis. Usually collaboration and critical thinking are also woven in there as well. All the essential skills future employers will want from our current students--even those that are still very young. The power of play in the elementary school environment is not all that different from what innovative companies like Google or Apple are doing to craft a creative workspace.

But as Megan Collins points out in her Edsurge article "Design Thinking Is a Challenge to Teach — and That’s a Good Thing," the design process is not set in stone. It's a framework that works for big and small classroom projects. Reflection after the fact to discuss how the process progressed is also key. Being able to see where you could or would do things differently next time is a valuable skill. This might mean teachers need to shift their own thinking and teaching along the way to also "include growth, reflection and failure. They [too] become designers” of both their curriculum and a classroom of creativity.

So for my teacher friends out there who are designing both lessons and students: here's a list of engineering challenges & resources for grades K-12. I made sure to curate this list with both general engineering challenges and also design challenges with a "green lean!"

Video from, design process diagram from and, Think Outside the Box image from

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