Design Thinking


Have you ever tried to solve a complex problem without a plan? Usually, something or someone gets forgotten, and time is wasted. In this Thing you will explore a better method called Design Thinking and review resources you might find in a Maker Space or classroom to help implement Design Thinking.  Because Design Thinking is a process, it can be applied to any curriculum. Give this Thing a chance ~ we think you will find that you can easily modify your current “lessons” to incorporate Design Thinking.

In today’s dynamic world, workers need 21st-century learning skills to gather and evaluate evidence in the decision-making process. One method of developing this workforce is to promote and implement Design Thinking in education.   

Design Thinking is a mindset and an approach to learning, collaboration, and problem-solving. In practice, the design process is a structured framework for identifying challenges, gathering information, generating potential solutions, refining ideas, and testing solutions.  It gives students a process to follow for solving problems that involve suggesting and testing solutions.

According to A.J. Juliani, a leading expert in the field, “Design thinking provides a way to think about creative work. It starts with empathy, working to really understand the problems people are facing before attempting to come up with ideas and create solutions.”  (How to Get Started Using Design Thinking in the Classroom) The results developed in this process are then shared with an authentic audience. For these reasons, Design Thinking can be found in all curricular areas from art to science and is a 21st-century learning skill.

You can learn more about Design Thinking by reading Juliani’s  Beginner’s Guide to Design Thinking in the Classroom.

Design Thinking is a vital component in STEM education.  When students use their content knowledge from math, science, engineering and technology to solve problems, they are participating in the STEM process.  This is not the “scientific method.” It has evolved into a process where creativity and empathy play vital roles.  If you would like more information about Stem education, read this article from or watch this video from The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

While there are many Design Thinking frameworks and models as described in A.J. Juliani’s Beginner’s Guide, this graphic from Teo Yu Siang and the Interaction Design Foundation focuses on just one: the 5-Stage Process.

Design Thinking 5 Step Process

This process can also be visualized in this free poster from Makers Empire.

Design Thinking

Author/Copyright holder: Makers Empire, OER

As these graphic organizers indicate, Design Thinking is non-linear, and the components are interconnected. Most importantly, Design Thinking starts with empathy because the goal is human-centered.  Human-Centered Design is all about building a deep empathy with the people you’re designing for; generating tons of ideas; building a bunch of prototypes; sharing what you’ve made with the people you’re designing for; and eventually putting your innovative new solution out in the world.”  Design Kit


Another expert on this topic is John Spencer.   His model called the Launch Cycle takes these 5 principles and applies them to the classroom setting.   His video about the Launch Cycle framework for Design Thinking is a must-watch.

In her Edutopia article Design Thinking in Education, Susie Wise states that “as a model for reframing methods and outcomes, design thinking reconnects educators to their creativity and aspirations for helping students develop as deep thinkers and doers.” 

John Spencer says “when students embrace design thinking, they develop a maker mindset. They define themselves as problem-solvers.”  These ideas are depicted in his infographic:

 Design Thinking

Author/Copyright holder: John Spencer , CC licence: BY

For more reasons why you should incorporate Design Thinking in your classroom, read John Spencer’s article - Ten Things That Happen When Students Engage in Design Thinking.  

Design Thinking is not just for high school and college-aged learners;  it has a place in all classrooms.  According to Makers Empire, students learning about Design Thinking in primary, elementary, and middle schools will be able to:

• Identify problems and reframe them as actionable

• Understand the value of collaboration and feedback

• View setbacks and failures as valuable learning moments

• Appreciate the value of hard work and persistence

• Develop self-belief as problem solvers

• Develop empathy

• Develop a growth mindset

• Develop entrepreneurial and community-minded behaviors

• Focusing on both future and solutions-oriented.


The following videos demonstrate the 5-stages of Design Thinking as it applies to a particular lesson/project. Choose the one most appropriate for your situation and review it using this Lesson Evaluation Template. Lower Elementary: Forbes Primary School Solves the Problem of Identical School Bags - Video

Upper Elementary: St. Stephens School Students Helped Their Teacher’s Toddler - Video
7-8 Grade: Design Thinking: Prioritizing Process Skills to Design a Sport - Video
7th Grade: The final product of the Design Thinking Process - PSA About the “R-word” - Video
9-12: Fidelity Labs High School Design Thinking Challenge - Video

When designing a lesson that incorporates Design Thinking, keep in mind the 5 stages as exemplified in the Lesson Evaluation Template. Here are some suggestions about Design Thinking lessons from John Spencer - The Creative Classroom. We added some hyperlinks to advance the learning. Note: most projects include reading and writing components. Reading: Book Blog, CuriosityCast (an inquiry-based podcast), Writing: Student Blog, Class Online Magazine, NaNoWriMo Social Studies: Service Learning Project, History-Themed Theater Economics: Create a Product (similar to Shark Tank) Projects Math: Create a Board Game, creating a Scratch game Science: Solar Energy Designs, Engineering Projects, Science Fair PE: Design a Sport, Create a Fitness Campaign Art: Class Art Magazine, Service-Learning art projects Music: Music Video Projects Foreign Language: Design-oriented Tutorial Partnerships Computers: Multimedia Composition Projects, Digital Product Cycle Stop and Think Now it is your turn. Think about an area in your curriculum where students could solve a problem in a project that you have done before. Take a lesson from that area/project and modify it to incorporate the Design Thinking process. Use the questions from the Lesson Evaluation Template to guide you through this exercise.

Although the Design Thinking process can be accomplished without technology, it is definitely more engaging with it.  Here are some applications that use Instructional Technology with the Design Thinking process.

Makerspace -   A physical space with hands on learning for making, exploring and sharing as well as helping with critical thinking skills and  boosting self-confidence.   For more information visit or read “What is the Point of a Makerspace?” by Jennifer Gonzalez.

Makerspaces provide a location for testing ideas and therefore can be used for all subjects.  To get ideas on how, read John Spencer’s blog - “What do maker projects look like in each subject area?”

Even though most makerspaces involve some sort of financial commitment, they do not have to be expensive.  To learn more, explore the ISTE article, “Create a school makerspace in 3 easy steps” by Nicole Krueger.

For further investigation, view these video examples of Makerspaces:

In elementary school - video

In middle school - video

In high school - video

Virtual Reality (VR) is an interactive experience situated solely in a virtual environment where the sensory stimuli (sights, sounds, etc.) are provided by a computer, and the user’s actions partially determine what happens in the environment.  VR is a “fully immersive” experience where participants usually wear goggles or headsets to enter a completely virtual world. Google Cardboard, Oculus Rift, and other “paid-for” options exist for utilizing VR in the classroom.  Students often use VR to help them visual components of the Design Thinking process.  For example, a student might use VR to imagine what it would be like to to use a wheelchair to go down a flight of stairs.  Read this article for five research-based ways to use VR for learning. For MANY more suggestions on how to use VR in the classroom, visit Thing 12 Interactive Learning.

Augmented Reality (AR) combines actions that are situated both in the real world and the virtual. AR utilizes QR codes, video overlays, and gaming experiences (similar to Pokemon) created by apps, websites, and objects like the Merge Cube. Think of these as “pop-up” layers added to a viewing screen that adds to reality. When they are used in the Design Thinking process, they help visualize a new way of thinking.  For example, AR can be used to solve problems such as generating community support for a new interactive walking trail or increasing accessibility at a museum. In fact, many museums and historical sites use AR to enhance learning by adding QR codes or other interactives.  For classroom lesson ideas, read this article from ISTE - 25 Resources for bringing AR and VR to the Classroom.  For MANY more suggestions on how to use AR in the classroom, visit Thing 12 Interactive Learning.


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