Design Thinkers

Design Thinkers

Is chaos discouraged? It’s about who comes up with the best ideas. Forget the way it used to be. Get ready for the deep dive, the secret weapon for innovation.” Observation, tinkering, collaboration, communication, and research are part of the process my students do because they wonder and it’s fun. It was IDEO’s design process and my personal teacher toolbox that brought a Design Thinkers playground into my classroom.

6th grade middle school students in a public setting are being immersed in DESIGN THINKING through myriad of opportunities that happen in Room 14. I should not be amazed by the popularity of my high interest maker space. Students thrive on options for learning that require inquiry, constructed understanding, design thinking, I wonder questions, critical thinking, and deeper learning opportunities. Wide open exploration usually is done in addition to the classroom required learning. What I have found is that students can’t wait to come to my room and tinker. It is full with students during flex, lunch and after school! Their choice, which is awesome!

To create interest, curiosity, and challenge student thinking, I ask them to bring in items that no longer work for our Tinker Zone. I provide the tools and eye protection. Students use tools to deconstruct the items trying to figure out how the system was put together and how it works. They love to do this and spend a great deal of their own time tackling the project and learning exponentially!


Makey Makey is a big hit for after school club time. Students couldn’t wait to remove the wires, alligator clips and circuit board from the packaging to figure out how to setup the system. Their goal was to make a controller function up, down, left and right to play PacMan. Some students collaborated to figure out the wiring. Other team members created joysticks and PacMan disks in the maker station. Later, circuits were attempted and put to the test.


Another big hit during the day and after school too is Minecraft! Students collaborate to build a town similar to Hershey, where we live. It included the school and parking lot, amusement park and zoo. Some students extended design thinking into their Genius Hour passion projects.


Energy concepts are part of the curriculum and students were able to choose a project to go deep on. The students tackled real world learning uncovering alternative energy solutions. They shared their projects with peer scientists making their findings public.

Students explored flashlights and designed models showing how they work from the approach of a company selling their product to customers.


Some student teams opted to explore heat loss. They built K-Nex houses. Took energy readings in Fahrenheit using a digital laser gun. Students had to create their own temp scale based on the color in the thermal image. After insulating the house with materials they thought would be most efficient, readings were taken again. Thermal images were taken before and after evidencing temperature changes.




Student groups also decided to design wind cars powered by a floor fan.


A girl modified her car with a balloon to harness and control air release to move it.


This boy was genius. He used his mom’s camping portable solar panel to design a solar powered vehicle. He made the body out of Styrofoam, K-Nex pieces as axles and the wheels are soda cans!


Painted improved design.


Another option was to analyze home use of energy and design an alternative plan using little or no fossil fuels. The girls analyzed their home energy consumption and created a plan for reducing fossil fuel use. Here is their blueprint showing placement of solar panels in 3D.


Students use this info graphic to guide their thinking through a problem.


The students demonstrate and share everything they’ve learned from their process. Failures along the way are part of learning. When they stumble, they are encouraged to dig deep, seek out answers and forge on to innovation.

We use IDEO Deep Dive video for outside of the box group process thinking and collaboration.

Design Thinking for Educators IDEA WALL

Screen Shot 2014-02-16 at 1.13.59 AM

It is powerful when all group member brainstorming is accepted, genius is the post-it IDEA wall and equality in groups allows for leaders to rise as expertise is needed. Each role result is brought back and shared for collaboration focusing back on the problem at hand. Interviewing people who use a product results in fascinating information gleaned. So many aspects of the process fosters genuine creativity, innovation and ultimately Design Thinking!

Isn’t time we make Design Thinking a daily occurrence in the lives of students readying them with skills to solve the problems of the 21st century?


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