I have recently been researching schools for my rising 6th grader to attend. On a tour of one school, our group saw the usual English, Math and Social Studies classrooms – but my ears perked up when the admissions guide began to talk about how “design thinking” informs much of the way students learn and how their teachers teach. As a UX designer, I loved hearing this! It was a light bulb moment as I realized how pertinent the process of design is to learning. What better designers than imaginative children that have not learned the “rules” of what can and cannot be done? A quick Google search on the subject yielded a surprising volume of information. As it turns out, design thinking in K-12 schools is a big thing.

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To be fair, plenty of non-traditional schools such as Montessori or Waldorf have utilized project-based learning for years without calling it “design thinking.” However, in 2007, Stanford University began a program called K12 Lab Network within its Design School. No doubt related to its proximity to Silicon Valley, the lab’s mission is to give teachers the tool of design thinking to improve the way schools are organized, enhance teaching methods and create new modes of learning.

Susie Wise, one of the founders of K12 Lab Network, says this:

“…launching an innovation lab space, creating a design thinking professional development experience and running student-facing design challenges for middle and high-school classes — was that the design thinking process functioned as a kind of oasis for educators, reconnecting them to their creativity and aspirations for helping students develop as deep thinkers and doers, not just as test takers.”

So what does design thinking look like in say, middle school? Well, it looks a lot like what we do as designers here at stable|kernel. As professional designers, we have a formal process of creating a mobile product: we take a client problem, look at the audience, empathize with them and actively learn. We think about our users’ wants and needs, we dream up ways of serving those wants and needs, we sketch them out, we show them around, we prototype, we get feedback, we improve and we repeat, repeat, repeat until we have a working product that improves the life of our users. In my career as a designer, this process has taught me things I would never have known otherwise. For example, did you know dew point is a better predictor of humidity? Or that piracy at sea is still alive? Did you know that Shriners have a thing for Islamic architecture?


Source: Pexels

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Imagine what children can learn by following this iterative design process: curiosity, empathy, creativity, communication, patience, persistence, respect for other viewpoints and more. As a mom of two boys who are pretty unexcited about their traditional education thus far, this is exciting stuff. The design thinking process can be applied to anything that presents a “problem” or that needs improvement, not only software – design is everywhere. Giving children the skills to join forces with each other to overcome a problem is a wonderful gift and imperative for growing into healthy, kind and productive adults. Let’s hope design thinking makes its way into more of our school systems.

Needless to say, I’ve submitted an application to that school.

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