Services for Schools, Educators, and Families

Things You MUST Think About: Design-Thinking


This is the first in a promised gloss on each of the 11 THINGS INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS MUST BE THINKING ABOUT featured in my previous post. (I recap the entire list below the body of this post.)

#1. Design Thinking. What-ing?

Creativity. People keep talking about this, but how can it be taught? Is it just for art rooms and senior electives in fiction writing—or your most gifted soccer players?

Not hardly. For a few years now educators and some of the more intellectually far-ranging entrepreneurs who pay attention to learning environments have been working on ways to harness the potential of the design studio—with its essential focus on problem-solving, divergent thinking, skills, and often collaboration—to real-world problems that require original, outside the box analysis and the kinds of cross-disciplinary synthesizing that are what we want to see in all of our students.

A few models exist, and they are worth knowing about: IDEO, a top-level design company, offers a “Design Thinking Toolkit for Educators” through the Design Thinking for Educators website. Stanford’s (Hasso Plattner Institute of Design) has partnered with public and private schools to take design thinking to schools. NuVu Studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts, runs an amazing term-away program (no residence facilities, at least yet) entirely built around this model.

You may not find easy ways to incorporate design-thinking or the studio model of learning into your curriculum (beyond your art classes, for whom some of these concepts are likely to be old news), but you should understand how it works. If you want a quick primer, watch Project Runway or an old episode of Junkyard Wars through your best innovative-educator glasses, imagining the show not as competition but as a creative learning experience; think Tim Gunn as coach and Michael Kors as assessor. Or read the terrific NuVu blog; students are often the main contributors.

So, who is thinking about design thinking at your school?

The 11 Things:

  1. Design Thinking. What-ing? DONE
  2. Data-informed decision-making
  3. Collaborative learning and (related issue) project design
  4. Smart assessment of student learning
  5. Social media—for advancement
  6. Social media—in the classroom
  7. New directions for your library
  8. Online learning
  9. Strategic professional development learning
  10. Shorter horizons for strategic thinking
  11. Being Green

  1. @ Peter Gow,

    I think that the model of pioneering NuVu at Beaver, and then moving it elsewhere, was brilliant; I’m also not surprised that I got a garbled version of that message from the NuVu/Beaver students — how often do kids get exactly the vision that we communicate to them? :-)

    I think that one of the things that’s been critical to me to learn to be a design thinker is to be a designer and an artist. You might hand out a Michael’s gift certificate or a Home Depot gift certificate to any faculty member who promises to to make a piece of art or design an object for a faculty art & design show, and see what happens.

    Are you familiar with the book Small Bets? I forget who wrote it, but the basic idea is… “do a lot of small things that cost little to nothing, and see what works. Then do those on a larger scale.”

    The cost of design thinking programs is a potential issue. I can see the materials costs and the expertise costs rising over time, and those numbers being alarming to administrators…

  2. @andrewbwatt

    Well, it was never the intent that NuVu would stay at Beaver–we have neither the space nor the resources. It’s really a “term away” program, rather like The Mountain School or the Woolman Semester, without the residential piece, so kids from Beaver who are at NuVu are really AT NuVu for their term; we provide a bus to and from our campus not so much as a shuttle but as a convenience, since at any give time there are about 20 of our kids doing the program. Some kids do come back and participate in our afternoon program, but we are trying to emphasize that, When you’re at NuVu, you’re at NuVu. And that NuVu is not Beaver.

    That said, we are working on ways to bring the methodology–so difficult to do very well, as you note–into our own work here. We are developing an ongoing component of our middle school curriculum that involves the design-studio model, and there is some deep thinking going on about other ways to do this–it will certainly require some considerable multi- and cross-disciplinary thinking, which I think we are all excited about doing, based on what we see and are learning from NuVu.

    Good luck to you as you go on with your work–sounds very exciting, and nice to have it right there, as you say.

  3. I’ve been to the NuVu Studio as an observer, and I’ve been to the and Nueva, and I agree with you. It’s one of the most powerful methods for teaching (or learning, rather) creativity and lateral thinking that I’ve seen.

    It’s also one of the most challenging to implement. My understanding was that BCDS started out by implementing NuVu on campus, and found that it didn’t work. Now NuVu is located at some distance from BCDS campus, and kids shuttle back and forth — so there’s a distance or separation, both physical and mental, from the school.

    But the BCDS kids I met at NuVu were enthusiastic learners. They said their predecessors at NuVu came back to BCDS and were obviously better prepared for other classes as a result of their NuVu experiences. And they were looking forward to having the same bump-up in ability.

    We’ve got a design thinking lab at my school now, and I have the charge of it. Our first class is underway right now, and I’m excited about what that means for the future.

  4. I am glad that this has made number one your item. I am doing a week long design thinking workshop with students this upcoming November.