I can think back to a time when I was in Graduate School and we were in one of our last classes before graduation. In just a few weeks we would be exiting our Masters program and ready to educate the future. Ready or not, here we come! You could feel the panic setting in and I can remember a lot of us were asking questions, things we already knew the answers to: “Do we need to keep pace with our teachers guide? What behavior management system should we use? How should we form groups in our classes?”. All of this was an attempt to squeeze the last bit of knowledge from our professor before we head out into the field of education as brand new teachers. At one point I can remember my professor interjecting and saying “Remember, Picasso never painted by number.”
What my professor said during that class has always stuck with me, even though I’ve now left the classroom and am currently an Administrator. A lot has changed in those 11 years since I was in Graduate School - We now have common national standards (Common Core and NGSS); the rapid advancement in technology has led to 1:1 devices of our choosing as well as virtual and augmented reality devices; and curriculum sets are slowly being replaced by open education resources. The one constant is that we still have students that are in need of being taught.
Design Thinking in Education
I can remember when I first heard the term “Design Thinking” and thought, ‘here we go again’. If you’ve been in education long enough, you know that lots of things come and go, whether it be curriculum adoptions, technology, state/local initiatives - the list is long! As educators, we have a tendency to jump on the bandwagon (willingly or with some gentle nudging) of whatever ‘flavor of the month’ is out there and we often times try to make sense of these things the best way we can, and right when we think we’ve ‘got it’, something new comes along.
However, when I began to unpack and started to understand the term “Design Thinking”, it really brought me back to that class in Grad School. Design Thinking is about people - it is a human-centered, systematic approach to creatively solving problems. If we think about the essence of education, one could argue, isn’t this is what school should be?
Design Thinking allows students the freedom and flexibility to:
- Empathize - Learn about and understand their audience
- Define - Construct a point of view based on user needs
- Ideate - Brainstorm and come up with potential solutions
- Prototype - Build representations of their ideas
- Test - Test their ideas
Design Thinking can naturally be interwoven while solving problems across a variety of content areas. If we reflect on this, it absolutely connects to real life - thinking about problems we’ve encountered in our lives, there isn’t one way of solving them, but, I would argue, having the right ‘tools’ (or thinking) to assist you, certainly helps. Design Thinking is nuanced and complex in it’s approach, however, and should not be seen as some ‘checklist’ type of tasks to be completed.
As educators, we cannot predict the future. Technology advances will come and go; old curriculum will be replaced by new curriculum; we’ll probably still have state/national standards of some sort. What we do know, is that we’ll always have students to teach. Preparing them for the real world includes preparing them for situations and a world that might not even exist yet. Design Thinking allows for that. Just like Picasso, there wasn’t one ‘right way’ of painting - he had access to the ‘tools’, though, that allowed him to create masterpieces.
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