How to Implement Design Thinking in the Classroom

You have probably noticed, that around 50% of our new content is dedicated to guest articles.  Brenda Savoie is a private English tutor and desperate dreamer. Writing her first romantic novel. Check her blog Best Writing Clues.  Find her on Twitter and Facebook.

This particular subject was chosen for several reasons. First, it is very hard to innovate in a classroom. We know that education is broken, but fixing it is hard, and innovation is welcome. Second, we often use “Plan-Do-Study-Act” approach. On various pages of this blog you will find multiple articles on how to state goals and plan, how to implement strategies and introduce habits, how to check progress and review lessons learnt, how to act in case of complications and strive for improvement. This process is very natural for me, and I am implicitly asking students to use it.

However, this purpose-oriented structure is not the only valid approach we advocate.  Another framework we use implicitly is called “Creative-Problem-Solving“. This time we use (1) veracious reading for discovery, (2) stop to ask questions, (3) incubate the ideas by systematic research, (4) experiment with hands-on projects, (5) critically evaluate the results,  (6) share the results with others for feedback, and finally (7) build your own solution.

While we use both methods extensively, I do not remember discussing them in depth in this blog. Brenda shows a third possible approach called “design thinking”, and also reminds me that it is my job to share with you the approaches I do use. For now, please read Brenda’s excellent work. I promise to deliver several articles with my approach in the future.


How many times have you been amazed by innovations? All teachers tend to emphasize the power of the human mind through various examples. When I teach my students about electricity, I show them how the people involved in this discovery changed the world we live in.

Sometimes I wonder: can my students can reach such level? Can they become innovators? Am I looking at the people who will change our world at some point in the future?

There’s no way to be sure, but the least I can do is encourage the process of design thinking. This is a concept that designers use to find proper solutions to complex problems. A person with design-oriented mindset is testing variations to find the best solution.

How can we implement the methodology of design thinking in the classroom?

How Design Thinking Works

Before a designer comes down to an innovative solution, their thinking process goes through five stages:

Empathizing with the people who face this problem

During the initial stage, the designer is analyzing the problem. They have to understand how it affects people’s lives. Before Edison and his team of researchers designed the light bulb, they had to identify the problems people were facing with the light sources that already existed.

Defining the problem    

When the innovator becomes aware of the problem, they analyze all its aspects. Why did people have problems with light sources? Why weren’t the methods of that time working? What risks did they involve?

Idea Generating

This is the stage of creative thinking. The designer is coming up with as many potential solutions as possible. They are trying to think of something that hasn’t been done before.

Designing a Prototype

Once the designer sees potential in a solution, they design a scaled-down version of the final product. It’s called a prototype.


The prototype serves for testing purposes. The designer is identifying its flaws and is trying to improve the design until they come down to an entirely effective solution. If the prototype is a failure, they go back to one of the previous stages and continue the work until they find a good solution.

How is this process of thinking related to education?

Joseph Richards, a teacher and writer for UKBestEssays, explains: “Traditional education no longer works. That system can produce well-educated individuals, that’s for sure. If, however, we’re trying to produce creative thinkers and problem solvers, we need a different approach. Design thinking, in particular, teaches the students that making attempts is important. No matter how many times their ideas fail, they should keep coming up with solutions until they find one that works.”

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” That’s Edison’s way of describing the greatness of design thinking.

Implementing Design Thinking in the Classroom

Now, let’s get to the specifics.

According to the traditional way of teaching, you stick to a curriculum and you present the lectures. You’re testing the students to find out how well they mastered the concepts. If you notice that some of them are falling behind, you’re trying to provide better explanations and you encourage them to study more effectively. I don’t like that.

With this approach, you’re testing the student’s knowledge. With the approach of design thinking, they will still gain knowledge, but they will develop strong problem-solving skills along the way.

Let’s take a practical problem as an example. When you’re teaching sociology, you’re tackling the issue of poverty.

I asked my students to think of a specific problem related to poverty and they came up with the topic food for homeless people. We decided to turn it into a design thinking project. I asked them to evaluate the problem and I inspired them to think of creative solutions. The design thinking process goes through the same stages:

Stage One: Developing Empathy

Every great solution is founded on the designer’s ability to understand how other people feel. That’s empathy. I wanted the students to understand how difficult it is for homeless people to get decent meals every day. I presented slides and showed them documentaries to help them understand how homeless people live and what they eat.

Stage Two: Defining the Problem

It’s important to turn design thinking projects into an authentic research experience for your students. If you want them to design a good solution, they should ask different questions and evaluate all aspects of the problem.

In this case, we searched through various online resources tackling the issue of homeless people. We saw numbers, statistics, and facts. My students saw how real this issue was.

Stage Three: Creative Thinking

In this stage, you need to get their ideas. Inspire them to think of as many practical solutions as possible. This can be a brainstorming process they will engage in as a team.

My students thought of different things: let’s raise money for the homeless, let’s start a free kitchen, let’s cook and bring them food for the weekends… I asked them to evaluate the potential problems related to the solutions. Together, we picked the best possible solution (making meals for homeless people) and we turned it into a prototype.

Next: The Prototype

This is all about seeing how the idea would work in practice.

For example, we decided to cook food during the weekends and bring it to homeless people. For the prototype, we did this in a scaled-down version. I found a local restaurant whose owner wanted to join the project. We got together in the restaurant during the weekend and the chef showed my students how to cook a simple meal. We brought that meal to a homeless family.

Testing Stage

Is the solution effective? Are there any pitfalls? Will you take the prototype to the next level or will you go back to the creative thinking stage of the process?

My students were thrilled with the experiment. They saw the idea worked. The problems? We couldn’t go to the restaurant every weekend as a whole class. They made the kitchen too crowded and loud. Plus, I couldn’t impose this extracurricular activity every single weekend.

We decided that three volunteers from the class should go to the restaurant and cook meals with the chef each Saturday. This would take them only two hours. Everyone signed up and I made sure the list would be flexible. If some of them couldn’t make it, we found a replacement. I volunteered, too.

Three months after the first attempt, the solution is still working pretty well. We are bringing food to different people each weekend. My students saw a problem and they managed to think of a solution.


This was only one example of the many ways to introduce design thinking in the classroom. These students, in particular, will become aware of the issue of poverty. They will realize they have power to affect it. They will get inspired to think of other solutions that make this world a better place.

Check out this simple guide on design thinking. Think of different ways to implement the process in the curriculum. Design your own solutions and bring them to practice!

Don’t forget: you have to evaluate the effectiveness of their solutions all the time. When your students design a prototype and they decide to bring the idea to practice, monitor how it’s going. Maybe new problems will appear along the way. Keep asking for feedback. Ask them to share the experience and explain different aspects of the solution. Keep asking: can they make the solution even better?My students, for example, took this further. They learned how to cook simple meals and some of them involved their families in the project. They brought the food to the restaurant, so we had more food to deliver all together.

The controversy about this method is that it may require extracurricular activities. You don’t want to impose them to your students. If the solution means doing something outside the classroom, make sure it’s on voluntary basis. In my case, everyone wanted to volunteer. My students were excited to do something about a precise problem. You know what? This experience gave them more knowledge than a lesson from a book.

Design thinking is not only about designing things. It’s not just about making prototypes of bridges and planes. It’s about designing solutions, so it can be implemented in all subject areas. Give your students the push to be creative! That’s so much better than conventional education.


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