10 Things I Think I Know About Design Thinking in Education

10 Things I Think I Know About Design Thinking in Education

Written by: Tim Wilhelmus

June 4, 2021

Design Thinking is a concept that has danced around my head for a few years now. It doesn’t have its origins in education, but as I’ve learned about it, I’ve discovered just how intrinsically connected it is to what we do. After all, it is a process for approaching complex problems and working toward solutions. Isn’t that what we do as educators? Isn’t that what we want our students to do as learners? In the second episode of my Keep Indiana Learning Home Grown Podcast, I had the opportunity to connect with two amazing educators who have made a career out of understanding Design Thinking in the Education space. I learned a lot, and here are few of the ideas I’ve pulled together thanks to that conversation:

10 Things I Think I Know About Design Thinking in Education

1. We already do it.

Honestly, many of us have internalized this process over the years. We identify a problem; we work to understand it; we brainstorm possible solutions; we work up our best attempt at a solution; we test our solution, seeking feedback; and over time, we iterate on and improve our solution.

2. It doesn’t matter what we call it.

The stages are officially labeled empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test, assess. BUT the language isn’t what matters. John Spencer and A.J. Juliani wrote a book (Launch: Using Design Thinking to Boost Creativity and Bring Out the Maker in Every Student) in which they describe the steps as Look, Listen and Learn; Ask Tons of Questions; Understand the Process or Problem; Navigate Ideas; Create a Prototype; Highlight and Fix; and Launch to an Audience.

3. We still need to be intentional when we talk the stages and their purposes

Giving ourselves and our students a vocabulary to understand the process means that we will be able to think about our own use of that process.

4. Using Design Thinking takes practice.

The more we do it, the better we get at it. The same is true for our students. If we want them to become better problem-solvers, we need to give them the time and space to practice every stage of the process.

5. Practicing Design Thinking can take many forms.

We can play games like The Extraordinaires to work through artificial design challenges, we can use the language to describe the work we are doing in our classes (after all, everything from science labs to research papers involve design), and we can give our kids opportunities to take on authentic problems in the world.

6. We often shorthand the first stages of empathy and definition.

These stages require real time to understand the problem. If we don’t spend adequate time without jumping right to generating solutions, we are likely to be solving the wrong problems.

7. We also often do this for our students when giving them design tasks.

When we are pressed for time, we hand them a problem and supply them with resources to understand the problem, then ask them to jump right into brainstorming solutions. Instead, we need to allow students opportunities to identify problems and learn about them on their own. Otherwise, we are only teaching them one part of a process.

8. It’s not about perfection.

We never really reach perfect solutions. Instead, it is about upgrading our existing problems. Anything we do will generate new problems to solve, but hopefully they will be less irksome than the problems we started with.

9. Design Thinking develops valuable soft-skills.

While we don’t test these skills, employers are looking for skills such as empathy, collaboration, creativity, curiosity, problem solving, grit and confidence.

10. Design Thinking is a mindset.

Design Thinkers believe in their power to change the world for the better, and they lean on the process of Design Thinking to guide their work. For more resources and support, check out these links:



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  • Tim Wilhelmus

    Tim Wilhelmus is an Innovation, Curriculum and Technology Specialist. Frenetic Change-Agent. Playground Advocate. Learning Sherpa. Formidable and Renowned Swashbuckling Education Subversive. Tim works with teachers at all grade levels to reimagine teaching and learning for the digital age with a focus on creating student-centered, globally-connected, technologically enhanced, personally relevant and highly collaborative teaching and learning experiences.

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