What is “Design-Thinking?”

In many ways, this Fellow-year has been a treasure hunt. The guiding question has been “Where are the richest opportunities for authentic, engaged, student-centered learning?”  By extension, which approaches provide fertile ground for real-world learning and develop learners’ creativity, critical-thinking, and collaborative skills?

Interestingly, one of the most exciting approaches I’ve come across has a humble origin: the process associated with design. “Design Thinking” is a process, a framework, a series of steps that designers go through in order to solve problems, to improve existing ideas, or to realize previously unseen potential. In short, it’s a deliberate  process that can be used to increase curiosity, creativity, and critical-thinking.


It’s also an approach that can be applied at multiple levels. Design Thinking can help a student tighten up the variables on a science lab; it can help a student bring a piece of writing to the level required for publication; it can help a class propose plans for the future of Burlington’s defunct Moran Plant. It can also be used to refine or improve school systems, from small-scale (e.g., a teacher’s tardy policy) to the large-scale (e.g., a school’s approach to parent-engagement). Once a problem is reframed as a design problem, a world of opportunities open up.

Interest in the potential of Design Thinking has been growing in different corners of the Partnership for Change. In the Teaching and Learning Environments Implementation Team, many are interested in its ability to help us shift towards integrated and applied learning. The Community-Based Learning I-Team has been interested in Design Thinking’s emphasis on partnership. After all, how much more powerful for a group working on redesigning a school campus’ land-use to partner with landscape architects, conservation biologists, and facilities managers? Once students are working as designers, community partnerships immediately become real, necessary, and impactful.

These I-Teams are co-sponsoring a trip to a one-day Design-Thinking workshop on 2/19. There, a group of thirteen (made up of teachers, I-Team chairs, students, and community partners) will be immersed in this approach, and return to Burlington and Winooski with energy, ideas, and a healthy list of questions about where and how these ideas can be infused into our school redesign-work.

What follows is an embarrassment of riches: links from across the web, that help introduce Design-Thinking. Get curious–click around!–and then join the conversation about Design Thinking’s potential to shift the nature of teaching and learning in the 21st Century.

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