Teacher Feature: Design Thinking, Teaching & Learning

We live in a world where we face design challenges every single day -from deciding how to craft a lesson, to making financial ends meet, to packing our own children’s lunches in the right combination of small tupperware containers so they fit in their lunch pails! The challenges we face (no matter how big or how small) are real, and they impact they way we live, work and play. The reality for our students is no different.

So how are we teaching students to design solutions to problems in the context of their daily lives, while also integrating the curriculum and embedding the necessary learning skills?

Meet Heather Durnin

Heather is teaching Grade 6 at Goderich PS and I had the privilege of spending some time with her students earlier this week. Heather’s program focuses on design thinking as a framework for teaching and learning:

Learning through making, referred to as the “Maker Movement”, is a technological and creative opportunity where students learn through firsthand experience. Former Wired magazine editor and author, Chris Anderson, declared the 3D printer as the “home computer of the 21st century.” Over the past 4 years of integrating 3D technology into my program, I’ve seen first hand how 3D printers have emerged as a critical component in the support of student creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and collaboration. The City X Project introduces students to the 6 step design process, the same process the 21st century world will demand our students understand and follow. This process helps students understand a challenge and the people it affects, generate possible solutions, develop a final product, and then share their solutions with their community and beyond.

Now you may be thinking, I don’t have 3D printer, so Design Thinking as a model for teaching and learning won’t work for my students. But if we are focusing on the process of learning, and the skills we want students to develop -as opposed to the end product they create- shouldn’t we at least consider the possibilities? And did you know that there are thirteen 3D printers in our system spread across throughout our high schools? What a great opportunity to connect elementary students with secondary students to help bring these projects to life!

Design Thinking Defined…

Simply stated, Design Thinking (DT) is a process of creating new and innovative ideas and solving problems.

The definition of Design Thinking (DT) in education, as a concept, is of moving thoughts and actions forward to find a solution to a problem or question in an empathetic, creative, and innovative manner. It is a way to find answers to complex, unique problems with multiple solutions, where there is not only one result or correct answer. The process develops pupils’ and teachers’, students’ and instructors’ ability to act as change agents.

(Schwartz-Bechet, Barbara. “InnovationLab.” InnovationLab – Project: Learning Outcomes. N.p., 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2017)





Powerful stuff right? I thought so too…

Heather’s students are currently working on the City X project, which teaches them about the 6 step design process, while also encouraging them to identify real-world problems that need solutions.

City X Project

If you’d like to learn more about Design Thinking, and the work Heather is doing in her classroom, please contact her by email, or connect with her on Twitter @hdurnin. You can also follow the hashtag #DTK12chat to learn more about Design Thinking in education.


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