Design Thinking in Schools: “You can’t make school better without student voice.”

November 23, 2015

ILS blog


Have you thought about bringing design thinking to your school or district? One of the major foundations for the Fuse Architect project is design thinking. Through a partnership with IDEO, the Fuse Architect schools’ design teams used and continue to use design thinking to help re-envision the way school happens. IDEO defines design thinking as “a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” The set up of a design thinking activity starts with a group of people thinking about ways to make innovative changes. During this highly interactive time, all ideas are included and supported, and then after the brainstorming happens, everyone sees what can be combined and thought through in a deeper way. Finally, there is a process of whittling down to what is essentially the design that will move the team forward. During many “design days” scheduled throughout the Fuse Architect project, design teams from each school get together to talk through plans for changing the way learning happens. Students at the Fuse Architect schools had much to say about their experiences working with design thinking. In this blog post, we share some of their reflections.

For 360 High School, their students emphasized that users’ needs should be in the mind of the designer as they work towards a solution. Working in a group rather than as individuals was also key to students because it was more fruitful when more minds were working together. Design thinking was a brainstorming session for the students – they started with big ideas and worked on narrowing them down. They were also encouraged to visualize the progression of their group’s thought processes to see how everyone’s ideas worked together. They saw design thinking as a messy place – where things might or might not work, and it was okay for things not to work. The students were excited about design thinking because it helped their teams come to a shared outcome while working in a safe space among varying perspectives where “every idea matters.” As one student emphasized, “You can’t make school better without student voice.” The students went further to say that design thinking made them feel as though they were gaining more than just their own voice. One student emphasized that she sees design thinking as a gateway for students to leadership positions.

At Barrington High School, students felt the design thinking process was a way for them to work together to help teachers understand how to appeal to students, and their involvement helped increase student interest because they believe that teachers don’t know what students want or need. Students felt that it was necessary to be involved because most teachers have an idealistic view of them and thus do not always make the most effective decisions. To accomplish this, students and teachers co-designed a MakerSpace called iCreate, where students became leaders of the learning and co-designers of educational experiences. During each meeting, students created student experiences, as well as structures to support a shift in teaching to include more of a coaching model. Design thinking has helped these students and educators shift the conversation at their school to put students at the center.

The Central Falls High School students learned that design thinking is a long process that takes time to put all perspectives together. They realized that it’s important to make mistakes and then take the time needed to make it better. In order to do that, they discovered, it takes persistence to get to something that actually works. They used design thinking to think through what they would like done differently in their 9th grade experience. During their meetings, they took time to design questions that were user-centered to get feedback from fellow students. They focused on making sure that every voice at the meeting was heard and that every idea was taken into account when making decisions. Design thinking helped them get to problem-based solutions unlike solution-focused approaches that typically lack a true understanding of the underlying problems. Design thinking helped to get everyone together to work toward a solution.

To learn more about the Fuse Architect project, updates, and partnerships, see all blogs in this series!

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