I blog on Brain-Based Learning, Metacognition, EdTech, and Social-Emotional Learning. I am the author of the Crush School Series of Books, which help students understand how their brains process information and learn. I also wrote The Power of Three: How to Simplify Your Life to Amplify Your Personal and Professional Success, but be warned that it's meant for adults who want to thrive and are comfortable with four letter words.

Design Thinking The Student Learning Experience

Tuesday the 4th is GO time for me. New room. New kids. New school year.

I'm psyched, excited, hopeful, and a little scared. The fear is completely illogical, but that's me and I learned to embrace it.

Workshop/Get Ready week done. I had the physical space ready to go Tuesday. Furniture placed. Tech working(ish). Caffeine plentiful.

But wait... How the hell do I do this teaching thing again? I mean, I haven't done it for 3 months. The mental muscle has atrophied. I spent the week being busy, but mostly avoiding planning for the thing I am tasked with doing. Teaching, or maybe helping my students learn, or maybe both are important when it says Teacher next to your name.

No wonder you're anxious! my logical part says, but year after year my brain just keeps saying it's too much fun to give up working the eleventh-hour shift. It's because a breakthrough always seems to happen at the last possible moment.

Not to say I did not have a few light bulbs come on throughout the week because I did. They were good ideas, but there were what ifs and how am I's involved. Then, unexpectedly, a fuse was lit by Kristy Kruse Louden's blog Design Thinking as a Back to School Activity last night. I read Kristy's post, looked at the slideshow, told her I'm adapting (read: stealing) it for my classes, but I was too tired to process and figure out how. I slept.

And now the bomb went off and I know. This is the one for the ages. Or, at least until next year, we'll see. But I feel like I'm really onto something. so here it is.

Design thinking the student learning experience


First, let's get the student minds going with something real...

Design Thinking Learning - The problem

Second, let's pose a question...  

Design Thinking Learning - challenge

Third, let's introduce Design Thinking. No long descriptions, just explain it's a cycle/web, not a sequence, as you jump between steps.

Design Thinking Learning Cycle

Now, let's go to town! Ask students to walk around and interview/be interviewed by 5 people to get 5 answers to the 2 questions below.

Design Thinking Learning WEEK 1 (4).png

Finally, have students gather in their groups and combine their research (empathy work) into key ideas/takeaways.

Design Thinking Learning - definition

DAYS 2 & 3

Remind students of what the problem is.

Design Thinking Learning - Ideal day

Ask students to first individually review their previous work/notes and spend 5 minutes coming up with ideas for solutions. Then, they brainstorm in groups.

Design Thinking Learning - Ideation

With the Empathy, Definition, and Ideation work well on its way, it is now time to create.

Design Thinking Learning - prototyping

Each team should work on the prototype (presentation/poster/video etc.). The first 10 minutes on Day 3 can be used to show a 10-minute Shart Tank clip, so students see a good product pitch and can practice theirs.


Can they sell their ideas to an audience of peers? The prototypes are ready and it's GO time!

Design Thinking Learning - testing

Here's the link to the 14-slide show to go with the project.

This activity can be used anytime, not just beginning of the year and it can be applied to any problem in any class. And, it's a gift that keeps on giving. 

Students get the voice/choice personalization combo. Check.

Students create their own learning. Check.

You learn how they like to learn. Check.

They learn how Design Thinking works. Check.

They practice/hone Future Ready skills. Check.

They strain their brain and learn a lot. Check.

It's relaxed, engaging, and meaningful. Check.

The only help I plan to give is on explaining the Design Thinking Process and providing materials. Otherwise, the world is my student's oyster. Actually, it's an ocean of possibilities. I wouldn't have it any other way.

I hope you're the same.

You have the power to change lives. Use it often.

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Hi! I'm Oskar.          

I teach, write, speak, rant to make the world better.



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