Five Design Thinking Steps

Design thinking, to some teachers, may seem like a huge undertaking to introduce into a classroom but if we break it down, the individual steps may seem more manageable.

Let’s call the first step “Discovery.” The best problems come from student discussion.  Students who have input on the initial real world problem they are interested in solving feel some ownership of the work that follows.  Ask students to articulate the problem, including many details and specifics.  Look at the problem from many angles.

Step 2 – “Interpretation.” Define the problem using data. Keep in mind that the data that carries the most weight should be from the sources closest to the problem.  Is there an interview with the person who most benefits from this invention?  That information would rate a higher priority than some quantitative or qualitative data found on the internet about similar problems.

In Step 3, the “like” ideas from step 2 are “clustered” together to help see patterns in the collected data.  Are some ideas “outside the box?” Are many ideas focused on one aspect of  the problem? This step is “Clustering Like Ideas.”


Step 4 is the step that begins to show outcomes of learning.  In this step of design thinking, students begin to “Ideate” through brainstorming and collaboration.  Here, the sketching and drawing of a few solutions uses particular parts of the brain to interpret the outcome.  Without the use of words and writing, students are drawn to visualizing a concrete and realistic solution.

Step 5 is the creation of the “Prototype.” This step involves experimentation and evolution in prototype design.  Test drive the first prototype then revisit the challenge.  Does this prototype meet all the expectations of the challenge?  Does it need fine-tuning or major changes? Repeat this process until the outcome solves the initial problem in the most satisfactory way.

Discovery, interpretation, clustering like ideas, ideating, prototyping. Work through one step at a time.  See if students continue to be engaged through the process.


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