George Lucas Educational Foundation

Student Design Awards and Encouraging Design Thinking and Creativity

Student Design Awards and Encouraging Design Thinking and Creativity

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I was looking at some of the winning entries from the RSA's Student Design Awards, in particular, 'Donate at the Gate' and was blown away by the creative solutions to complex problems. You can see what I'm talking about here:

That got me thinking: how do you encourage creativity and design thinking amongst your students? What opportunities are there for young people in schools to grapple with complex problems? Should there be such opportunities? I imagine there are links here with PBL, but I was curious to hear from other educators out there.

Looking forward to hearing your ideas.

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Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hi Keith!
I'm trying to put together a curriculum for our after school program to encourage design thinking. I have some tools from Stanford's D School- here's a link- they have a k12 lab - and IDEO Design for Learning site -

The trick for me is to construct 6 1 hr sessions that will show them the framework for design thinking and allow adequate implementation- and looking for the "projects" around which to frame it. I have a few, but any other suggestions would be great!

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Teaching Middle School 'Technology, Engineering & Design' in Northfield, NJ

Hello Keith! Funny that Whitney mentions the Stanford d.School k12 lab - I recently discovered some neat lesson here:

Specifically, I am modifying this activity for use with 4th graders:

I am finding the k12 wiki invaluable for direction, ideas, structure and approach. Everything is explained well. This is our first foray into 'design thinking' per se but it's something I plan to emphasize moving forward. Our 4th graders are LOVING this project so far!

The ideo resource is also excellent but has a different focus and feel.

We are also using the 2014 Doodle for Google contest

as a vehicle to explore design thinking with 2nd graders. The 'Classroom Activities' are pretty good starting points:

We had our kids brainstorming on our giant whiteboard wall yesterday, it was awesome:

We are at the very beginning of this journey, I see us embracing design thinking in much more complex and sophisticated ways in the coming years.

What age students are you talking about, by the way?


Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Hi Kevin and Whitney,
Thanks for your very informative replies I really appreciate the iras and resources. Just something that I am working on at the moment that I didn't see anyone mention - I'm trying to organise mentorships with industry professionals for my students so that they can see they way experts seek to use design thinking in dealing with real world problems.

I'll share more ideas as I progress, as well as any reflections I have.

Kevin - this is for 13-15 year olds.


Elana Leoni's picture
Elana Leoni
Director of Social Media Strategy and Marketing @Edutopia, edcamp organizer

Great topic Keith. If anyone's looking to try out design thinking in their classroom or school, I'd highly recommend it. At Edutopia, we use it internally more and more to ensure that our work is truly fulfilling the needs of our audience.

Here's a great resource with a very comprehensive toolkit:

Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom's picture
Aaron Wilson-Ahlstrom
Assoc. Director of Curric. and Instruction at Henry Ford Learning Institute


You asked if people thought it was valuable to teach design thinking and creativity. To which I reply YES! Definitely! Far too many students and teachers alike still think about creativity as a fixed trait, rather than something that can grow and improve with practice.

We've been using the design thinking process that IDEO and the use to teach a structured process for supporting creativity and innovation, and work with students in grades K-12 to do quarterly design challenges. Challenges include things like: Design a way to improve the life of a pet (1st grade); re-design an abandoned urban space to benefit local residents (7th grade); design a new, healthy, appealing menu item for the school cafeteria (9th grade); and design a way to help a peer manage his/her stress (10th grade).

Students begin to internalize the process and develop what Dave and Tom Kelley from IDEO call "creative confidence." I was just talking to one of our 12th grade students the other day, and she was talking about how she's been designing and sewing dresses for friends and family for a couple years. Since using the design process in school, she now makes an effort to do multiple prototypes and get feedback earlier and more often from her clients, and she said both she and they are happier with the results.

Here's a write-up the local newspaper did about a Design Thinking Expo we held recently at our K-5 school in Detroit:

Whitney - I'd love to hear how your after-school program is going!

If any of you are interested in teacher workshops, we're offering a couple this summer:

- Aaron

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