Design Thinking in the Middle School

By Dr. Jarrett Gold, Principal at LCHS 7/8

This year our the  7/8 History  Department along with Jamie Lewsadder applied to be part of a conference at Stanford around a process called Design Thinking.  This is a creative process that helps teacher design solutions in the classroom that challenge students through the base of empathy.  As I was not part of the conference, and only had the opportunity to hear about the possibilities from my teachers, I was excited to be able to help fund this experience for our teachers.  

As many of the teachers tried to explain the process to me before attending, I was a little confused about what Design Thinking is.  Not until I was able to observe it in action did I start to gain a better understanding of how important this is and the change it can make at LCHS 7/8 and throughout education.  If you do any research about Design Thinking, you will find one underlying and important concept, ‘Lead with empathy.’  All of the lesson design teachers make are based around getting a deeper understanding of multiple facets of the subject and bringing this to the kids.  I asked some of the 7/8 History teachers to explain Design Thinking in their own words and some of the responses I got were

“It’s a human-centered system for learning and problem-solving that pushes students to empathize, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to gain a deeper level of understanding or develop creative solutions.”

“Design thinking is a mindset and approach to learning, collaboration, and problem-solving. In practice, the design process is a structured framework for identifying challenges, gathering information, generating potential solutions, refining ideas, and testing solutions. Design Thinking can be flexibly implemented; serving equally well as a framework for a course design or a roadmap for an activity or group project.”

As I have had the opportunity to see a variety of these lessons, I am excited to see the possibility of expansion to different subjects.  With a base of empathy, the lessons I have observed really put the students in the driver seat of the learning.  It allows them to research and better understand the period of history they are learning while allowing all students to understand the perspective of various stakeholders.  

When asking students about some of the lessons I was told, “That was one of the most exciting times I have had in class.  It really gave me a  deeper understanding of history in the 1700’s from all groups of people.” Another student added,  “That was so cool.  After our research, we were able to write a poem about the experience we would have lived through the Battle of Tippecanoe.”