Prisma is the world’s most engaging virtual school that combines a fun, real-world curriculum with powerful mentorship from experienced coaches and a supportive peer community.
We all want our kids to grow up to be problem-solvers who have a meaningful impact on the world. But what kind of people are best equipped for creative problem-solving?
You might initially think it’s about creativity: generating the most unique ideas. But plenty of us know highly creative people who aren’t able to successfully solve problems! Maybe they lack the ability to deeply research until they understand the problem. Or perhaps they lack the ability to iterate, using feedback to improve their initial idea; or follow through, to see ideas to completion.
Design thinking is a methodology that's been widely embraced by entrepreneurs, leading companies like IDEO, and esteemed colleges like Stanford University. The design thinking process recognizes that innovative solutions aren’t random, nor driven by creativity alone.
According to the Harvard Business Review, “design-thinking processes counteract human biases that thwart creativity while addressing the challenges typically faced in reaching superior solutions.” In this sense, design thinking is not just for “designers.” This process can be used by anyone in any industry who needs to solve problems.
It’s because of design thinking’s applicability to innovative problem-solving that it’s such an important skill for kids to learn. In a rapidly changing world, where most of today’s elementary schoolers will grow up to work in jobs yet to be invented, problem-solving skills, including design thinking, will be more essential to success than any particular piece of academic knowledge.
At Prisma, learners in our virtual middle and high school programs learn through project-based, interdisciplinary themes. All themes provide learners the opportunity to flex their creative-problem solving muscles through real-world, authentic projects, and some of our themes focus explicitly on design thinking.
In this blog post, we’ll break down the steps of the design thinking process and its benefits for learners. Then, we’ll share some examples and project ideas from our themes to inspire you.
Design thinking is a problem-solving process encouraging critical thinking and innovation. It was popularized by Stanford’s d.school and is widely used in higher education and professional industries to solve complex problems. This methodology is all about understanding the user, challenging assumptions, and redefining problems to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent.
Design thinking follows a specific process, typically: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test, with variations and additional steps (like reflect or share) added depending on context. This approach not only focuses on creating innovative solutions, but also fosters creative confidence, self-confidence, and thinking skills.
In January, the World Economic Forum published a report called Defining Education 4.0: A Taxonomy for the Future of Learning. This report advocates for a shift in education toward developing learners' "uniquely human qualities – those unlikely ever to be replaced by technology.” These skills include creativity, critical thinking, digital literacy, collaboration, communication, and adaptability.
Here’s why design thinking is one of the most effective ways for kids to build these essential skills:
Let's delve into the steps of the design thinking process:
Of course, the best design thinking project for your students or children will depend on their age & ability level, academic subjects you’d like to incorporate, and their interests.
Here are some of our favorite ideas from past Prisma themes:
“It was incredible to see kids using the design thinking process to come up with human enhancements, animal gadgets, and home upgrades in the Inventor's Studio theme,” says our CEO Kristen Shroff. In this theme, learners chose a project based on which end user they were most interested in impacting (humans, animals, or their own family). They interviewed or observed their end user to generate an idea for an invention that would make their life easier. At the end of the cycle, they created a video advertisement for their invention to share on Expo Day.
“From inventions that made doing their chores easier like the Ellabot Clothes Feeder to a prototype of the Omega Chicken Guard to protect pets from predators, to the Calmet, a device that makes life more accessible to people using a wheelchair, our Prismarians' empathy, creativity, and innovator's mindset always blows us away.”
In our Build a Business theme, learners used the design thinking process to come up with a product or service business idea. In the ideation phase, they interviewed potential customers, analyzed their own passions & talents, and conducted market research on competitors.
Once they drafted a business plan, they completed a test run of their idea by either building a prototype (if their business was based around a product) or launching their service for beta customers. Based on customer feedback, they refined their idea. They ended the project by creating a website for their business and pitching to an audience.
“I loved our Games for Change cycle where kids designed their own video games that raised awareness about neurodiversity,” recalls Head of Middle School Claire Cummings. Of course, it’s possible to do a game design project without engaging in design thinking. Since our learners were designing games with a purpose (to educate & inform the players about a real-world issue), they needed to empathize at the beginning of their design process.
“The iteration and feedback process aligned so well to real life, when they had users test their games and then had to go back and make changes based on that feedback.” If you're interested in this project, check out the free resources offered by Games for Change.
In our middle school Wild Inventions theme, learners competed to create solutions to sustainability challenges. The catch? Their solutions needed to be inspired by the structure and/or function of a plant or animal. This design tactic is called biomimicry, and it’s a great way to integrate biology learning with design thinking.
In our high school Secrets of the Biosphere theme, learners conducted a study of biodiversity in their local ecosystem. Based on the data they collected, they designed a product, policy, or service that would serve to increase biodiversity. This was a different way to integrate STEM learning in the empathize part of the design process.
In our high school theme The Future of Health, learners interviewed patients struggling with a variety of health conditions, from anxiety to Multiple Sclerosis to a broken leg. They used the qualitative data gleaned from this process to inspire a medical device, app, or policy proposal project.
Along the way, they got feedback from healthcare industry professionals to help them refine their ideas. Bringing in authentic expert guests is a great way to make any design thinking curriculum more relevant to the real world! This theme also incorporated biology & genetics concepts.
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Unit studies blend multiple subjects together to create real-world, interest-driven learning experiences. Steal the approach our curriculum experts use to create themes with a free downloadable unit study planner.
“The curriculum at Prisma allows learners to learn about their strengths and use their passions in an organic and interdisciplinary way. The kids have the freedom to choose by having differentiated projects, quests, enrichments, and clubs.”
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