Design Thinking for 5 year olds

Last Friday I attended the Innovative Learning Conference, hosted by the Nueva School every other year, and the whole experience just blew me away. The school itself is a beautiful collection of older and newer buildings sprinkled on lush hill side in Hillsborough. Choosing the highlight of the day was almost as difficult as choosing which individual sessions to attend. I started off with listening to Dr. Dean Ornish share his thoughts on wellness and the motivation needed to make sustainable lifestyle changes. From there I moved on to Prasad Ram’s presentation of Gooru Learning and his vision for making a tool for teachers to easily incorporate online resources into their lesson plans and share them with others. The day continued to get better as I had the pleasure of meeting Sal Khan and hearing him share a more intimate version of how the Khan Academy sprouted from his first videos into the rapidly growing library it is today. I ended the day with a brief guided meditation from Shauna Shapiro and then a conversation with Neeru Khosla on how CK-12 has quietly and consistently been working to disrupt the textbook industry. And these were just the speakers that I got a chance to see!

However, my favorite part of the day was learning about the iLab, which is a product of collaboration between Nueva and The Institute of Design at Stanford, and very closely resembles some d.school workspaces. Through sessions with Kim Saxe and Susie Wise I learned how kids as young as 5 are introduced to the basics of design-thinking, by brainstorming needs statements and then applying the 3e’s: Empathy, Experiment, Environment to come up with solutions that address those needs. The open space itself as well as the practices of the iLab illustrate the shift from STEM->STEAM, bringing the much-needed focus on arts and creative thinking back into the classroom.

One of the most important messages (especially to the educators in the audience) is that these practices don’t require significant resources but rather a shift in how problems and the brainstorming processes are presented to kids. Grab some post-its, put wheels on the bottom of a few Ikea desks and you are ready to build a design-thinking workshop at any school!  You can read more about explicitly teaching design-thinking to students (and teachers through Stanford’s K-12 Lab) in this recent WSJ piece on David Kelly, founder of IDEO.

Susie shared her experiences in creating a ‘culture of design’ and how they are applying learnings from the iLab to the Urban Montessori School they are establishing in Oakland (Fall 2012,) of which she is a founding team member. I’d love to visit this school soon and am sure I won’t be able to wait 2 years for the next ILC before visiting Nueva again too!

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