Design thinking is a buzz word right now in education. It is a creative skill set/mindset that every child should learn and practice. Not long ago, I wrote a lesson flow featuring design thinking and #growthmindset for Graphite, which, by the way, is a fantastic resource for teachers. Thought I would share it here. Maybe something will spark something that will lead to something. As Steve Jobs says, “Creativity is connecting things.” Design thinking resources listed at the end of the post.


Students will learn and apply various problem-solving strategies, specifically drawing a picture/building a model and using a table, to tackle a challenge that directly affects their daily life.  Using both direct and indirect instruction as well as interactive instruction, students will understand and practice the creative design process to solve their chosen problem. Set in a risk-tolerant environment, students give and receive helpful feedback, experience failure as a learning process, and focus on a growth mindset in their problem-solving process. Grades 3-6, but can be adapted.


Before beginning this lesson, collect arts/crafts type materials for building a prototype such as pipe cleaners, clothespins, yarn, foil, tape, paper plates, etc. Students will also need a device of some sort to take pictures/video.

Class Discussion:

Discuss with your students something in their life that bothers/bugs them that they would like to fix. Consider in the classroom, at home, or even in their community. Explain that they are going to learn how to use problem-solving strategies to create solutions for one of their “bugs” and will create and build an innovative prototype to help solve their problem.

Identify the Problem:

Students make their bug lists in Paper 53. Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.30.28 PMFor a low-tech option, have them use paper/pencil. Encourage students to choose “bugs” that are within their jurisdiction to build a solution. For example, as much as they would like to have recess all day, that is not reasonable. However, papers not staying in a binder or a backpack not having the right design would allow them to explore solutions.


  • “Papers are always falling out of my folder.”
  • “My little sister keeps coming in my room.”
  • “There are a ton of bugs in my backyard.”
  • “My pencils tend to break.”

Once students have developed their bug list, have them choose one they want to tackle to create a solution. Make sure it is something that could produce a tangible prototype. At this point, it is important for them to dig deeper into why this “bugs” them and is worthy of searching for a solution. Have them turn and talk with a partner about why they are bothered by it and why this problem is worthy of a solution.Screen Shot 2016-01-30 at 2.32.06 PM

Literature Tie-In: For younger students, consider reading Rosie Revere Engineer. This is the story of a young girl who dreams of being an inventor and learns the lesson of failure is only when you quit. 


Idea Generation:

  • Using Paper 53 or just plain pencil/paper, instruct students to sketch pictures of possible solutions to their problem, teaching them that good designers visualize and draw pictures to help them create good design. This could be everything from creating an actual object, or it could be to create a different type of process (i.e. the lunch line).
  • Have them come up with at least three different solutions, preferably more.
  • Having a time limit for this part is helpful. Encourage students to push out ideas as fast as they can, reminding them this is about brainstorming and later they will have a chance to refine their thinking. Idea generation vs. idea analysis.

Encourage the students to let their imagination soar! There are no right or wrong answers in this step of the process, only possibilities. They will have a chance later to test and refine, but for now, it is all about ideas.

If students struggle to think of ideas, one strategy is to ask more why questions, either 1:1 with you or maybe even with another student. Or try a think aloud by asking, “tell me what you are thinking.” Pause on all judgment in responses; instead keep asking questions rather than give answers.


  • Once students have generated their solution sketches, in small groups (3-4), have students share the “bug” and their sketches. This is not about evaluation but rather “what could be added?” Feedback should be specific and helpful.
  • Have students develop a language of “what if” in responses.
  • Consider using language such as: “I Like,”I Wonder,”What if” to guide these discussions. This works well with sticky notes.
  • Here is a great resource on Feedback Loops. 

Class Debrief:

  • Once small groups have participated in sharing their sketches, pull them all together and have students share helpful feedback they received, focusing most specifically on why it was helpful. If you have 1:1, you may want to try Padlet for collaborative input.
  • Facilitate a discussion on what is considered helpful feedback and what is not, focusing on helping students understand what it is to have a growth mindset when others offer feedback, i.e. did you spend more time questioning the feedback you get or taking action?

Based on feedback and discussions, students may now identify the solution they want to build.

Extension: For more information on developing a language around a giving feedback and the growth mindset, consider the following resource: Mindset Educator’s Toolkit


Teach what a prototype is – a rough model of their solution in which they will have an opportunity to test. Remind them this is not about a final product, but rather a first go around of the idea — a first iteration. Encourage them to be flexible in their thinking and designing of the model, because change and revision are okay!

Facilitate students perusing the available materials and making lists of what they think might be useful in their design.

Create a stimulating work environment (music, good lighting) and give students time to build a rough prototype. Again, a time constraint helps students stay focused on a rough prototype instead of an elaborate design. Students can take pictures of their process as well. Make sure to connect with students to ask questions, help where needed, and encourage focusing on effort, process, and creativity rather than the product.


Collecting Data: Testing the prototype may look different for different students, all depending on the problem. However, all will need to collect data.

  • Using tables in Google Drive, have students create a data table with at least three columns. In the first column, title it: Test #, in the second column,”observations,” and the third column “ideas”.
  • Explain that they will put their solution to test at least two times. They are to be keen observers and write down the response to the prototype. The column for ideas is to make notes (based on observations) on how to improve the prototype.

Testing: Have students test their prototypes within their small groups. It is important to conduct several tests in this phase to collect enough data to see options for improvements and redesign. Use the same feedback language as earlier-“What worked..”, “What didn’t work…”, “I wonder…”, “What if…”.

Class Debrief:

Once testing concludes, debrief with your students the feedback/testing process using the following guiding questions.

  • What was easy about this process? What was difficult?
  • How did the time limit impact your work?
  • What part of this process felt most uncomfortable to you?
  • Did anyone think of a new idea for their prototype from seeing someone else’s?
  • Did anyone receive feedback from a classmate that was particularly helpful or that gave you a new idea?



Keeping the students together as a group, continue reflection moving the discussion to iteration.

  • “What has been your biggest challenge in designing your prototype? How could you improve that for next time?”
  • “Based on your testing, what did you learn that could improve your design?”

Explain how scientists, mathematicians, teachers, and engineers (among many others) use data and feedback to help improve or even create innovations. Have students study their data, asking a focused question: “What is one idea you learned from your data that could help you improve your design?”

Give the students time to repeat the process of creating a revised prototype to test, continuing to collect data and refine their design. This process may need to be repeated several times.


Once the students have created a prototype that they feel best solves their “bug” problem, it is important for them to both demonstrate their product and share their process. This can be through a video or live presentation.

Have each student:

  • Introduce (and explain) their “bug” and then demonstrate their prototype and how they believe it will solve their bug. If a student has not reached a solution, he or she can demonstrate what they have discovered is not a solution and explain why.
  • Explain their design process, including what worked and what failed. What was the easiest part? What was the hardest part?
  • Explain the differences between their first design and subsequent iterations and the thinking behind those choices.

As a whole class reflection, consider using these guiding questions:

  • “Does anyone feel like part of their prototype could be helpful in solving another student’s bug? Why?”
  • “Now that you’ve seen all the prototypes in action, are there any things a classmate did that you would want to implement in a third redesign?”
  • Is there one or more of the prototypes created that you would like to use for one of your “bugs?”

For Your Consideration:  Design Thinking Resources


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