What’s the Buzz: Design Thinking

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What's the Buzz
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As teachers and schools gear up for The Hour of Code (December 4-10), I think it’s really important to remind our students that coding isn’t an end to itself.  It is a means to solve a problem.  One way to help students understand that that is to explain where coding would fit in the a design thinking process.  A five step design thinking process might use coding in step 4. So while coding can be enjoyed for the challenge it brings, students can learn more about its application when they are given this context.

There are so many great outcomes for our students when we employ design thinking in classrooms.  This graphic helps spell it out a bit.  Every teacher wants their students to become more empathetic, to make more and better connections between ideas and to become problem solvers.  Helping to shape the next generation is why we got in this business and these are traits they will need.

As an introduction to design thinking, here are the five steps that I encourage teachers to use:

  1. Empathize – design thinking is an approach based in the understanding the that your design should solve a problem for others.  In order to do that, the designer must understand those they are trying to design for…what is important to them? Why do they have a need?
  2. Define the problem – It’s hard to come up with a solution to a problem if you don’t have all of the pertinent details.  This step may require additional research before you can stet the problem accurately.
  3. Ideate – Brainstorm possible solutions.  This is where you can help your students learn about divergent thought processes and how to value those with “wild” ideas.
  4. Prototype – Build a model, create a sketch, role play.  Here is where you might find a need to employ coding.
  5. Test – See if your prototype works and if it doesn’t modify it and try again.


Use the design thinking process to anchor your students use of Genius hour or your makerspace.  This will give them real world opportunities to practice.

Learn more about using a Design Thinking Process here:

About the author: Ruth Okoye

Dr. Ruth Okoye is the Director of K12 Initiatives at The Source for Learning. As a long-time technology coach, Ruth shares ideas and strategies for professional learning and thoughts on how to motivate yourself to “dig deeper” into educational technologies.

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