Design Thinking

  • Design What is Design Thinking?
    In essence, it's common sense: when faced with a problem, you need to use empathy to truly understand the nature of the problem, creativity to generate solutions, and teamwork to develop ideas and to innovate.

    Design thinking is an approach that's being adopted by organizations all over the world, including ours. We believe that if we can encourage our administrators, teachers and students to think empathetically, creatively and rationally, we will continually improve. To find out more, visit the Stanford School of Design Thinking at

    Our District is fortunate to be working with Stanford's as well as IDEO, a design and innovation consulting firm, on applying design thinking to public education. Design Thinking is a process to fuel creativity and innovation. Our partnership with the Stanford is deepening as we explore how Design Thinking is a tool to inspire leadership and innovation at all levels of our organization, including among our students. Check out David Kelly of the on 60 minutes
    Team Design Thinking in MPCSD
    Design thinking complements a lot of what we already do with our Cycle of Inquiry approach, in which we rapidly develop prototypes and try to "Think Big" but "Start Narrow." Rather than using top-down decision-making processes, we encourage interdisciplinary teams to work together.

    Taking an iterative approach to improvement, we believe that the path to perfection lies in success and failure. (Think of Edison's 1000 attempts to get a light bulb to burn). The motto is: "fail quickly, fail often, so that we can succeed faster."

    All administrators and a core group of teachers have received training through Stanford University. Design thinking has taken root in MPCSD and already we are seeing evidence of how design thinking can support breakthrough thinking and help our kids see themselves as innovators who can change the world!
    Examples Here are some other examples:

    At Hillview, a team of teachers worked with Principal Erik Burmeister to redesign the master schedule to better address 21st Century learning goals. The staff noted that the current schedule of brief class periods does not match goals for deeper, more engaging and integrated approaches to learning. They tackled this challenge by using principles of design thinking: "shadowing" and walking in the shoes of students for a day, listening and understanding the daily experience to inform improvement plans.
    At the classroom level, teachers explore how engaging students in design thinking can inspire creative confidence and empathy for others. Third graders in Leah Leff's class at Encinal in 2013-14 dove into design thinking on behalf of their kindergarten buddies. Observing their younger peers in action and interviewing students about their reading experience, our third graders redesigned "reading suitcases" to better engage our emerging readers. 

    Most recently, Lela Ward has been using design thinking in her fourth grade class on a Design Thinking Native American Project. Read all about it on this page to your right! 


    Administration Administrators and Design Thinking

    This summer our administrators participated in a Design Challenge on Friday to answer this question: When an individual or group of administrators visit a classroom, what will the visit look like and what will be the productive collegial conversations that will engage
    teachers to continually grow their instructional practices and student learning? As an outcome we developed several prototypes. The team interviewed teachers during the Empathy stage of
    design thinking.  

    This fall, Alicia Bowman and a team of teachers from across the district have used Design Thinking in prototyping a new Common Core Aligned report card for grades K-3

World Language Design Challenge

  • Through our partnership with the Stanford, MPCSD has access to some highly valued coaching & facilitation customized for our needs.  On  January 20, 2015 We utilized design thinking to prototype some potential delivery models for World Language FLES/Immersion Programs 2015-2016. Stanford coaches led our school teams on this day to come up with FLES models designed specifically for each site. Principals selected teams of 7-9 people, including parents and staff, to participate in the process. FLES models will now be taken back to school sites for discussion and review and will then be presented to the Board at a future meeting. 


Classroom Highlights: Reflections on Design Thinking in the Classroom

  • Lela Ward
    Teacher 4th Grade, Encinal Elementary

    At my school, Encinal, there a few teachers that have attended trainings at the A few years ago I started to create design challenges related to the social studies and science curriculum. I usually pilot them the first year and then write them up and share them with my team. Last year my team tried out my Design Thinking Native American project and it was a huge success. This year we are doing it again and also having even more success. I usually come up with project ideas by looking at desired essential understandings in these subject areas. I will outline my Native American project so that you have an idea of how some of these projects look in the classroom.
    I started to look at our Native American unit and the culminating project that we had always done with it. To me, it seemed like fact regurgitation and it also never seemed to meet my hopes for their learning outcomes. The project involves these steps and is usually my introduction to design thinking with my class.
    Empathy: They will live in the shoes of their tribe by researching from different sources and maps. These resources come from me because I have omitted any information that has to do with what their tribe's shelter looked like. They then need to take notes and figure out everything that they can about this tribe in order to understand their needs. The tribe is the user. The students look at the region, the weather, the resources etc.
    Define: This is an instance when I define for them. They need to design a shelter that would suit members of their tribe.
    Ideate: As designers I encourage them to go wild with sketches at this time - they can narrow down later.
    Prototype 1
    : Pick one or two designs to carefully draw and detail (I give them special paper). They must be labeled with the resources that would have been used by their tribe.

    Test 1: We came up with helpful interview questions. Then I paired groups with groups from other regions. They then needed to assist each other by interviewing each other about their design decisions. After that they may go to other groups and finally adjust their designs.
    Prototype 2: The build. I provide all kinds of materials and they bring in all kings of material and we build, build, build. This is obviously their favorite part. The room is a MESS! But it is a great mess with so much fabulous energy.
    Test 2: The reveal. On Monday I will then give them back materials but now they will include the housing pictures and information. (The kids are really good about not looking into this beforehand.)
    Reflection: I emphasize that I care more about their learning in their design experience and in their reflection than I do about how close they got to the actual shelter. In the reflection they need to analyze the differences in their designs to the real thing - also the resources and to think of why these differences exist. 
    The kids learn so much and just love this project. I firmly believe kids are designers and need to be given that opportunity at school. This winter the will be coming to my school to help me develop and implement another design challenge with my class which I will share with my team. So far, design thinking at my school is starting from a couple of us teachers trying things and sharing them.