Using Design Thinking: Design Challenges

Why do we always go the “easy” route and give worksheets to help understand a concept?  Why can’t we do it another way?

There is no reason that we should still be seeing a worksheet as the main source of “learning”, if you can call it learning.  Sure worksheets are good for some things, but seriously enough of it already.

We have the opportunity to be so much more to our students then someone who they see in the morning and afternoon drone on and on about how this will make a difference in your future, when in all reality that worksheet will be returned with a red -2 and a comment about good try. We can help to shift the way students learn and think in much more powerful ways.

Does this happen in your classroom? How can we make this a standard process in all learning?


The time to change the way we think, to change the way we teach has passed.  Education should have changed dramatically years ago, but we are still stuck in the past with our pedagogical ideas from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Now is the future, we don’t have time to just do the same old thing.  We need to provide students the skills to challenge what has been and what could be. How often do we allow students to ask the questions of what if or how would this work?  Opportunities can come from design thinking, from creating design challenges where students have to explore, fail, evaluate, design, collaborate, explain, model, now not in that order, but you get the idea.  Can students do this with a worksheet?  If so I haven’t seen it, nor do I want to be in a classroom where that happens.

How many times have you run to the copy machine to make copies? Have you thought about the impact on student learning? How about on your own learning as a teacher?

Why don’t all classrooms use design challenges and focus on connecting multiple content areas to student’s brains?  We can’t always teach that way where everything is interconnected, but for the most part that’s how teaching should be.  This isn’t a move to 20 years ago, let’s do a craft style of teaching, but an entirely different way to approach learning.  We have no idea what students will create, but we do have the opportunity to open their eyes to wonders they have never known.  Take for instance this design challenge using Curious George and the Hot Air Balloon. Students have seen balloons in the air, have they ever thought about how they work?

Is the end product important? Yes, I would say it is, but we also need to get students to the point where they can create a product that meets the goal. If they have never had the opportunity to work in groups, to create, design, and evaluate then the end product won’t be there. It’s a journey, one that at times can be a struggle, but oh so worth it when students experience joy and satisfaction and learning on their own. Take a look at a few examples, explore the design process, and think about the impact it will have on student engagement, thinking, and application to their lives.

I urge you to open their eyes to things that students have never thought of, push outside of those comfortable boundaries to change the future.

If you haven’t taken the plunge to use design challenges with students, don’t jump in head first.  Find someone that you can collaborate with and start small.  Connect your content so it makes sense to students and helps them to see the broader scope of what real life learning is. We need to be creating something every day, something that students own and can take satisfaction in learning, not a piece of paper that is run through the copy machine.

You can find many different examples to help structure your own challenges.  A few are included below:

K-5 ideas

Team building challenge

PBS Design Squad



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