So what is Design Thinking all about? Ultimately, it’s a mindset. It moves away from a fact-acquiring learning to more of an enquiry-based model. It explores problems, creatively cycling through divergent thinking to explore diverse sources of inspiration. It learns through quick cycles of prototyping, gathering feedback and making necessary adaptions. Design Thinking draws upon logic, imagination, intuition, and systemic reasoning, to explore possibilities of what could be.


In TAD (Technology, Art and Design), to create a common language and encourage the students to work through this design thinking process (questioning what they are doing and how) we have come up with the phases shown in the following diagram and we are implementing them in our classes. The students are developing a clear idea of the stages they have reached in their projects and where they need to go next. Importantly, they understand that each session may involve more than one phase as this is a fluid system.

To promote higher order thinking in the TAD program, the students are given initial provocation statements. These are clips, images and ideas designed to challenge established mindsets and to encourage them to think divergently when it comes to approaches and possible solutions. Through this process they then revisit the design thinking module, gathering more evidence, filtering the information and moving through the ideation and prototyping phase.

Clearly this is a cyclical process as there is a revisiting of certain stages.

The Year 7 and 8 students were thrown into darkness for their first TAD class of 2019. They gathered into the auditorium and deliberated on what life would be like without power. This was a most unconventional way to begin a course in TAD. From there, they were sent on a guided walk visiting various ‘staged’ rooms. Each room provided some form of provocation to stimulate thinking about sustainability. Through the use of QR codes and physical props, they were exposed to ideas and issues such as consumerism, energy use, rubbish recycling and possible positive steps towards sustainability. Students were encouraged to note any observations, questions or thoughts on post-it notes. This was all part of the discovery phase – getting them thinking.

Through some group work and design thinking activities, the students were challenged further to filter through the concepts, raising questions, arguments and developing opinions. ‘WHY?’ was the common question for all of these sessions. The initial provocation has since spilled over into a systematic approach within each of the four areas of TAD (Art, VCD, Robotics and Media). By continually revisiting the design process and engaging the students with challenging activities, they have begun to see themselves as innovators and they have started to take agency over their learning and development.

Year 8 VCD students, for example, have spent the past four weeks studying unusual characteristics and properties of animals. At the same time, they have also been exposed to issues of sustainability. Through brainstorming, sharing information and a speed-dating-style processes (games such as crazy 8s), their research and discovery has involved a long list of issues alongside various innovative (and possibly unusual) ideas and solutions. Through this student-centric methodology, students are given the freedom to think outside the box with any open ended or even bizarre approach they care to explore. From there, the students begin to ask their own questions, create their own problems to consider and then see where such considerations might lead. Through creative thinking games, rather than feeding students proscribed information, they become more inquisitive and begin developing a web of connected ideas, ultimately leading to problems that they can solve. The year 8 students, for example, have now researched a wide variety of animal characteristics, sustainability concerns and issues that stem from humans’ lack of long-term thinking. From here, they have decided on their own problem to consider.  Problem ideas have ranged from getting to school efficiently in an environmentally friendly manner by mimicking the propulsion of a squid travelling through water, to tapping into the characteristics of iridescent deep sea creatures and applying this to an energy-efficient night-lamp for kids. From such open-ended starting points, they are going through the ideation process using design thinking techniques such as SCAMPER (Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Put to another use, Eliminate, Reverse). By giving the students the tools to revisit the various phases, they will begin to think more openly. In the discovery phase there are no boundaries, giving the students the opportunity to create the most unusual possibilities from which they can select and then refine.


Prototyping will lead to more questions that the students will work through to develop their solutions. Given that they have come up with their problems, they will be all the more determined to solve them rather than having to engage with issues that have been forced upon them. Through this process, the students begin to crave feedback. (“Is my idea genius or crazy?”) My year 8 students went on a speed-dating trip with their ideas. They had only five minutes to write their pitch and then two minutes to present it to the person in front of them. They very quickly learned to listen. Each person they pitched to needed to listen and come up with a “Have you considered…?”question. By the end of the session, every student had pitched an idea. But more importantly, every student had also attentively listened to several pitches and given constructive feedback through this “Have you considered?” approach. This is a powerful methodology because it then gets the students to revisit their original idea, looking at it from potentially a different angle. Whether the outcomes are inspired successes or otherwise is not the point of the exercise. This is all about the design thinking process – and an environment which fosters analysis, creativity, thinking across disciplines, imaginative risk-taking and collaborating in a safe environment.

We are a long way past chalk and talk!

This piece of writing is the work of Birgit Verhagen, Head of TAD (Technology, Art and Design) at The Knox School. It is my privilege to reprint it here, with her permission. A. Shaw