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Design Thinking & PBL - Inception to Completion

Just over 18 months ago I was exposed the programming process of "Design Thinking" and "Problem Based Learning".

Design Thinking
The term was originally coined by Peter Rowe in his 1997 "Design Thinking" book. In this he described the methods and approaches used by urban planners and architects. This concept has been more recently been adapted for education by the REDLab Group from Stamford Universities Graduate School of Education. It is a method of planning, goal setting and creating creative solutions for problems to improve future results. Design thinking is regarded as solution focused thinking where the starting point is the goal and then uses backward mapping to fill in the details. "A key component of the process is fostering the ability not only to solve a problem, but to define the problem. This seemingly subtle shift can energize one towards empathetic action and innovation." (REDLab, 2009) Design thinking encourages divergent thinking create a myriad of solutions and convergent thinking to identify the best resolution.

Problem Based Learning
It is another teaching and learning strategy that challenges students to see solutions to real-world problems. The problem is designed to arouse students curiosity, attempt to engage students in authentic and interesting types of activities and prepare them to think critically and analytically. This methodology originally was developed during the 1970's in the field of medicine. A key element of Problem Based Learning is that it focuses on students solving problems perceived as meaningful or relevant to their lives (Buck Institute, 2015).

Maker Methodology
The Maker Movement is a creative learning revolution. It utilises tools and technologies such as 3D printing, wood work and other materials. According to Martinez and Strager (2013) the maker movement creates an innovative, collaborative community, it is built on a hands-on philosophy of learning founded on constructivist.

Problem Inception to Completion
Why I mention these three methodologies is because this is the process I went through to design a unit that was on the very close to the impossible. Using the design thinking methodology I identified that I wanted my students to make a difference in a school based in Central Uganda that had limited resources. It was in a community that due to the civil war had no formal education for close to 20 years. They were poor, remote and were in the situation of having no toys. Now that I had identified the universal problem for my unit I was able to backward map and present the problem to my class.

The problem based learning methodology was then adopted, I sought to pose the problem about the lack of toys in the Hope and Care Junior School Uganda to my students and invited them to work collaboratively to solve the problem, design a solution and execute this solution.

During this unit my class looked at how they could design a toy for Hope and Care Junior School in Uganda. They discovered through research at the students do not have the luxury of batteries and electronic toys so our problem was to create a toy that suites their environment.

The students designed and created models of the toys and sent them to the high school for review. These toys were based on internet research of toy from the past, they toy hall of fame and from personal recounts of childhood toys of their parents and grandparents. A prototype design was made sewing the ideas of the children and the decision was agreed on by the students to create a wooden horse.

The prototype was printed and then modified using a 3D printer and sent to the Wood Work team for production under student guidance. The students then prepped, sanded, uncoated and painted these.

Now to the impossible part... Our students fundraised the money to send the horses to Uganda. Once the Principal of the School found out what our students were doing for his school students he spoke with some of his supporters in Australia and they sponsored him to visit Australia to take delivery of these toys. Unfortunately this fell within Australian holidays so students were not present; however, it was a moving experience for those who were there.

The students were incredibly engaged and they realised that they are blessed to be a blessing. They were able to create something innovative using a maker methodology which would solve a real-world problem and make a difference in someone else's life.

During the toy creation process students to needed to go through a design thinking process by finding the "Why". We then begun to use many of the core "Visible Thinking Routines" to assist with the "Idea creation" and supported this by "Hexagonal thinking". They also needed to "Pitch and Prototype" ideas and then make it happen. The by product of the type of learning was a rich authentic experience, deep understanding about the history of toys and an empathetic knowledge of others experience from another part of the world. This understanding of social justice is something many teachers desire but to see it truly playout it was touching for both myself and Ps. Fred Mukasa Principal of Hope and Care Junior & Senior Schools, Uganda.

I believe the global connections we make as educators need to make a difference, they need to lead an impact of building others. "As teachers we make things happen to bring meaning to the world, technology is just the tool to facilitate this" Soledad O'Brien (2015). The benefits of "global connections are that is engages students in authentic, fun and deep learning" Michael Griffin (2015).

Our challenge as educators is to explore and implement some of the opportunities available to use as 21st century globally connected educators. In doing so we enhance the learning for all students, not only in our own class but around the world.

For more information about some of the other school development programs please follow the link.

Buck Institute (2015)
Griffin M. (2015) ISTE Global Connections Workshop
Martinez S.L. and Strager G. S. (2013) Invent to Learn: Making, Tinkering and Engineering in the Classroom. Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.
O'Brien S. (2015) ISTE Opening Keynote
REDLab (2009)

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