What is Design Thinking?

Design, in its most common use, is understood to describe an object or an end result. Design Thinking, on the other hand, is an action. It is a protocol or process used for solving problems, discovering insights and effectively capitalizing on new opportunities.

Through design thinking, students acquire skills like research, organization, empathy, creative thinking, problem-solving, collaboration, public speaking and presentation techniques in a hands-on manner. They work on a socially relevant topic and get the chance to build a solution for it. In an information-packed, technologically driven society, design thinking skills build confident, creative young leaders that are capable of achieving success in a climate of change.

Why is Design Thinking a part of a school’s curriculum?

Through the inquiry-based curriculum, schools around the world are already using design thinking in classrooms and empowering students with skills to solve real-world challenges. They work with multiple perspectives, learn to access and make sense of information, apply critical thinking and intuition, iteratively learn from failure and create solutions that integrate the emotional and the analytical.

Design Thinking and Ekya Schools

The first design thinking challenge at Ekya was piloted at Ekya School ITPL. The objective of the challenge was to find solutions to the garbage crisis that plagued Bangalore and its citizens at the time. With 4 years of teaching experience and having moved to developing curriculum thereafter, Ms. Shobha Sivaramakrishnan, now Senior Curriculum Developer at Ekya Schools, has been part of the design thinking team since its infancy.  Speaking about how the concept of human-centred design intrigued her in the beginning, Ms. Shobha recalls,

“As a curriculum developer, I have spent a lot of time researching and integrating processes focused on Inquiry-based learning and STEM (Science/Technology/Engineering and Mathematics) into the Primary Science curriculum. My introduction to Design Thinking was by participating in a ‘wallet challenge’. The exercise helped me understand the role of design thinking as a creative problem-solving tool and how it can help students solve real-world problems.”

At the Ekya ITPL Design Thinking Challenge, Ms. Shobha noticed how students and teachers made use of the design toolkit to come up with umpteen solutions to a variety of problems. “My belief in the idea of design thinking was strengthened when we conducted our first design challenge. Our students set up campaigns to educate citizens, designed special clothing for garbage pickers and planned effective distribution of excess food and unique waste disposal methods.”

Watch how our design thinking showcase unfolded at Ekya ITPL

After a successful pilot, the design thinking challenge came to Ekya School JP Nagar. The school’s students were tasked to find ways to integrate the elderly better into the society. “Through the challenge, our children develop empathy for the elderly. They really understood how the user was key to the design thinking process and used their empathy muscle by looking deeper into the lives of the elderly in mind while designing solutions. Students thought of ways to get rid of loneliness that older people are likely to face, planned virtual reality tours for those who could not travel much and devised applications and instruments that helped with mobility, health, and lifestyles.”

Here’s a round-up of our showcase at Ekya JP Nagar

These tools not only helped teachers and students with the challenge at hand but also with their everyday list of things to do. Talking about how the use of design thinking tools stood out, Ms. Shobha highlights that the process matters as much as the end product – “Everything on the toolkit can be effectively used in real-life scenarios. I was able to build and integrate some of these design principles into the Primary Science Curriculum that I was working on”

With the design thinking challenge, it is not just the destination, it is the journey that counts. It focuses on a student’s ability to come up with solutions and pays equal importance to how you come up with these solutions.

This is one of the reasons students are asked to save all their work and not focus on how pretty their model or submission looks. As Ms. Shobha adds,

“Through the process, students brainstorm, categorize, organize information, conduct research and interviews, ideate and make prototypes which gives them a sense of ownership and they are proud to put it up for others to see. Students use feedback from peers constructively and it helps them look at their solutions critically; in turn, they learn to take criticism in a positive manner. This helps build confidence in students and helps them see others point of view as well.”

How are different grades at Ekya Schools incorporating Design Thinking?

    • Problems are situations: Engineering design in the earliest grades introduces students to problems as “situations” that people want to change. They can use tools and materials to solve simple problems, use different representations to convey solutions, and compare different solutions to a problem and determine which is best.
    • Years ahead: At Ekya and sister institution, CMR National Public School, providing students with a foundation in engineering design allows them to engage in and aspire to solve the major societal challenges that they will face in the years ahead. Students work with different materials and tools in the Makery which will allow them to see their ideas come to life.  
    • Part of the curriculum: Students use principles of design thinking while learning science concepts in order to apply their skills in a meaningful way. The Science curriculum focuses on design thinking as a process and not just the end-product.

This year, as part of the Science curriculum, students of Grades I through V participated in workshops to develop solutions to specific problems by using the processes from the Ekya Design Thinking toolkit.

Students from Grade I were challenged to redesign their classroom experiences. They spent a good chunk of their time observing their classmates and peers in their campus and gained insights about problems students like them face in school.

Students developed valuable insights through their observations, for example, the process of losing stationery was proving to be a costly affair and also meant resources were being wasted. Their solution was robotic cups built to hold stationery that go from student to student, as and when they needed a particular item.

Students in Grade II looked at creative solutions to help stray animals and developed empathy for the animals in the process. One of the student groups designed collars with sensors that would detect if the animal was in danger, alerting the local rehab centre to come to its rescue.

Students of Grade III were given the challenge to solve the traffic congestion in Bangalore. In order to understand the problems at hand, the children interviewed with people who battle traffic woes on a day to day basis. A group came up with the idea of installing automated underground gates at every zebra crossing to protect pedestrians and keep the drivers more cautious about traffic signals and rules.

Grade IV and V students came up with creative solutions for the garbage crisis and the issue of food wastage that plagues Bangalore city. Ideas from automated garbage trucks and smart lunch boxes were brought to light, with the former collecting and segregating waste across town while the latter designed to detect waste of food.

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