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Picture of Teacher Professional Development: Design Thinking for Schools

This has been written by Autodesk Tinkercad as a resource to support school leaders, teacher leaders, and other teacher trainers in facilitating professional development for K12 educators.

Skills taught:

  • Describe the design thinking process and explain how it relates to what you know about teaching and learning.
  • Demonstrate creative confidence and a positive growth mindset.
  • Use design-related vocabulary and visual literacy to articulate your process and decisions.
  • Apply design thinking methods to a real-world problem of student learning.

Session overview:

Design thinking is a problem-solving framework that begins with stepping into the shoes of your end users. When design thinking approaches are applied to schools, educators are able to see problems of student learning from different angles and apply creativity, prototyping, and experimentation to better meet students' needs. While "design thinking" can be interpreted as a trendy buzzword, many aspects of this mindset are inherent to commonly recognized best practices for teaching. This resource will support teacher trainers in guiding their colleagues through the different steps of the design thinking process with the goal of innovating the learning environment at the classroom, school, or district level.

Estimated instructional time: 6-8 hours, plus extensions for building & testing prototypes and forming professional learning communities around moving the design forward. (This could also be broken down into a series of four, two-hour PDs: "Intro to Design Thinking & Problem Finding;" "Understanding & Defining the Problem;" "Ideating & Storytelling;" "Prototyping & Testing.")


Step 1: Get to Know a Design Thinking Framework

Picture of Get to Know a Design Thinking Framework

In the world of design, problem = opportunity.

If you have spent any significant amount of time in the classroom, then you're probably thinking that there must be no place more rife with inspiration for the designer than a school!

In introducing the concept of design thinking to your colleagues, it is important to note that there are many different frameworks that are called "design thinking" with mostly subtle variations; the most important constant is that it has a human-centered core - meaning that the first and most critical step in the process involves empathizing with the end user of whatever it is you are designing.

In the context of schools, the end product could be a revised curriculum, a design for more flexible learning spaces, an innovative block schedule, a more personalized approach to teacher professional development, or a new system for structuring student advisory - or for collecting and communicating student data. The possibilities are endless!

But before you start digging into real problems at your school or school district, it makes sense to do a quick, hands-on sprint through the process with a more low-stakes design challenge. This will help your colleagues get a feel for the design thinking methodology before applying it to a more complex problem.

This guide includes a variety of activities for introducing the concept of design thinking.

For you as the facilitator, or for any of your colleagues interested in learning more about the principles of design thinking, this Autodesk Design Academy course provides an excellent deep dive. Free premium access to Autodesk software and learning platforms - like Design Academy and Instructables - for educators and students can be found here.

Speak the language of design thinking

This is not an exhaustive list of every term you may hear in the discussion of design thinking, but it's a good start to getting your colleagues sounding like pros! A glossary of these terms can be found here.