Teaching Kids Design Thinking, So They Can Solve The World's Biggest Problems

The next generation will need to be more and more comfortable with problems of dizzying complexity. And design thinking can teach them that.

You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it. ? Albert Einstein


The test scores are out again. And once again, American kids aren't doing so well.

You can choose any of the international standardized tests and on average, American children will always be stuck in the middle, compared with their peers in other countries. Leading the pack in test scores are the students in Scandinavian countries, China, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, with American students always trailing behind. And every time a new batch of test scores are published, you can hear the tapping of keyboards as various authorities opine about the dire state of the American education system.

A Vision

We all recognize a need for massive change in American education, but is our ultimate goal to outrank other countries in assessment tests and to beat the Chinese in math scores? We need to look at the world around us and consider what global problems modern society will need our children to solve.

We need new minds equipped with new ways of thinking.

Our world desperately needs leadership in achieving sustainable social justice, not simply learning the answer to a test question. America needs massive change in our understanding of the learning experience, not simply in our exam results. Simply put, to change the world, we need a generation of new minds equipped with new ways of thinking. We need to drastically shift our conception of education and then completely transform how we facilitate learning.

Future generations will be called to solve some of the most challenging problems ever created and faced by man. Our children must master systems-thinking to envision multiple methods for addressing complex challenges like renewable energy, world hunger, climate change, and ultimately, the design of a better world. They must also possess the compassion to recognize the rising human population and create a world that is inclusive, rather than exclusive.


Design Camp

To find a new set of solutions for our education system, let's begin by asking the generation that is most affected by the current state of education. Prototype Design Camp was created by Christian Long, a visionary educator, to introduce and infuse design thinking skills into the K-12 landscape.

Students learned collaboration rather than information consumption.

"Last February, in the middle of an historic winter storm across the US, 30 high school students from 14 different schools in Ohio trekked their ways through the snow and ice to participate in the first Prototype Design Camp. They came fully engaged in helping the world answer one of the most perplexing challenges facing them: How do I engage and navigate through this fast changing world?"?Christian Long

As described on the website, Prototype Design Camp was an "innovative three day design camp [that] brought together?students and professional mentors to collaborate in an intense design challenge to address real world problems."

The students?from public schools, private schools, and a career-technical high school?worked in groups with other students that they had never met before. Mentors worked with the groups, allowing students to learn through behavior modeling and collaboration rather than information consumption.

The results were a creative array of news networks, school designs, and student movements, but the most compelling outcome was the student experience itself. Reflections at the end of the conference from students included tremendous gratitude, a deep interest in the design process, and most importantly, a motivation to thoroughly create change.



According to the mysterious and beautiful properties of Quantum Entanglement, if you take any two objects and entangle them, you create an inseparable relationship between them. If you were to separate two entangled electrons, even sequester them at opposite sides of the universe, measuring one electron will instantaneously affect the other.

The Prototype Design Camp experience left us with the conviction that together, we can entangle design and learning and thus invent a new literal, visual, and spatial language. This language will give us the lexicon to support a radically new map and experience for learning and teaching. As we stand at the threshold decade of the third millennium, generations of world-changing minds are at stake.

[Photo courtesy of Christian Long]

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  • Love the concept here, especially since prototyping allows students to view failure as a necessary step to improving a concept or idea. Thanks for writing it!

  • Jim Thomas

    Great Article.  Collaboration as a life business lesson is best consumed early and often. @iamjimthomas

  • Chelsea of Big Earth Explorers

    The Prototype Design Camp sounds like an incredible experience and a real move to incorporate more effective learning methods into public education.  It is very true that our children are going to be faced with some tough global issues from global warming to ongoing military conflicts.  Teaching children to think outside the box is crucial to their future success but so is teaching them to work together.  I think future Prototype Design Camps should consider incorporating students from other cultures either in person or through online interactions.  The world's problems can no longer be solved by one nation.  We must work together across cultures and national borders.  

  • Gday

    I like the third teacher concept!

    I personally feel that Design Thinking has to "position" itself far more clearly within the catchall we call"problem solving". I have worked in the field for many years (both in the classroom and teaching teachers) and I have found explaining the connections/differences between logical thinking and design thinking  key to getting across a framework for creating a structured yet open atmosphere for innovation and creativity.  Some people grasp it quickly but the framework is rarely "within them" due to the dominance of inquiry models in education - they have got a clearer framework for inquiry but a model for design thinking has been vague. An old friend once said that there are probably as many ways of solving problems as there are problems, but for teachers and students to grasp the underlying concepts they need a "starter model" - they can reject it later but as an opener it helps them start building a framework for design thinking.

  • Edwin

    I really enjoyed this piece. Makes me want to start an after school design thinking club.

    Would love to get your thoughts on social networks engaging students.

  • Art Wall

    Social Networking nowadays plays a vital role in not only bringing people together to know each other better or form a personal/business connection, but it does create an avenue for people to learn together through knowledge sharing as well as work together towards the achievement of a common goal regardless of geographical location.

    This is actually one of the underlying concepts embodying the creation of Sketcher, a multi-user real-time networked art & design application, showcased @ Users can draw/sketch/design/illustrate ideas right on their computer screen (best with the use of a tablet), talk/chat with other users, see others' work progress realtime on the canvass, collaborate with others on an artwork or illustration.

    This might help give more value to your online design thinking club.

    Public rooms are available for free use. Exclusive / Private rooms are available for a small monthly/yearly fee. The Exclusive rooms give you the ability to control who to allow into the room, and outputs on the canvass (as well as the text chats) are not visible to the rest of the world. A Sketcher room can also be integrated into your website (as another option) through an API provided to you upon subscription.

    Well, hope this helps! Enjoy! ^_^

  • Greg English

    As an educator of 20+ years and a graphic designer/artist I try every day to get my students to look at my history classes from a "What if'''" direction. I don't want them to just 'know' the answer but 'why' the answer happened. As a teacher I would love to attend one of these "Prototype Design Camps". It would give me so many more things to show my students and present a world that only they can see.