Students Learn to Innovate Through Design Thinking

At Jacksonville Country Day School, design thinking provides students with a tool to impact their world. Through a process of researching, observing, ideating, prototyping, and testing solutions to real-world issues, JCDS students develop analytical thinking, empathy, perseverance, and a growth mindset as they address issues in their lives. 
 
Design thinking has been brought to the forefront of educational methodology through IDEO and the d.school at Stanford University. Design thinking creates future innovators and breakthrough thinkers. It is about developing creative and collaborative processes to tackle big projects and prototyping to discover new solutions.

At Jacksonville Country Day School, students progress through five phases during the design thinking process:  
 
Empathy Research 
During this initial phase, students research, ask questions, and observe the person or group for whom they are designing. For example, JCDS 6th grade students addressed the design challenge, “How might we create recess activities for preschool students” by interviewing preschoolers and observing students while they played. 
 
Define:
Students then define the parameters of the issue based on the data they collect. In the example above, the 6th grade students learned that preschoolers had an affinity for tree climbing but could not reach the first branch. They also discovered that they enjoyed pounding to make sounds. Thus, the 6th graders narrowed down the initial design challenge into sub-questions such as: 
  • How might we help students climb trees? 
  • How could we create an outdoor music center for students?
Ideate
This pivotal phase encourages students to think outside the box. They brainstorm up to a hundred solutions and use their imaginations to dream big, take risks, and innovate. 
 
Prototype:
Prototyping is a fast process of creating low-resolution models to help students move their ideas from their minds to their hands. 
 
Test
Students receive feedback to verify their prototypes meet a user’s needs and then adjust their prototypes accordingly. For example, after 6th graders made a music table, they learned that their prototype was too tall, measured the preschoolers, and readjusted the structure. Another group created steps on a tree to help students climb but then learned the steps could not hold a younger student and made the necessary changes. 
 
The human-centered piece is probably the most profound part of design thinking. Students learn to see the world through the lens of others, developing empathy by listening, observing, and questioning. 
 
Below are additional examples of design thinking challenges JCDS students have participated in this year:
 
The 2nd graders thought about a design that might be the future of a Native American tool used in the past. Students brainstormed problems with these inventions and developed improvements for the future. They presented their prototypes to experts (like engineers) to learn how to refine their designs. After students received feedback, they revised their design and constructed high-resolution models using tools ranging from robotics to electronics. 
 
In conjunction with students’ study of space exploration, 4th grade students explored challenges astronauts experience in space. They then designed innovations to help solve these issues. As a result, students developed a robotic basketball hoop, the Space Touch Exercise Game, and Robotic Pets. 
 
Additionally, as 5th grade students study the medieval era, they will prototype impenetrable cities that can withstand a siege. 
 
The enthusiasm for learning is palpable at JCDS as students think outside of the box and innovate. At JCDS, students’ confidence in their ability to change the world is augmented after they transform problems into opportunities for tangible solutions. Our students’ creative ideas are inspirational and we look forward to sharing them with you as the year unfolds!
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Located In Jacksonville, FL, Jacksonville Country Day School is a private school for Pre-K 3 through 6th grade. JCDS prepares students for a healthy and productive lifetime of intellectual exploration, character development, and social responsibility.