Design Thinking in 2nd Grade

There are a few different design thinking methodologies : IDEO,, FROG design, etc. Don Buckley, the Director of Innovation, brought to our school the Design Thinking methodology developed by and with aruliden, a leading NY design firm. Along with aruliden, Don facilitated the Tools At Schools design event of the year. Eighth grade students would redesign a locker, chair and desk, by first considering the problems they were going to solve for through design. This method used by engineers would prove to be a monumental achievement for our students. Backed by Bernhardt designs, they had a booth at International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) convention at the Jacob Javits Center. Top design firms present and promote their latest fare their. Design schools like RISD, Parsons and Stanford were there too. But at the end of the event, The School was awarded the the 2011 ICFF Editors Award for Design School. Fast Company wrote about us and videos of the program were featured on the site.

Why do I rehash all of this? Because at the end of the day, I need to give credit to think leaders that I have had the fortune of knowing. I feel like I can’t talk about Design Thinking without discussing this back story. I had two years of direct training in this method under Don and aruliden and I feel I can fly!

Where does this fit in with the littlest learners? Well, I am doing the same project with 2nd Grade! Students spent 8 quiet minutes surveying their environment – the classroom and the pod — and identified problems that they want to address through design! I get emotional when I think about the message we are giving them. One of the paste boards given to the 7 year olds says “Fill this space with images, words,  materials – whatever got you thinking”. This project says we value their critiques, thoughts and ideas. More importantly, we are saying they have the power to identify and solve problems and one method is through design thinking.

Last week, students walked through their pod and classroom, clipboards in hands, and identified problems. They were not allowed to talk or share information during this 8 minutes. The students were so engaged in the activity, you could hear a pin drop. Also, I explained to them that it was very important that they are identifying problems only. This was not the space for solutions. A good example of a solution instead of a problem is “I need to put on a coat”. That is the solution to “It is cold outside” and not an example of a problem. What did the students say?

“Cubbies are not large enough to hold our stuff”
“Cubbies doors hit us in the head and hurt students”
“The classroom is disorganized.”
“The materials are not stored in a way that we can know what is available to us.”
“Our chairs are uncomfortable.”

Wow! The clear messages are the cubbies, closets and chairs need to be redesigned! Six groups of 3 to 4 children, 2 teams per category, will spend the coming weeks using design thinking problems that are important to them. This is an integrated project that will include technology, art, and math.

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Next Post: Research Phase


2 responses to “Design Thinking in 2nd Grade

    • Hi Arleen,
      I apologize for the loooonnnggg delay in my responding. I had a difficult pregnancy that kept me out of the loop for a long time… Plus I am realizing I need to check out my settings because I am not getting any alerts when people comment.

      A lot of the worksheets I use can be found at Click on the design thinking templates link. Let me know if I can be of more help.


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