Introducing Little People to Big Ideas
Creating an Elementary Curriculum to Encourage Design Thinking
Sometimes, even no-nonsense businesspeople have to follow their hearts, and take on projects not for the money — but rather, because they see a huge opening to do a good deed. To that end, principals Beth Singer and Howard Smith have been busy developing design-thinking curriculumfor elementary age kids…teaching them 21st century protocols for solving problems and creating a fertile environment for innovation. “We’re coaching them to use the right and the left sides of the brains in the same progression. And we believe it’s not a moment too soon, because we are leaving these kids with uber challenges to confront in their lifetimes,” says Beth.
It started when Beth and Howard’s child, Lee, was in first grade in Arlington County Public Schools. They recognized a gaping hole in the arts program: using the arts, and specifically design, as a protocol for solving problems. Beth explains, “Apple and 3M were companies on the brink of failure, but using design thinking, they adopted an innovative corporate culture that achieved amazing records of success.”
Learning how to think like a designer
Design thinking is a way to take the fundamental processes used by design disciplines — observation, brainstorming, rapid proto-typing, refinement, and testing — and apply them on a broader level to solve all sorts of problems. Practicing design thinking is not only a way to accomplish a specific creative task, but actually to learn how to produce breakthrough thinking.
The lessons take 1.5 hours and involve a hands-on creative experience and a brief overview of the lesson’s concept. “First graders on up to 5th graders are learning how to re-invent packaging, understand the importance of good signage, communicating more powerfully with words and pictures, the fundamentals of good typography, and the origin and importance of symbols in ours and other cultures,” explains Howard. “Because design thinking crosses subjects, our students connect the dots in a more meaningful way between social studies, English, math, science — and design.”
To date, Beth and Howard have developed over 25 pieces of curriculum and have delivered them in over 80 sessions.
“For example: one of the lessons is inspired by a 5th grade unit on medieval history: It begins with a visual discussion of medieval coats of arms, and explores why they were used. Then we make connections with modern football and police uniforms, how logos are used in branding, and we even connect to the importance of legible typefaces on highway signs.”
The activity calls for kids to create their own family herald — complete with elements signifying personal things about themselves and their family. Throughout the activity, Beth and Howard encourage students to think critically, brainstorm, research, and refine their ideas — some of the key steps in design thinking.
“Our planet needs all the inventive and original thinkers we can produce in order to address huge challenges — from climate change to poverty, from transportation to food waste. If we can get kids to feel comfortable leaning hard on their imaginations and looking at ‘what is’ in new ways, then I believe our beautiful, if imperfect, world has a brighter future,” muses Beth.
Want to take Design Thinking for Kids to your school or religious institution? Email us and we’ll set up a date.
“Beth and Howard introduced the students to new ideas and thought processes that allowed them to engage in creative and different ways. The process was highly valuable and the project work was extremely engaging. The students could not believe how quickly the time elapsed and most wanted the opportunity to keep working.”
— Amy Friedman, Lead Teacher, First Grade, Temple Rodef Shalom Religious School
“The classes were really fun and honestly, I myself have learned from the kids too. Their imagination and creativity are very impressive. Thank you for doing such a great program!”
—Khan Pham, Volunteer, Professional Designer
What we’ve done…
Developed curriculum for elementary age kids in public, private and religious schools that uses design thinking to enhance existing educational content, foster innovation and out-of-the-box problem solving
Produced over 25 curriculum segments that uses a 1.5-hour-experience lead by Beth and Howard and augmented by professional design volunteers
What happened was…
Delivered over 80 lessons in the past 10 years
Receive ongoing and regular calls from schools inviting us to teach one of our lessons
Attract a plethora of professional design volunteers, resulting in a “volunteer experience” which includes training and networking for volunteers