What is Design Thinking? A Handy Guide for Teachers

In this post, Mandi Dimitriadis, Director of Learning at Makers Empire, will help you understand more about Design Thinking. You’ll get to know what Design Thinking is, why Design Thinking is important, the phases of the Design Thinking process and how you might teach your students how to use Design Thinking to reframe problems and needs as actionable statements.

Designers use particular ways of thinking to create innovative new products and design solutions to challenging problems. As educators, we can learn a lot from the way designers think.

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is:

  • A solutions-based approach to solving problems.
  • An iterative, non-linear process.
  • A way of thinking and working.
  • Supported by a collection of strategies and methods.

Design Thinking asks us to:

  1. Develop empathy and understand the needs of the people we are designing solutions for.
  2. Define problems and opportunities for designing solutions.
  3. Generate and visualise creative ideas.
  4. Develop prototypes.
  5. Test solutions and seek feedback.

Why is Design Thinking Important?

You might be wondering why your elementary, primary and middle school students need Design Thinking skills?

Consider the rapidly changing world we live in. To thrive in the future students will need to be adaptable and flexible. They will need to be prepared to face situations that they have never seen before.

Design Thinking is one of the best tools we can give our students to ensure they:

  • Have creative confidence in their abilities to adapt and respond to new challenges.
  • Are able to identify and develop innovative, creative solutions to problems they and others encounter.
  • Develop as optimistic, empathetic and active members of society who can contribute to solving the complex challenges the world faces into the future.

How can We teach Design Thinking?

So what does Design Thinking look like in action? Watch this awesome video made by Forbes Schools in Australia showing how first grade students used Design Thinking to solve a common classroom problem.

How did the students in the video use Design Thinking?

In the video, we saw our first graders:

  • Developing and agreeing on criteria for their designs.
  • Selecting tools and materials – in this case, Makers Empire and 3D printing.
  • Supporting each other to learn how to use the new tools.
  • Producing a working prototype.

The testing process for our first graders involved:

  1. Giving each other feedback
  2. Assessing their designs against the previous agreed criteria
  3. Making modifications and improvements to their designs
  4. Testing their designs in the context they would be used.
  5. Reflecting on their problem-solving processes and learning outcomes.

How will you teach Design Thinking?

Now it’s your turn. Think about projects you can do with your own students that will help enhance and deepen their learning. How might you support your students to:

  1. Develop empathy, insights and understandings.
  2. Define a problem as an actionable question.
  3. Generate and visualise ideas.
  4. Develop prototypes; and
  5. Evaluate and test their designed solutions.

Happy teaching and remember to download our free Design Thinking cycle poster for your classroom.


Mandi Dimitriadis, DipT. is a highly respected educator and speaker who works internationally with elementary, primary and middle schools to help teachers develop Design Thinking, embrace maker pedagogy and cover Design & Technology Curriculum. She is an experienced classroom teacher who recognises the power of technology to enhance teaching and improve educational outcomes. Mandi has extensive experience with curriculum development and learning, having previously developed programs for the Australian Government’s Department of Education.

Makers Empire’s complete solutions for schools contain everything you need to teach Design Thinking, STEM and 21st-century learning skills with 3D design and 3D printing. Our pioneering 3D solutions for schools include 3D modelling software, over 150 lesson plans aligned with international standards and professional development. With Makers Empire, engaged students learn how to solve real-world problems and make their world better.

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