The new Design HUB aims to provide a new forum for developing Design Thinking skills through a suite of rooms to encourage idea generation, research, presentation and prototyping. It is highly tech-enabled to give pupils a significant degree of agency in developing how and what they learn. Within these spaces, teachers are applying the principles of Design Thinking to facilitate academically rigorous ad cross-curricular projects that empower students as problem-solvers and content creators in the world.

Design Thinking approaches have the power to create the conditions for invention and experimentation by encouraging a culture in which students are free to make mistakes and learn how to think critically about the changing world around them. It’s not just what is taught, but how it is taught, that matters in schools today.

Imagine yourself as a student on the first day of school. Equipped with a haircut and new pencil case, you look around the classroom wondering what is in store for you this term. Your teacher introduces herself and says to you that in this class there is only going to be one question facing you: A natural disaster has hit your town and it is going to be up to you and a group of students to decide what type of disaster hit, how you are going to inform citizens of what has happened, and how to help prepare your town to withstand another disaster of this magnitude or higher. As you walk out of the class you think ‘Is that it?’

What the pupils don’t yet understand is that they are going to be wrestling with this question for weeks. And the teacher doesn’t expect them to know an answer, but instead create one. Through designing and evaluating solutions to authentic problems such as this, students are challenged to think divergently, work collaboratively and experiment with new ideas. Developmental psychologist Edith Ackermann argues that “learning is less about acquiring or transmitting information. . . than it is about collectively designing a world that is worth living in.”

Young people today face a future of unprecedented challenge and change, with uncertainties abounding in politics, society, economy and environment. To these challenges must be added the likelihood of tectonic change in the nature of work, not least in the way that emerging technologies will affect the nature of – and need for – many of the careers for which schools have traditionally prepared their students. Instead, a focus on creativity, collaboration, complex problem-solving, cognitive flexibility and emotional intelligence are vital in ensuring young people have the skills to adapt to changing landscapes and to leverage new technologies to bring about social and sustainable change.

One way in which schools are responding to this shift is by applying Design Thinking principles to the curriculum. Design Thinking is a user-focused approach to solving complex problems. It is a way of working that seeks to unveil the real-world applications of information by presenting scenarios and framing problems in a way that is authentic for students. This authenticity could be grounded in a community project or workplace partnership, or simply be driven by students’ individual interests and passions. Such an approach to learning aims to develop empathy, promote a bias toward action, encourage ideation and foster active problem solving. It is not a radical move away from the acquisition of content knowledge, which continues to be an important part of the learning process, but rather a shift in focus from acquiring and transmitting information towards applying such knowledge in new and meaningful ways.

Some of the world’s leading brands, such as Apple, Google, Samsung and GE, are also rapidly adopting the Design Thinking approach, and it is being taught at leading universities around the world, including Stanford, Harvard and MIT. Employing persons with a Design Thinking mindset and its corresponding dispositions can enable companies to build products and solutions more attuned with the needs of consumers. The workforces are already in search of persons with the skills to complete the tasks that cannot be automated by computers.

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