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Where does Design Thinking fit in the New World Order of education coming this fall?

Updated: Jan 9

Joe Schwartz - 1/3/2021


Education as a whole is about to enter a major reality shift, this is for sure. Emerging from a global pandemic that we didn't see coming will be a cultural challenge like one we have never faced.


Consider this - when the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 hit, public access to K-12 schools was still relatively in its infancy. Placing young children into schools was not a concept until the late 1800's, because many of them began early working in their family businesses, were indentured to wealthier families or were even turned over to the churches so that they could get a better life.


It was the concept of improvement through education that allowed children to escape servitude to Industrial Age factories and sweatshops, and gave them a real shot at lives that were better than what their parents had. Many of the advances of the 20th century are due to the rapid expansion of early childhood education programs across the world.


In 1918, the majority of school-age children were not enrolled in public schools - not yet. So as we emerge in September of 2021 from the current crisis, we find ourselves at a crossroads. We have to bring the current crop of children up to speed on all they have missed by not being involved in the immersive social experience of being physically in school, while at the same time continuing our paths forward to "what's next" and where education was headed in the Spring of 2020.


Teachers were caught flat-footed by the sudden shift to online learning. From a personal viewpoint, I was in school on Friday, March 13 when we were told that we would be online starting Tuesday March 17. We had one day - March 16 - to get what we would need to move online. This meant all classes - science, math, art, reading - no matter their reliance on hands-on learning experiences, we were going virtual in an environment we were not trained to use and that for all practical purposes, was not readily available to us.


I relied heavily on my experiences as one versed in Design Thinking to "work the problem" as best as I could. I Defined my problems one at a time and worked through possible scenarios quickly to find the best option for my students. I was not always successful - and that is important, because in Design Thinking, failure is as equally important as success is, if something is learned. I found weaknesses, improved upon them and by the time classes were ready to resume in September of 2020, I believe I was more prepared for teaching virtually than I had been. My students would not get their full educational experience, that is for sure; but the drop off would not be as severe as those who had my classes in the Spring of 2020.


When you consider the failures of past educational initiatives that were forced upon teachers - Whole Language and Chicago Math come to mind - it is going to be more important to provide teachers with a framework that works for them and their students, if we are going to find a path moving forward. Design Thinking provides a flexible series of steps that allow for planning, experimentation, reflection and application; STEAM provides a framework for integration between vital curricular areas; and PBL allows teachers to demonstrate for students "why they need to learn this", as we are frequently asked by them.


DESIGN-ED has always supported these three educational initiatives - not because they are total solutions, an end-all-be-all product for education, or even a band-aid. We support them because in a 21st century global society, what teachers and students need are frameworks to scaffold learning upon - and we believe that these three, used independently or in cooperation with each other - are that framework. As a New World Order of education emerges from the ashes of the pandemic, identifying such a framework will be the single most important initiative to consider.


NEXT: What's Next for Education?

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