The Nueva School is the leading pioneer in teaching design thinking and design engineering to students in grades preK-8. Nueva is currently building a new model high school that integrates design thinking as a core part of its innovative curriculum. Building on forty-five years of experience in inquiry-based projects and extensive knowledge about guiding student teams, our teachers have transformed existing curricula and invented entirely new units that utilize and enhance design-thinking skills. We share what we learn with other schools through on-site tours, our Innovative Learning Conference, presentations at national conferences, and our Design Thinking Institute for teachers.
The power of design thinking comes from practicing and gaining confidence in a variety of different types of thinking, which includes both mindsets and specific techniques that foster creative and critical thinking. For example, underlying mindsets for interviewing involve putting one's own thoughts and preferences to the side, going for depth (versus breadth), and listening with both hear and mind. Critical to this type of work and learning is developing the mental abilities to navigate from one way of thinking to another, based on a project's needs.
Design thinking and engineering are taught, applied, and explored in three strands:
- Some projects aim to take students through the entire design-thinking process. These experiences include a "Secret Service project," (kindergarten), "Cooperative Games" project (second grade), year-long Design Engineering classes, (grades 4–5), and the "Solar House Project" (grade 6).
- Integrated projects require students to use aspects of the design-thinking process as tools to solve real problems presented in homeroom or subject classes. These include STEM projects like "Electrical Switches" (second grade), "Catapults" (fifth grade), "Roller Coaster" (sixth grade), and "Cell Membranes" (eighth grade). They can also include social problem-solving activities like the "Service Learning Fair" (third grade), and the "Social Issues Project" (fifth grade), and art projects like the "Electronic Arts," and "Digital Storytelling" electives.
- Other pursuits involve independent exploration. Individual students, clubs, and teams use the school's design-thinking and engineering resources to deepen their own skills during recess, electives, and the after-school program. Projects have ranged from designing model houses to robotics competitions.
Design-thinking education benefits learning in many ways such as providing:
- Ability and confidence to delve into unknown areas, interview effectively, uncover underlying needs, test hypotheses
- Critical thinking, synthesis of information
- Empathy, deep curiosity, persistence
- Ability to question assumptions and think "outside the box"
- Understanding that collaboration can accomplish a great deal, openness to others' ideas
- Ability to remain on task, discuss differing opinions with respect, share the workload
- Brainstorming skills in writing, drawing, or three-dimensional building
- Ability to shift one's thinking to a more playful, non-judging, idea-rich mode when needed
- Openness, flexibility, ability to hold one's ideas loosely, "what-if" thinking
- Action orientation, an open attitude, experience with a wide variety of tools and materials, a can-do attitude facilitating invention of ways to create prototypes, a pioneering attitude
- A new approach to failure by viewing it as an invaluable information source rather than a personal affront
- Active seeking and thorough evaluation of user feedback, reinvention or modification of thinking and/or design based on evaluation
- Basic project-management skills: how to prioritize, sequence, and plan, how to assess progress and adjust
- Ability to take risks and create
- Empowerment, motivation, and problem-solving skills