Today was my last MYP Technology lesson with the Grade 7 students. As this year I've moved away from information technology towards design technology with our Grade 7s, I have been thinking quite a bit about design recently.
I read a blog post by Kelly Tenkely today where she discusses the link between critical thinking and design thinking. Kelly says:
I believe that we are losing students as critical thinkers because in our current model of education, where we are standardizing education with tests, we teach kids that there is one correct answer to every question. We limit their thinking to what we have already determined is an acceptable answer to the question. This is extremely limiting. Critical thinking means that we aren’t satisfied with the easy answer, we think about multiple solutions to the problem and even think of additional questions. We approach a problem differently, more creatively.
Kelly uses Tim Brown's TED Talk to explore the links and similarities between design thinking and critical thinking. Tim talks about the differences between design and design thinking and urges us to focus less on the object of the design and more on applying design thinking as a new way of tackling problems and creating new solutions to issues such as global warming, health care, clean water and so on. Design thinking is human centred and involves participation and the active engagement of the people involved to explore new solutions and ideas to make their experience better.
This week I've also been reading Daniel Pink's A Whole New Mind. I'm right at the part where Dan is explaining that today, in what he terms the Conceptual Age, we need to develop more right-brain aptitudes - one of which is design. Although Dan is more focused on the design, rather than the design thinking, he does quote from John Heskett when explaining that design is "the human nature to shape and make our environment in ways without precedent in nature, to serve our needs and give meaning to our lives." He talks about design being both useful and significant and about how design is a means of differentiation and a way to create new markets. For example almost every week we get flyers in our mailbox from a discount store advertising mobile phones and other similar devices. Most of them are very similar in what they can actually do (make calls, send messages etc) and most are a fairly similar price too - therefore the only thing that really distinguishes one from the other is design. And even though people may choose their phone because of the design, they continue to spend more money on other nonfuctional but decorative items such as ring tones and faceplates. Another example about creating a new market is that 6 months ago the iPad did not exist - nobody thought they needed one or were missing out if they didn't have one - but now there is a whole new market for iPads - they are seen as useful and beautiful and a way of getting a different experience out of, for instance, browsing the internet or reading a novel.
Later on in the chapter, Dan talks about design as being the "activity of creating solutions", which seems more in line with the design thinking mentioned earlier. For our students, design will continue to be increasingly important in their future as "to be a designer is to be an agent of change".
This brings me full circle: our students need to develop their creativity and critical thinking and need to be able to come up with many answers and solutions to the problems we pose them. I have now had 6 groups of Grade 7 students on Friday afternoons who have designed and flown their own kites. Some kites have been big, some have been small, some have been traditional kite shapes, some have been very odd shapes indeed, but all of the students who have created these kites have had to think in a very different way than they do in most lessons as there are no "right" answers, and what they have seen is that there are many different ways to make a kite, many different materials that work well and many different shapes that will fly. Above all they have learnt to be risk-takers, to try things out, to see what works and doesn't work, to modify their designs in the light of these early experiments and to keep on trying when the going gets tough. These lessons, I think, are the ones that will endure.