5 eye-opening lessons from teaching Design Thinking to Grade 5+ students

A student’s workbook overflowing with ideas

Recently, I conducted a 3-day Design Thinking workshop for a group of school students from grades 5–8 at Global City International School, Bangalore based on IDEAco’s City X Project. I gave the kids real life social problems which they had to solve by creating inventions that could be 3D printed. Following are some golden lessons that I learnt from these kids.

1. Ignorance is bliss

Kids don’t know much and that is a good thing. They don’t know how things work or how they are supposed to work. They just know what they want from what they are creating. This focus on the end goal is what every innovator strives for but gets often gets stuck in the intricate details of the HOW. Kids can easily think outside the box because they don’t know where the box is.

Troofy by Kripa

For example, meet Troofy by Kripa — a traffic light robot on four wheels that moves around the city controlling traffic wherever needed. Troofy can save huge infrastructure costs and time to build, install and maintain traffic lights.

2. Co-creation is the best form of feedback

I asked the kids to get some feedback for each iteration of their prototype from their peers who will be acting as consumers. The kids swiftly switched into the role of a consumer but unlike adults who would quickly jump to find flaws in the inventions, the kids started helping each other to make their inventions better. This was the purest form of co-creation I have ever witnessed.

Students helping each other with their inventions

3. Complicated problems need simple solutions

We struggle to find the right solutions to real life problems because we have overloaded our brains over the years with complicated processes, frameworks and philosophies. Kids, on the other hand, see a problem in its true essence and context to find a simple and obvious solution that would have never occurred to us.

Fantastic Floats by Kaira

These are Fantastic Floats by Kaira. They are simply shoes that can float on water with paddles to navigate. It is an affordable solution for solo water transportation and a cool idea for aquatic adventure sports.

4. Knowledge has no qualifying age

One thing that I was super scared about was teaching 3D modelling to mere 5th graders. I had learnt to build CAD models in my first year of engineering college and half of my class had struggled to barely pass. That was a full year course. Here, I just had 3 hours on the last of day of my workshop to get these kids to turn their rickety Play-Doh prototypes into ready-to-print 3D models. To my surprise, these kids didn’t just catch up on the process, THEY NAILED IT! Some 5th graders created fairly complex designs and with some adjustments, they were ready to be 3D printed. You can find some of those designs below.

Garbage operated electric generator by Shivaditya
365 days non-stop battery powered bulb by Kushal
That is me helping students create 3D models of their inventions

5. If you can’t have fun, you can’t innovate

These kids had a lot of fun creating their inventions. From Play-Doh swordfights to a banana to feed the world, they had all sorts of crazy ideas to amuse themselves. To a teacher, it would be another undisciplined class that is not serious about doing its work. However, having fun was what led them to creative ideas to solve real problems.

CityX transport system by Shriraj

For example, this is a hyperloop-like, tube-based and magnetically driven superfast intercity transport system created by Shriraj — one of the naughtiest 5th graders I have ever met.

These kids look tiny but given the right opportunity and ecosystem, their creative minds can trump the biggest of innovators. This workshop was just a single step in that direction.

Zorro Jr. is coming for you!!!

Sr. Product Manager at Clipboard Health, No-code Instructor at Bubble, Intercultural Trainer, Geek Blood

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