Design in the EL Classroom

This summer I was fortunate enough to participate in a professional development pilot with Whole Mind Design. We learned about design thinking and potential applications in the classroom. I was especially excited to get to work on design thinking this year - it aligns so well with Expeditionary Learning and I thought that our students would really benefit from taking up design habits of mind. Throughout this year I’ll be blogging about some of the design explorations we’ll undertake at DAA!

Our first case study for first graders is underway, and students are already thinking and talking like designers! On our third day of school, students discovered a worn out community park just past our fence. Since then, we’ve embarked on a design process to plan a new park for the community! First graders learned all about things that parks have, then conducted a series of user interviews to discover what the community wants in a park.  


In pairs students drafted original designs, keeping in mind the colors and structures that the community asked for. This week we will learn how to give kind, specific feedback to enhance our designs. A design expert (one of the founders of Whole Mind Design) will be coming in to give feedback - the kids are so excited to meet and get input on their designs from an expert!

Design thinking pairs well with Expeditionary Learning for many reasons. There’s a big focus on feedback and revision, and service learning is embedded in the process. Reading and writing are integrated in almost all stages of the process, and students have to take big creative risks to put their ideas out to the group. As a teacher, it’s been so fun to see kids take up this work themselves. We recently had a twenty minute discussion on bathrooms and the best way to design them. One of my students took up the role of facilitator, and crewmates drew on past experiences, user feedback, and each other’s ideas to come up with a bathroom design idea. Here are just a few highlights of their thinking:

  • We should make the girls’ bathroom in the front and the boys’ bathroom in the back. (Reasoning: girls go to the bathroom more, so it should be closer. One time a boy walked into the girl’s bathroom by accident. We don’t want that to happen again.)
  • There should be a sign on the door and a loudspeaker that says “This is the girl’s room! This is the girl’s room!” (Reasoning: same incident)
  • Color changing locks on the door so you know when someone is using the bathroom. You don’t want to waste any play time figuring out if the stall is occupied!
  • Lots of stalls. No play time wasted!
  • An additional bathroom space for dogs.

Stay tuned for more DAA design updates!