What Does Design Thinking Look Like in Each Subject?

Design thinking can happen in any subject and in any classroom. However, it works best with standards or learning targets that:

  • Allow students to own the entire process
  • Have some sort of finished product that they create
  • Include an element of research, ideation (brainstorming and planning) and creativity
  • Provide an authentic audience
  • Incorporate a realistic context. In other words, you can’t do something where the context seems distant, fake, or phony.

When I taught math, for example, linear equations didn’t fit well with design thinking. While we engaged in some creative projects (like our Bad Graph project) the standards didn’t fit well with inquiry, ideation, and prototyping. By contrast, when we learned about probability, we were able to use design thinking to create marketable board games and when we studied statistics, we integrated it into a service learning project (involving Needs Assessments, budgeting, statistical research, etc.) We were able to do a project centered around budgeting and another one using proportional reasoning, volume, and surface area (creating eco-friendly homes).

every subject area

Examples in Each Subject Area

The following are some examples of classroom projects that use design thinking:

  • Reading: Book Blog, CuriosityCast (an inquiry-based podcast), note that just about every design thinking project includes reading in the research phase
  • Writing: Student Blog, Class Online Magazine, NaNoWriMo (writing a novel in a month)
  • Social Studies: Service Learning Project, Historical Documentary Project, Whiteboard Video (similar to RSA Animate), History-Themed Blogs, History-Themed Theater Production (using design thinking to build empathy with the audience)
  • Economics: Create a Product (similar to Shark Tank) Projects, Mock Entrepreneurial Teams
  • Math: Create a Board Game, inclusion of math integration into project budgeting, creating an eco-friendly home, creating a Scratch game
  • Science: Solar Energy Designs, Engineering Projects, Science Fair
  • PE: Design a Sport, Create a Fitness Campaign
  • Art: Class Art Magazine, service-oriented art projects, visual design in a Shark-Tank style project
  • Music: Music Video Projects
  • Foreign Language: Design-oriented Tutorial Partnerships (where students work with refugees to create video tutorials for aspects of American life and then learn and practice the language as a result)
  • Computers: Scratch project (designing a video game), Multimedia Composition Projects, Digital Product Cycle

These are just some of the ways that I have seen design thinking used in various subject areas at all grade levels. Because design thinking is not tied to a specific subject, you can easily find specific standards that fit within the framework.


looking-for-moreStill curious about design thinking? Here are a few more resources: