by Anne Taylor, Ph.D.

A recent series of articles in the September 2015 Harvard Business Review talked about the evolution of design thinking which is no longer solely about products, but about an approach or strategy to manage change for corporations, banks, medicine, law, education and most importantly THINKING.

Design thinking is a powerful process that facilitates thinking about problems and helps users solve these problems with a methodology that includes such skills as having a felt difficult, making a hypothesis about correcting the difficulty, gathering relevant data, testing a series of trial solutions (visual or verbal) accepting or rejecting the solution (and maybe the hypothesis), refining the solution if it needs it and making critical aesthetic judgments about the final product. This way of thinking is similar to the scientific method, but here it is intended to be a way of thinking using design.The final product can be a thing or an idea or a way of operating in any situation. This way of thinking is also interdisciplinary or integrated so that the designer is using many disciplines simultaneously to solve a problem and come up with or invent a solution that is unique.

Since the early eighties, School Zone Institute has known that integrated design thinking is a creative and productive way to teach children P/K-12 grade+ how to think for themselves and to participate in their education with hands-on applied learning skills that are both two and three dimensional. Anne Taylor, George Vlastos, architectural educators, developed a series of posters and a teacher guide book that involves students in the design process used in the architectural design studio, a model for the American classroom. The Architecture and Children Design Thinking program teaches the interrelatedness of all things in our universe. Students gain knowledge about the principles and laws that govern the built, natural and cultural environment.  It helps students discover and uncover the “absolute order in the universe”.

Through a series of design experiences, School Zone Institute helps students learn the grammar of architecture to identify and use the organizing principles of design, draw items in plan, elevation and perspective views and make models transforming their ‘thoughts into things”. Of course this thinking and imagining strategy can be applied to science, technology, engineering, art, architecture, math and even writing, (prose or poetry) dance or drama. (STEM TO STEAM) This is teaching and learning that demonstrates the interrelationship of ideas and is the way students minds operate rather than learning from factionalized subject matter areas. The mind recognizes an interrelated composite of ideas that are related through principles and laws that represent the observable order in the universe in both form and function.

The School Zone Architecture and Children program has a 40 year history of teaching design thinking to students in schools and to teachers who learn how to teach architecture and design P/K-12 and integrate design with other subjects. Several recent projects have shown intense interest by children in the design thinking process.

A similar three year project has been executed at the Eubank Fine Arts Academy in Albuquerque, NM. Starting in third grade architect volunteers, University of New Mexico architecture and honors students met with children in third grade, and ensuing years the fourth and fifth graders. In the first year, third grade students studied schematic drawing, architectural conventions, model building and built a large-scale model of the temple with caryatids after the historic temple in Athense Greece. In the second year (4th grade) students studied Chaco canyon as a way of knowing an ancient culture through their architecture and the symbolism and alignment of sun angles on the various soltices. It then became a lesson in urban planning and students designed their mystery city. In the 5th grade, architects help children know Structure and Bridge building and how body systems are like building systems.   Qualitative data is being collected and interpreted for a final report in 2016 to determine how the teaching of architecture and design thinking has affected students and teachers over a three year period.

The Eubank project is supported in part by the New Mexico Arts, a division of the department of Cultural Affairs, and by the National Endowment for the Arts.

One such project was in Clayton, New York sponsored by the Thousand Island Arts Center. In the summer of 2013 children designed their ideas of the school of the future and in summer 2014 designed and built tree houses, and in 2015 students studied structure (body systems are like building systems) and built bridges. Students used design thinking to execute some very sophisticated bridge concepts in 3-dimension.

Anne Taylor, President
School Zone Institute
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87120