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Adopting design thinking into transdisciplinary themes

As an information and communications technology (ICT) coordinator, I feel that there is a dire need for students to adapt to this ever-changing dynamic world and adopt a creative thinking process in their daily lives. By integrating technology with problem-solving in a curious and innovative manner, students have been observed to develop skills and dispositions like empathy, resilience, and collaboration.

Together with our Primary Years Programme (PYP) coordinator and form tutors, we planned the ICT curriculum with the intention of combining elements of design thinking with transdisciplinary learning. Students of PYP 5 were told about simple machines, their various types and their usage in our daily lives. During their work on the unit “Machines transform energy and can make our lives simpler”, they were asked to use the design thinking process to identify objects that employ simple machines in them.


Students were asked to identify a real-life problem at home (during online classes) for which a solution can be designed with the usage of simple machines, e.g., lack of space on their table, missing stationery and scattered toys due to lack of space. They were encouraged to discuss the problem with their parents in detail so that they could get broader insights into the problem while keeping their own assumptions aside so they could ‘empathize’ with the needs.


The observations from the empathy phase were overwhelming. Students attempted to identify the probable causes of the chosen problem and outlined `How Might We’(HMW) questions for design opportunities to take forward into the ideate phase.


This phase is about generating lots of ideas with a mindset of “There are no bad ideas”. Students collaborate during this process to brainstorm ideas with each other to build a solution. Finally, they selected an idea or combination of ideas which they felt were feasible and could be taken forward into the prototype phase.


During ICT classes, students learnt about Tinkercad, a tool for tinkering 3D models. They researched existing products and compared it with the problem and solution they had in their mind. Finally, they made digital 3D prototypes and cardboard models.


Students tested their models to understand the workability of the complete product. This is the final stage and an iterative process. Alteration and refinement were made based on the user’s feedback on the final product.

The nonlinear process of design thinking helped students to go back and forth to understand the final design that could cater to their need. The entire process was filled with inquisitiveness and excitement which helped them to spark their metacognition memory and to develop their research and thinking skills.

Similar design-thinking process of the 5 steps was followed for the below units with an intention of bringing human-centered approach:

The design of buildings and structures is dependent upon the environment and available material, students decided to build solutions using sustainable architecture for their third line of inquiry – our responsibility to build sustainable architecture. They did extensive research on the factors that impact the environment while building a complete 3D model. They understood the importance of sustainable practices, like use of solar panels for renewal energy, glass windows, cool roof, water harvesting system etc. They learnt Sketchup during ICT classes for ideation to give life to their imagination. Students rendered beautiful 3D models which gave them insight about designing, architecture and interiors. Some students were so fascinated that they are contemplating architecture as a career, while some developed keen interest for interior design.

Finding peaceful solutions to conflict leads to a better quality of human life, students were briefed on the types and causes of conflicts. To delve deeper into design cycle, students were asked to identify conflict resolution and management. They observed and discussed the behavior and reasons that triggers conflict among children like sharing of stationery or difference of opinion. As a solution, they offered to resolve the matter with the help of their teacher, parents, and counsellor’s tips on how to ignore and cool down when they are angry.

To be able to thrive in a post pandemic reality, students and teachers are keenly adopting design thinking into transdisciplinary themes as we all realize that skills such as problem-solving, creativity and critical thinking are going to shape the future and be increasingly in demand. Embracing the process of design cycle approach from a young age would enhance meta consciousness and instill positive attitudes towards life.

Encourage your students to think, observe and experiment, test, re-design and reflect and, as a by-product, celebrate their innovations.

Shweta Agarwal is a PYP ICT Coordinator at DPS International, India. She has five years IB experience in her seven years of teaching. She enjoys implementing innovative new tools in the classroom. Outside of the classroom, she has completed a course by Harvard in Maker-Centered Learning, where she looked at the role of tinkering, making, hands-on thinking and learning by doing.