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Case Study on Design Thinking

New Technology High School

A glimpse of how one school in California has adopted the technique of design thinking.

Case Study on Design ThinkingMichael Niehoff, National faculty, Buck Institute for Education-2015 and ACSA Region

IX Secondary principal of the year-2011 (Coordinator, New Technology High School)



Overview & Introduction

New Technology High School completed a school-wide Design Thinking Challenge to kick-off the new school year.

Teachers participated in a design thinking classroom re-design challenge to become familiar with the process. By actually doing the process instead of just learning it, they were able to experience all facets of design thinking. Teachers interviewed students to get their desires for a classroom, brainstormed different ideas, actually built human scale prototypes in their rooms, and then tested each other’s ideas and gave feedback.

Design Thinking Challenge

As a new start of the school year, all 415 students participated in the cross-curricular, cross-grade challenge for three days: “How might we tackle a problem that our community (global, national, or local) faces?”

We chose to keep the challenge question as wide as possible to give students the most choice in the direction that they would like to go. Teachers guided a specific theme and students chose a theme that interested them most before getting in mixed grade groups.

After getting in their theme, students went through the process of building empathy in potential users, creating a needs statement, brainstorming and ideation, generating prototypes, and testing their ideas. They went through this process multiple times over the course of 3 days.

Each theme presented their prototypes to their theme group on the third day and sent forward a representative to the school-wide presentations. All ten themes presented their top prototype idea to the entire student body. The winning group received resources and support to continue reiterating their prototype. Other groups had the opportunity to move their prototype forward only if they liked through our Access period structure. We wanted to make sure that this doesn’t just end, but focuses on building a mindset in our staff and students.

Quotes from Various Stakeholders:

“New Tech High has a foundation of wall-to-wall project-based learning to promote authentic real-world learning. We want to use the design thinking mindsets as another building block to get to deeper learning in our work. We have forever believed in the 6 A’s (Adria Steinberg) as a strong tool for examining the effectiveness of our project-based learning. Adding the design thinking process to our staff and students toolbox will just give us one more pathway to getting closer to fidelity with the 6 A’s.”

– Riley Johnson, Principal

“Design thinking is a process and mindset. New Tech High is all about human-centered design so it was a natural fit to use it to kick-off our school year. This challenge will build student agency as individuals, teams, and the whole school. It will lead to radical collaboration and a sense of mindfulness about why we do what we do.”

– Susan Miller, Assistant Principal

“As a school, we want to focus on creating a bias to action.”

– Tom Wolf, Teacher

“We hope to use design thinking as a stepping stone to deepening the already strong student culture we have. By taking all 400+ students through the process together, we hope to build a sense of shared empathy.”

– Angelene Warnock, Teacher

“As a student, it is exciting to be able to start the year different from all other schools. New Tech

High has always stood out and gone down their own path and this challenge will help us continue to do that into the future.”

– Ami Ambu, Senior

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