Design Thinking

Urban Montessori Charter School defines design thinking as the ability to use a systematic process to understand people and situations, define problems, and come up with innovative solutions. 

"Design Challenges" are integrated learning projects in which students go through the steps of the design thinking process. These can be short, designed to introduce all phases of the process quickly, or long, to allow for in-depth investigation into the curriculum components. 

At Urban Montessori Charter School, teachers utilize design thinking principles and processes in order to enable students to build creative confidence and enact positive change in the world.

Students engage in hands-on projects that focus on building empathy, promoting a bias toward action, encouraging ideation and fostering active problem solving. Using one’s imagination is central in this process as is building competency in learning-to-learn skills such as working in groups, following a process, defining problems and creating solutions.

Phases of the Design Process

Understanding and Research

The first phase of the design thinking process is to understand the problem. During this phase, children immerse themselves in learning about issues related to the Design Challenge. They access a wide array of resources, research and dive deep into the content and context of the challenge.  One must be aware of what is already out in the world in order to know whether one’s ideas are innovative or not.


Children observe users as they interact with objects or other people as a key part of the design process. Designers use these observations to drive question generation and interviews and practice active listening and curiosity. They collect notes, sketches, photographs, videos, and artifacts to help with later analysis and synthesis of needs.


Children reflect on what they learned in the understanding and observation phases and synthesize the needs of users. Then, they make inferences about the meaning that underlies those needs. Designers develop a point of view based on a specific user that helps establish parameters for the active design work. Building insight through synthesis is a key driver of the design process.


Children generate large numbers of ideas fluidly using brainstorming rules and other techniques. In a supportive classroom environment, children are challenged to become silly, savvy risk takers, wishful thinkers and dreamers of the impossible…and the possible. They work on their Design Challenges open to unexpected ideas and new possibilities as a team where everyone contributes, defers judgment and builds on others’ ideas. Collaboration, while a part of the entire design process, is emphasized here.

Prototyping and Testing

Children create prototypes — two- or three-dimensional low-resolution representations — of ideas that have been generated. Many children build to think as new and different ideas are inspired with materials in hand. Building skills are also taught so that prototyping can proceed from low-resolution to higher resolution as children advance. Via prototyping, children learn to convey ideas quickly. Every prototype is created with the purpose to learn something specific by testing it, often with users. Through testing designers learn what works and what doesn’t and then iterate. This means going back to their prototypes and modifying them based on observations of users interacting with their prototypes and user feedback.

Presentations and Implementation

Children understand that sharing is an integral part of the design thinking process as it allows for everyone to learn from each other’s work. Developing focused and coherent presentations that convey their perspectives with solid reasoning may be included in the process. Acquisition of multi-media presentations skills will be developed so that children use the selected media skillfully, editing appropriately and monitoring for quality. Where appropriate children work with community partners to implement design projects.