Design Thinking in PK-G1

In recent months, I have been developing an online course module to introduce early childhood educators to the design thinking process. Design thinking promotes problem solving and self-reflection. Early educators have long been promoters of creativity and exploration, but I have found that many are unfamiliar with the design thinking process even though the skills are part of the curriculum objectives. This course seeks to demystify the related terms, give good examples of design thinking in progress, and guide teachers in planning a cross-disciplinary design thinking unit.

Visit the online course here.

One of the theoretical foundations that grounded my design process was Universal Design for Learning. This framework focuses on making courses accessible to all learners. Supports that improve the learning experience for one learner with a disability also improve access to education for all learners. In the framework, attention is given to multiple means of representation, multiple means of engagement, and multiple means of action and expression. Throughout these units, I have taken every opportunity to give learners options. In some places this includes options to complete work online or offline, choice in the artifacts they create, a mix of articles to read or videos to watch, and options for discussions on Trello.

Because my course is asynchronous and for professional development, rather than a graded course, I wanted the assessments to be focused on self-assessment and reflection. When I started out, I focused on ways for learners to reflect and create on their own. I first thought about using a Google Doc to help learners track their progress and share it with me if they wanted additional feedback. This is the process I have used in masters courses and I appreciate the place to process my thoughts and receive feedback all in one place. However, I also wanted to create authentic opportunities for dialogue between participants. In the end, a Trello board allowed learners to reflect within a public setting and engage in conversations with others. It is my intention that these self-reflections in this forum will extend understanding as teachers share their designs and ideas.

I decided to dedicate my final unit to how to assess design thinking in the early years. I have provided learners with several examples for a variety of age groups and encouraged learners to think about what would work best in their context. As a final assessment, I have asked learners to take the assessment that they create and apply it to their own learning in this course.

One challenge was to make this course accessible to all learners. When I started out, I was adamant that this course is directed at international educators. Therefore, I wanted to ensure that my colleagues in China could access the site as well. Unfortunately, this was the hardest hurdle and without building the site on a Chinese platform, was an insurmountable challenge. Instead, I chose a platform that should work well for most educators in schools with white-listed internet connections that allow access to Google products. I also wanted to make sure it was streamlined and easy to follow. There is nothing more frustrating than having the language skills to receive information but being unable to follow cluttered or unorganized information. My advice to future course developers is to consider the needs of your audience before planning the content!

I’m thrilled to be able to share my understanding of design thinking with other early educators. If it helps even one person become more confident, I will be thrilled!

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