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The power of creation

I often ask teachers “What is the last thing your students have made in your classroom”? A lot of the times the answer is “a test”. Then I rephrase my question to: “What is the last thing that your students have created in your classroom?” The most common response to this question is silence. Some teacher do respond with a passionate story about a project that they’ve organized in their classroom, having students building all kinds of cool things. Mostly ending their story with a deep sigh, saying: “I should do this kind of stuff more” or “never again”.

What is it that we let “creating” in the hands of crafts- and arts teachers, music teachers and engineering teachers? Is it our own uncertainty? Is it the mess that comes from all the materials being used? Or is it just the way we are programmed as a teacher? We all know that applying new knowledge makes this new knowledge stick. Creating something new using this new knowledge will also give meaning to this newly gained knowledge and make students eager to learn even more about a certain subject, when it will benefit their prototype.

The Design Thinking process is a great way to let your students create something meaningful in your classroom. By going through the five steps of Design Thinking the students will create things that they and you could have never imagined.

The first step of the Design Thinking process is empathizing. During this phase the students will dive into a certain subject or a certain target group. For example: you want your students to bake the most delicious cake in the world. During the empathize phase the students will have to explore: What is a cake? How do you bake it? And what is being considered the most delicious cake in the world by the people who will be eating this cake? How do I create this? The students will have to try to find answers to all these questions. Once they have found it, they can go to the second phase: Define.

In this second phase the students will define their plan. What is (according to their research) the most delicious cake in the world, and how can they create it? You can let your students present this to you in several ways: Through a presentation, a video or in other ways.

After the define phase the students will be confronted with the “Ideate” phase. In this phase the students will get feedback on their plans and they will adjust their plans to this feedback. Making their most delicious cake even better!

And then we get to the actual creating part: the prototype phase. During this phase students can start building a prototype. They don’t really have to make the actual cake, they can also build a prototype using cardboard, crayons and other crafting gear. This is mainly recommended when they students phase a challenge that is way beyond their building capacities, like building a new skyscraper. But in this case, you can also ask the students to actually bake the cake.  

And then it’s time for the fifth phase: Testing. In this phase the students will show their prototype to their target group. Letting them taste the cake and give feedback. This last phase should be a phase of celebration: the students have fulfilled their challenge and are presenting it to the world.

The beauty of this Design thinking process is that it’s iteratively: it can be done over and over again. Based on the feedback during the testing phase the students can make adjustments to their cake, bringing it to perfection!

A good Design Thinking cycle is based on a good challenge that you give the students. A challenge that lays in their ability, but also challenges them to look further than they are being used to.

So what are your waiting for? Turn your students from consuming reproducers into active knowledge creators!

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