Think of a problem that needs solving. It could be big or it could be small–world hunger or how to lace your shoes for more efficient tying. All problems large and small require thoughtful solutions, and thoughtful solutions require learning how to think in a unique and strategic way.

How do you define the problem, come up with ideas on how to solve it, design a solution, and build an outcome? You pretend you are a fourth grader at The Lexington School .

Design Thinking is a strategy used by creatives, inventors, business executives, and professionals who are solution-driven and future forward. It “is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO.

Inspired by their work at the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI), 4th grade Math teacher Emily Eichenbaum and lower school Imagine This teacher Tyler Pace brought a “Build a Better World” Design Thinking Challenge to the 4th grade team. Math class initiated, it didn’t take long for all 4th grade disciplines to add to the process with discussions and research in Science and writing and reflection in Language Arts.

With a goal of making the world around us a better place, 4th graders learned solution-based design thinking as they participated in the actual process. The challenge lasted a single interdisciplinary day. In small groups, 4th graders worked the 5 steps of Design Thinking (Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test). 4th grade teachers facilitated with questions and resources, and by day’s end, hypothetical solutions were in place: solar-powered homes for the homeless, food machines for the hungry, pharmaceutical dispensary robots for cancer patients and more.

For these 4th graders, hypotheticals work just fine.  For now, 4th graders learned through collaborative participation in the process, built their solutions, and became experts.

This is now. In 15 years their solutions will be more than hypotheticals. These kids will be making a real difference. Just watch the video and you will see.

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