STEM Links to Design Learning

Creative Problem-Solving as a Pathway to Learning

A Comparative Glance into K12 Science and Engineering by way of the Design Learning Process

Creative Problem-Solving Framework: Design Learning Process

Step 1)  Explore
Frame a problem worth solving by asking good questions:

Science asks good questions to define how the natural and real world works by way of empirical (observation or experience) studies.

Engineering asks good questions to clarify problems and determine suitable criteria (evidence of success) to guide the problem-solving process within the designed world.

Design Learning asks similar questions for related reasons.

Step 2)  Describe
Develop a design learning challenge from a human-centered perspective anchored in learning targets:

Science and Engineering develop models to serve as tools as representations of ideas and ways of thinking. The models are represented in various forms such as diagrams, drawings, 3-D models, math equations, analogies, and simulations. They are used to develop questions, predictions, and explanations as they analyze and discover and measure and observe levels of viability in systems, as well as to communicate ideas. 

Design Learning also develops models (visualizations and prototypes) as representations of possible paths to solutions – however, viewed from a slightly different perspective. The problem set is transposed into a human-centered design challenge that embraces creativity with a sense of purpose; aims to discover innovative outcomes. Divergent thinking is used to make sense of observations balanced by gathering input and feedback from real-world experiences. The goal is to unpack interconnections and interrelationships of the human condition within the problem set.

Step 3)  Explain
Prepare a plan of action linked to critical question(s), linked to assessment criteria, and meaningful sources of measurement:

Scientists and Engineers primarily plan and investigate problems in the field or lab setting. As collaborators or individuals, they use systematic and mathematical approaches to clarifying data, variables, etc. Throughout the problem-solving process, scientists and engineers make decisions based on comparative analysis of data findings produced during testing cycles.

Scientists use data to identify significant findings along with potential red flags calculations and decision making - whereas engineers focus on effectiveness, efficiency, and durability and varying conditions of the design.

Design Learners use data in similar ways as scientists and engineers – seeking indicators and evidence of learning. Design learners plan and investigate problems within multiple settings, use systematic approaches to clarify data findings to make informed decisions. That said, the level of complexity of mathematical tools to be integrated are based on the purpose and constructs of the challenge – and governed by the accessibility to requisite skills and resources.

As it is so with scientists and engineers, design learners consider many alternative solutions. Early in the problem-solving process, design learners use creative brainstorming to explore a wide variety of solutions. Some ideas are nowhere near feasible much less appropriate for that matter – however, can often offer invaluable insights into innovation that otherwise would have never been discovered.

Targeted criteria are established to assess levels of impact on purpose, implementation, and resulting effects beyond the pragmatics of the design. Design learners strive to reach a sense of balance within the habits of mind on emotional, societal, cultural, and economic levels of well-being. In short, the quality of life within our pathways to home, work, learning, health, community, mobility, play, and agriculture that impact our lives in the real world.

Iterative cycles of informative feedback loops serve as checkpoints of progressions towards learning and potential impact of decision-making practices throughout the process.

Step 4)  Demonstrate
Iterate and develop forms of design solutions:

Science offers explanations of theories to make sense of phenomena that take place in the real world once deemed credible.

Engineering provides systematic solutions to problems based on scientific knowledge and mathematical models of the material world while balancing inputs such as function, viability, cost, safety, aesthetics, legal constraints, etc.

Science and Engineering based on evidence – they engage in reasoning and argument to arrive at final phenomena explanations and design solutions. Tactics such as listening and comparing are used to evaluate competing ideas and methods - based on data findings including evidence of strengths and weaknesses.

Design Learning also engages in reasoning and debate (argument) to arrive at final design solutions. Similar tactics of listening and comparing are employed as well to assess strengths and weaknesses.

Prior to these steps, preparation for final evaluation includes final adjustments to determine the best form of the design solution. Based on the human condition, to finalize the solution - design learners engage in a series of iterative visualizations, prototypes, and formative checkpoints.

Forms of design solutions include: research, product, communications, services, system, and user experience.

Step 5)  Evaluate
Assess, share, and reflect learning process and outcomes:

Scientist and Engineers strive to clearly and persuasively communicate their ideas and methods by way of critique in a professional manner. Instruments such as tables, diagrams, graphs, models, equations – along with oral, written modes of expression are expected.

Design Learners and educators employ evaluation practices akin to scientists and engineers in addition to modes such as self-assessment and reflection. Using an action research approach, “mistakes” are not only embraced – but actually treated as celebrated opportunities for improvements and lessons learned.

In addition, design learners consider new critical questions that come to mind if the challenge were to be repeated. The goal is for design learners to apply and transfer new understandings into everyday life along with other studies.

The final evaluation takes place based on criteria and the learning process.