ROSWELL, Ga. — At Mountain Park Elementary, design thinking is a part of the culture. Everyone, including students and staff, are encouraged to use design thinking as an empathetic problem-solving method.
“You don’t use design thinking for every problem,” said Principal Stacy Perlman. “It’s really for when you have a big problem that you don’t know what the solution might be… It’s about seeing things from another perspective, which isn’t always easy to do. You care about your user, not your idea.”
Design thinking is a human-centered approach that begins by gaining a clear understanding of the needs of a person or group of people. From there, the problem-solver defines the issue, ideates solutions, creates a prototype and tests their solution.
Mountain Park Elementary has incorporated design thinking into its curriculum over the past five years. It’s one of a handful of Fulton County schools that use the method. Other schools include Riverwood High School, Ocee Elementary School, Woodland Elementary School and Hembree Springs Elementary School.
Most recently, a team of Mountain Park Elementary School fifth grade students won a national Bright Spark Design Thinking Competition. They were honored with the Stronger Communities Award, presented by United Way of Greater Chattanooga, for their project on homeless family housing.
The project envisioned a mixed-use community similar to Avalon that provides housing for homeless families. It also incorporated a job and skill training program for homeless families, as well as opportunities for people to try out different jobs to help them become self-sufficient. Students talked to the school’s social worker to learn about the issue and gain feedback on their solutions.
All Mountain Park students learn about the design thinking process in second grade, where they design the best day ever for a peer, and then apply the process where it makes sense, Perlman said.
For example, the third graders are currently gearing up for the annual lemonade wars, based off of the book series by the same name, where student teams compete with one another to market their lemonade stand and gain the most sales. Some of the past marketing ideas created through the design thinking process for the lemonade wars include stands where a student dressed as a lemon or played guitar.
“It teaches them about economics, profits, value-adds and marketing,” Perlman said.
The fifth graders carry out a similar project where they create and sell their own products at the end of the year through the Mustang Market.
But it’s not just the students who use design thinking. Teachers and administration regularly employ the method to solve problems at the school, such as developing better teaching programs or ways to track progress. Staff has also worked with students to solve some school issues, such as homework loads.
“As a school, design thinking is amazing,” Perlman said. “I wish I had known about it several years prior. What we tend to do is just find solutions without thinking about the problem. In education, we’re notorious for that.”
Educators will often buy and implement a new education program when scores are down, only to replace it with a new program a year or two later without digging down to find the real problem, Perlman said.
“Using design thinking has really changed our school, because we don’t just jump to a solution,” she said. “We really try to think about what might be happening and talk to people about it.”
The Mountain Park Elementary School Governance Council is currently working to create a foundation to help support school initiatives and programs like design thinking and to increase student access to technology.
For more information or to get involved, email firstname.lastname@example.org.