Design Thinking for Educators at Harbor Day School

Last week, I facilitated a half-day workshop on design thinking with the faculty at Harbor Day School. Nestled in a quaint residential area of Corona Del Mar, California, the school serves children from kindergarten through 8th grade. The group of educators that gathered was enthusiastic, curious and ready to engage in creative work.

We started off the morning learning about the design thinking process as classically defined by Stanford’s and the team at IDEO. I shared a couple of examples of applied design thinking in the classroom; the magnetic marble wall project and City X. We talked about the inevitable connection between design thinking and making, and how technologies like 3D printing integrate well with this type of learning environment.

After the overview, we used the Extraordinaires Design Studio to dive into empathy, albeit with a fictional character. I enjoy using the Extraordinaires game with students and equally so with adults. It is instantly engaging and creative, promotes collaboration, and values individual interpretation and expression.


Participants work in groups to build an object; a building, piece of clothing, gadget, invention or vehicle. Objects are chosen randomly and matched with a random character. The character cards in the Extraordinaires represent fictional people. With no wording provided, participants must interpret their character’s needs, special gifts, unique nature, and design the object accordingly.

After an initial sketch and discussion between members of the group, the build-out begins. Some teams built a single object, while others decided to pair off and work on their own designs. As part of the materials list this day, the school provided batteries, copper tape, and LEDs, which resulted in some awesome designs.

I am constantly amazed at what groups can do in such short periods of time to design and build these incredible objects. And more importantly, they can describe the specific ways in which the object meets the needs of the Extraordinaire. Below are a few photos from the day.

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