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Thinking Skills Standards Project Learning Program Overview

Essential Questions:

  1. Can the design process be used in all disciplines to enhance the learning process?

  2. Can thinking skills be made visible in doing a design process?


Elements of the Engineering Design process:

Printable version:





Story Mapping

Brain Writing

Discussion of Pro/Con

Gallery Sketches


Morphological Analysis



Problem Framing





Brain Storming

Decision Matrix


Scamper ...checklist of idea-spurring questions   Mathematics



What is Design Thinking?

The principles of Design Thinking include several essential elements that integrate project-based, experiential learning into any existing curriculum.

  • Observation Learning to look through the eyes of a designer (Engineering Lens)
  • Research Using objects, primary source documents, maps and other materials
  • Creative Solutions Through the process of making something- a model, an object or a poster
  • Presentation and Reflection Includes a verbal presentation by the designers followed by analysis and evaluation which helps to improve the design

Adapted from Cooper-Hewitt

Design Process as defined in the Science Framework, Strand 4.

But what’s missing?

Cyclical nature of the process.

Fundamentally a learning process that uses thinking skills. In fact, it is a higher order thinking skill.

The Engineering design process touches most learning disciplines.

Doesn’t simplify for younger students



Another view of the design process

The design process is a series of questions. We generate many ideas with "Generative Design" questions and then make our selection with a series of "Deep Reasoning' questions  It's the  divergent and convergent process.


created by Mark Somerville ... Olin College

On the left side, we see the divergent and convergent thinking happening as many ideas are created and the reduced base on what will work and meet the  needs.

This is creative and critical thinking.

On the right side we see the iterative nature of the process as things are tried, found to need a change and then repeated until it is correct.

A problem is nothing more than an opportunity in work clothes. A successful business person pays attention to problems, converting the problems into opportunities and deciding which  opportunities are worth pursuing. 

Thinkertoys, Michael Michalko p22


 'We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as in insoluble problems. John W Gardner



created by Mark Somerville ... Olin College

As an example: Our problem or design challenge is to find a way to keep the coffee from getting cold.

In stories, we find many design challenges the characters have. The students need to follow this process to design a solution for that interesting design challenge.

The core of the engineering design process:

  Identify the problem

Generate possible answers

  Select a solution



Formalize what the design has to accomplish

Function, interaction, character

“The design should…”

Specify the need, not the solution:

Good: “provide space for a family of six to eat together”

Bad: “include a dining table in the middle of the room.”


It is with the requirements of the design that the teacher can focus the design in a certain direction. As an example, with the story of the 3 pigs and the wolf, you can set the requirements that they live on an earthquake fault line and need to have their house design take that into consideration.

The Bird exercise:  A way to expand your thinking using attributes.


How many different kinds of birds can you identify?


See write-up


Generative Thinking Tools


Morphological Analysis  ( Tool to help create more ideas by using relationships to associate parameters.)


About Brainstorming  ( group tool to develop many ideas.)


Brain-writing  ( Creating ideas individually.)


Shaping Ideas  ( Way to sort ideas based from " Wild thoughts" to the "Status quo".)


Da Vinci Technique

General Morphological analysis (MA) was developed by Fritz Zwicky - the Swiss-American astrophysicist and aerospace scientist based at the California Institute of Technology  (CalTech) -

Brainstorming developed by A.F. Osborne, 1941

Brainwriting ... "Thinkertoys" by Michael Michalko p 216

Convergent thinking tools ( Deep Reasoning )

Pugh Matrix  (Method to help make a decision on which of many solutions would be better than a one in existence. )

Affinity Diagrams  (Method to sort many ideas into groups based on your criteria.)

Decision Matrix ( Method to help decide on which items best meets your needs.)

Templates & Examples:  

Scamper (PDF)

Scamper is a checklist of idea-spurring questions. To use SCAMPER:
Ask SCAMPER questions about each step of the challenge to see what new ideas emerge.

Another Brain Storming process (word document)

This is created by the IDEO corporation.  A design company that helps industry improve their internal design methods.

Six-trait Snowflake Model of Creativity (PDF)

This model of creativity was developed by Professor David Perkins

Finding design challenges (PDF) An example that shows taking a set of design challenges from Charlotte's Web and seeing the relationship to science for a particular challenge.
Creative Problem Solving (PDF)

Although creative problem solving has been around as long as humans have been thinking creatively and solving problems, it was first formalised as a process by Alex Osborn, who invented traditional brainstorming, and Sidney Parnes. Their Creative Problem Solving Process (CPSP) has been taught at the International Center for Studies in Creativity at
Buffalo College in Buffalo, New York since the 1950s.


Thinkertoys by Michael Michalko
BrainStorming Toolkit PDF (800K)  document by MindTools
The Eureka effect by David Perkins



  Prepared by  Bill Wolfson.  Copyright © 2010-2011
Last Updated 09/12/2011