Why Use Design Thinking?

Design Thinking increases student engagement and achievement because students see the relevance of educational content and take ownership of their learning. Today’s job market is changing so rapidly, we no longer know what we are preparing students for.  Design Thinking teaches an approach and a process that they can apply to whatever pursuits they may choose. To read about more examples of student success in Design Thinking, visit the “Success Stories” section of this website.

Impact on School

Design Thinking increases achievement and engagement by challenging students with real world complex problems and encouraging them to take risks.  CreatEdu founder Coeylen Barry spoke about Design Thinking in schools at TEDx Denver Teachers in 2013.  See the talk here.        

What Administration is Saying

“We believe this has been the best investment we have made in professional development in recent years.” ~ Headmaster, Denver School

What Students are Saying

“This is the best science class ever!  It is fun and we are doing something that is real!”

~ 7th Grade Science Student

What Teachers are Saying

“After using Design Thinking to teach literacy my students blew the standardized test out of the water!”

~ Literacy teacher, East Palo Alto

What is Design Thinking?

Design Thinking is a practical tool for integrating 21st century skills and an innovator’s mindset into the classroom, school and workplace. It demonstrates the direct connection between content students learn in class and what the world beyond their school will ask of them. Developed at the Stanford d.school, Design Thinking is a methodology that teaches individuals new strategies to solve problems. The design process challenges students to combine empathy, ingenuity and rationality to meet user needs and create successful solutions.

How is it Different from Traditional Education?

Traditional models of education in the United States are formed around content-based standards in which teachers are responsible for transferring a specified set of knowledge and skills to their students. To prepare today’s students, we know they need much more than content knowledge. The world they will inherit will require them to think critically and creatively, collaborate, solve complex problems and be able to navigate an increasingly multi-faceted and sophisticated world.  Design Thinking methods help students to build resilience by challenging them to take risks and fail fast in a safe environment.  It encourages students to ask questions to develop a deeper understanding of complex systems.


Seventh graders saw just how relevant math and science can be when their teachers assigned a cross-disciplinary design challenge to create a better playground. Students went to the school playground to observe how it was used. They also interviewed kids about what they liked and didn’t like about the current playground. The teachers asked them to think about safety and notice where kids were bumping into one another.  Based on their observations they designed a playground that was safe and easy for kids to use.

In their math class, the students built a scale model of the playground; putting their knowledge of fractions and percentages to use.  In their science class, they applied what they were learning about simple machines by building a model of one of the structures that would be a part of the playground and were able to see the principals of machines in action!

The students were really excited to see how math and science worked in the real world and teachers reported that during the week of the design challenge they had 100% attendance.


Have you ever wondered what your favorite characters would like if they existed in the real world?  A middle school literacy coach in East Palo Alto, CA, used this question to teach her students how to infer.  Her students completed Design Challenges for the characters in the books they were reading.  This inspired the students to read more closely in order to better understand the characters.  They had to learn how to infer what the characters would like or need, based on the information provided in the text.

Before using Design Thinking the literacy coach had struggled to teach inference, but once students started designing for the characters in books they blew the inference section of standardized tests out of the water!  As a result, their reading comprehension improved 2 grade levels in just 20 weeks. To learn more about this project check out the video to the right.

Design for Learning

What's New?

School Retool & Hacktivation Nation

School Retool is a professional development fellowship for school leaders to redesign school culture, starting small with 'hacks' and moving to deeper learning and big, meaningful change.  School Retool is led by the Stanford d.school, IDEO and supported by many local partners, including CreatEdu's CEO & Founder, Coeylen Barry, and Colorado Education Initiative in Colorado. Since launching School Retool in 2015, nearly 280 school leaders from 18 School Retool regional cohorts had participated in the fellowship by spring of 2017; and they wanted more!  From this, Hacktivation Nation was born- bringing this emerging network of school leaders together for collaboration, inspiration and a deeper dive into the process. Read more about School Retool and Hacktivation Nation:

"Empowering Principals As Designers Capable of Retooling School" from Mindshift, KQED News

"Hacktivation Nation- Experimenting toward building a network of deeper learning hackers" from d.school


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Why Us?

Our team has been working in Design Thinking nationally and internationally since 2006. We have worked with a broad spectrum of educational organizations ranging from inner city public schools to high-performing charter schools, nationally recognized independent schools to international non-profits. We work with your organization to determine your specific needs and customize an approach to accomplish your goals.

Workshop in Action!


  • Design Thinking Workshops
  • Coaching: Project Support & Curriculum
  • Design & Ethnographic Research
  • Design & Redesign
  • Curriculum Development

Book Us

To learn more about partnering with the CreatEdu Team to bring Design Thinking to your school or organization, contact us at info@createdu.org