Elementary School Projects

Design Thinking at Heatherwood Elementary Video

See how Heatherwood Elementary School in the Boulder Valley School District has integrated Design Thinking  at their school.  From offering a Design Thinking Challenge Night where students and parents worked together to apply Design Thinking practices to real life problems to having 3rd graders redesign the school cafeteria; students, parents, teachers and administrators are using Design Thinking to foster more innovation and solve the challenges their school faces. To learn more, watch their video:

Design Thinking Challenge Night from Jamie J Steele on Vimeo.

Happy Habitats


A kindergarten class researched aquatic animals and then shared them with a partner.  The partner then designed a habitat for the animal based on what they had learned about the animal’s needs.  They presented their habitats back to their partners and got feedback on how to better meet the needs of the animal and then made a final product.

Great Gifts

1st Grade

First graders were challenged with the task of designing holiday gifts for their family members.  They started by interviewing family members at home about what they like. Then they prototyped potential gifts and took them back to the family members for feedback.  After receiving feedback they created a final gift to present to their family member over the holidays.

Winter Woes

1st Grade

One first grade teacher used the design process to address the challenge of what kids should do with their coats and boots in the winter.  Before they tackled this issue, there were coats and boots everywhere and it was very challenging to get in and out of the classroom.  The students were tasked with the challenge of designing a new system for their coats and boots.  Not only did they come up with a workable solution, but by engaging in the process they started to care more about their classroom and the students started helping one another keep it cleaner as a whole.

Playground Perfection

3rd Grade

A third grade class redesigned their school playground.  They interviewed each other about what they liked and didn’t like about the playground and what they wished the playground had.  They built prototypes and shared them with the group, next the students worked with the head of their school and the campus maintenance team to make sure that their ideas were feasible.  Once they had finalized their ideas they created scale models which they presented to the rest of the lower school for feedback.  Finally, the lower school selected a few ideas to move forward with and they remodeled their actual playground (with the help of campus maintenance).

Innovative Inventions

4th Grade

Every year a fourth grade science class at an independent school in Colorado has participated in an inventions project where they create and market an invention that will fix a challenge in their own lives.  To put a fresh spin on the lesson, the teacher adjusted the project to incorporate Design Thinking and had the students create inventions for one another rather than for themselves.  The students produced prototypes of their inventions, got feedback from their “users” and refined their inventions to make a more successful product.

Ready to Read!


A librarian at a local school used Design Thinking to help solve a challenge she was facing:  how could she more effectively get students excited about the new books in the library? Students who came to her library class interviewed other students about how they chose books and what gets them excited to read.  Next, they designed and prototyped their ideas to promote a new book in the library.  Students tested their designs over a couple of weeks and made observations about which techniques were most effective to get their school mates excited about reading.

Other Design Thinking Project Topics

The sky is the limit with how you can incorporate Design Thinking into existing lessons, use it to tackle challenges, or create new projects or lessons.  Here are a few additional ideas of topics it has been applied to across a wide variety of grades.

1. Design with trash/recycling
2. Design for a location on campus

1st Grade
1. Trash and garbage awareness on campus

2nd Grade

1. Design for a more organized classroom

3rd Grade
1. Designing a turkey dinner for the family
2. Preparing the 2nd graders for their first overnight field trip

4th Grade
1. Designing a product for “mini society”

5th Grade
1. Designing a packaging system for a new business
2. Designing an electrical system for lights at an outdoor education camping experience

1. Designing a dream room for a partner

1. Design for an ecosystem
2. Outdoor sound garden
3. Creative play for pre-K


The most valuable part of working with CreatEdu was... "learning about the process and power of Design Thinking AND having the chance to practice it and apply it in our educational environment. Having [CreatEdu] available to work with small groups of teachers on specific projects was an important part of embedding the methodology."
-Middle School Principal

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.

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