Design Challenge Reflections: How Did We Do?

Andrea Kornowski is a Personalized and Digital Learning Integrator, Lead Teacher of Personalized Learning, Science Pirate and Google Education Trainer. Read more from Andrea at!


Looking back to the design thinking process and our first experiences with it in AP Environmental Science, I came across a few big takeaways around certain stages of the process.

Habits of Mind

Habits of Mind
View the 16 Habits of Mind

One of the beautiful things about the design thinking process is that each of the cycles coincides greatly with each of Al Costa and Bena Kallick‘s identified Habits of Mind.

While students did have some opportunity to reflect on certain habits within their final reflection piece, in the future I would give more time throughout the process to have students reflect on them during each step of the design process. This might even turn into a discussion. I could even allow students self-select 2 or 3 habits and speak to how they have demonstrated them throughout the design process.

There is so much more value in teaching and focusing on the habits through the context of problem solving, rather than than teaching them as a stand alone lesson.

Incorporated Habits of Mind During Ideation

  • No. 4 Thinking Flexibly
  • No. 10 Gathering data through all senses
  • No. 11 Creating, imagining and innovating
  • No. 15 Thinking interdependently

Incorporated Habits of Mind Developing a Prototype

  • No. 4. Thinking flexibly
  • No. 5. Thinking about your thinking
  • No. 13. Taking responsible risks


Incorporated Habits of Mind

  • No. 3 Listening with understanding and empathy
  • No. 5 Thinking about your thinking
  • No. 7 Questioning and problem posing
  • No. 8 Applying past knowledge to new situations

I think it worked out really well that all groups had the same problem to start with. Each group brought a different perspective and set of background information to the problem, and I felt that overall for the first round of the process that it was nice to have everyone on the same problem.

What we found was that even though each group had the same problem, they took a very different approach to how they were going to solve it.


Incorporated Habits of Mind

  • No. 3 Listening with understanding and empathy
  • No. 5 Thinking about your thinking
  • No. 7 Questioning and problem posing
  • No. 8 Applying past knowledge to new situations

While not intentional, something really great came out of this part of the design process and I didn’t discover it until the end.  Asking students to solve a problem in the context of their own community allowed them to be more comfortable and creative with their solutions and it meant that they didn’t have to go out and do much research around who they were designing for.

For the first time through the cycle, I thought this was helpful. If we had more time, students could have gone out into the community and surveyed residents. If students had chosen problems outside of our area, empathy would have looked very different. I would have encouraged them to research how people felt within the area possibly looking for YouTube Videos.

It also would have been great to have students connect with people from that area by reaching out to teachers of schools to find connections.  This is an area where it may have been powerful to leverage the impact of social media.


Incorporated Habits of Mind

  • No. 1 Persisting
  • No. 4 Thinking flexibly
  • No. 5 Thinking about your thinking
  • No. 6 Striving for accuracy
  • No. 14 Finding humor
  • No. 16 Remaining open to continuous learning

If we would have had more time I would have liked students to have collected feedback from other groups, as well as from other adults in the building.  In the future I might consider inviting guests that would include but would not be limited to other teachers, administration, and even some of our support staff in the school.  This would help to leverage the impact of audience.


Incorporated Habits of Mind

  • No. 3 Listening with understanding and empathy
  • No. 7 Questioning and problem posing
  • No. 9 Thinking & communicating with clarity and precision
  • No. 12 Responding with wonderment and awe

If we had the time to run through various iterations of the cycle with this project, I would have liked the opportunity to bring parents and community members in to see student’s projects.

Students might also have been responsible for creating a presentation that emphasized each of the principles of the design process to talk through how they solved this problem and share the written pieces that talked about their elements of sustainability as a way to assess their communication skills within an authentic audience.


In the future I would like to offer students the opportunity to solve a problem in their own community that they’ve identified, while also providing them time to put into place some sort of action. I imagine this as something that takes more than just a few weeks and spans the entire length of the course where students are provided the opportunity to set goals and are given time to work on specific areas within the project.

We ended up running through two cycles of the design thinking process with two different contexts of problems this year:

  • First problem: sustainable cities problem
  • Second problem: an environmental problem students identified they were passionate about

Most of those problems involved a global scale. The global problems were much more involved and they were difficult to research and solve within a week’s time. Unfortunately with a time crunch, there isn’t as much action and impact present as there would be if the project would have been spread throughout the year.


We’re always looking for ways to provide opportunities for creativity and innovation in the context of our courses, and I could not be more pleased with the result of how all of this came together.

My original intent was to make Ch. 23 “Sustainable Cities” a little more exciting, when in reality this activity pulled together all of the content that students had learned throughout the entire length of the AP course. In end-of-the-year survey, students spoke to this being one of their favorite activities because it allowed them the opportunity to be creative, something that isn’t always tapped into or given the appropriate amount of time in an AP course.

Through the context of this activity, students were not only exercising their knowledge of the content they had already learned, but they were working through the design process which exercised their habits of mind, they were collaborating, being creative, and also demonstrating their communication skills.

I cannot wait to help teachers find opportunities to practice this within their courses, as well as find opportunities for students within our Makerspace at the middle school.

If you are looking for resources on incorporating the design thinking process please check out this Google Slides Presentation which identifies helpful resources at the end.



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