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Design Thinking

Design Thinking

Design Thinking is the creative five-step problem-solving process founded by David Kelly of the Institute of Design at Stanford. All GA students, PreK-12, learn the five-step process of empathizing (interviewing for need), defining (articulating the need), ideating (generating as many possible solutions to the problem), prototyping (building your ideas), and testing (having users interact with the prototype).

First studied by GA faculty in 2013, design thinking has become thoroughly integrated into the GA curriculum at all levels, but it truly shines during dedicated 'Design Days' held several times per year. During these experiences, students and faculty work together in cross-grade or cross-divisional teams to tackle real world problems, resulting in opportunities for collaboration, leadership, and critical thinking.

Using design thinking to solve problems gives students an opportunity to practice risk-taking and failure, two critical pieces to a good problem-solving practice. When students see that a failed idea gives them good information that can lead to successful ideas, their relationship to the concept of failure changes, and they are more apt to develop resilience, grit, flexibility, and courage.

Design thinking draws on 21st century methods from engineering and design and combines them with ideas from the arts, tools from the social sciences, and insights from the business world. The process provides a glue that brings teammates with different skill sets together around a common goal: to make the lives of the people they're designing for better.

Design Thinking has inspired our students and faculty to think more deeply about the way they approach problem-solving, and will continue to shape the type of learning happening at the Academy.

Earth Day Design
Design Thinking is a way to help train everyone to understand that there are multiple solutions to every problem. You come up with variations of the solution until you hit one that really is the right answer to the problem using any resource you can find. ~ Gaby Russomagno 1760, Consulting Director of Innovation and Special Programs

Design Day Play
This is the future; companies are using these attributes to hire employees, so we need to get our kids on board. If we begin the work now, it will become natural for them sooner than later. ~ Lauren Vanin, 5th Grade Teacher and All-School Design Thinking Facilitator


Students Have Fun With Design Thinking

Germantown Academy hosted an all-school design day on February 20 in which students in each division went through the design thinking process to find solutions for different needs statements.

Lauren Vanin Leads GA's Young Innovators

Lauren Vanin credits her leadership of the most recent Lower School Design Day to her professional development opportunity given by Stanford University's


Challenge GA (2013-14)

Design Thinking is introduced to the Upper School in the form of a House competition. Students are asked, "How can we turn our house into a home?"

As a result of the year-long process, each House lounge in the Upper School was decked out with personalized carpets, white boards, charging stations, and art installations.

Middle School Reading Day (September 2015)

After reading Holly Sloan's Counting by 7s, students address the question, "Who am I, and what matters most to me?"

The GA Tower (October 2015)

In this Lower and Upper School collaboration, teams imagined proposals for a tower design that would celebrate the school's history and endure for all time.

All-School Design Day (December 2015)

With a trove of resources gathered and cross-divisional collaboration mapped out, students are asked to answer the question, "What are the qualities of a great play experience?"

Teams fill up spaces all over the school with designs, prototypes, and demonstrations of new and improved games.

Humpty Dumpty Challenge (January 2016)

PreK students build prototypes for ways to keep Humpty Dumpty safe if he falls off the wall.

Enrichment Toys for Rescued Monkeys (February 2017)

4th Grade students were visited by Gigi Glendinning of Animal Defenders International, who shared stories about rescued monkeys in the United Kingdom.

Empathizing with the monkeys' need to be mentally stimulated, the students designed and created toys meant to challenge and fascinate.