John Rinker

John Rinker

Making Things Better: Design Thinking in the Classroom


At the Nanjing International School our ‘Design@NIS’ for the primary years is part engineering, part tinkering, and a whole lot of making. Making Things Better: Design Thinking in the Classroom explores how NIS is cultivating our ‘maker mindset’ using a design thinking process. Defining problems, prototyping solutions and iterating on these solutions can be a powerful tool for inquiry and project-based learning in the classroom. By using a design thinking process our students investigate challenges and prototype solutions that allow them to build their skills as problem finders, problem solvers, designers, builders, and tinkerers. Most importantly, design thinking provides our students opportunities to build confidence and see themselves as agents and innovators for improving their world.

In this extended session, participants will explore several models of the design thinking process by engaging in real challenges facing our schools and communities. We will then investigate what design thinking looks like in a primary, inquiry-based curriculum by engaging in hands-on ‘design briefs’ typical of our program at NIS. Finally, we will look at how this primary curriculum can evolve to be more suitable for secondary students.

Learning Outcomes

Participants in this extended session will learn:

  • the design thinking process and how it is used as a problem finding strategy in the classroom
  • how design thinking is used to support inquiry and project-based learning
  • how the design thinking process can be used as a tool for teacher planning
  • how NIS has evolved (and continues to do so) it’s understanding of design thinking
  • how to set up a ‘maker space’ in your school
Intended Audience

While this extended session is based upon my experience in NIS’s primary year’s design program, it is suitable for both teachers and administrators at any level who are interested in how design thinking may enhance both inquiry and project-based learning and help to cultivate a culture of making in school.

About John

An international teacher and Apple Distinguished Educator with more than 20 years experience, John has been using tools, both analog and digital, most of his life to make cool things. He is inspired to leverage the best that technology has to offer in creating meaningful educational challenges and experiences for each of his students. His DIY mindset challenges him to look at problems in novel ways and to create imaginative solutions. John loves teaching because he gets to hang around with kids who are inclined towards creativity, invention, and play.

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