Design Thinking in the Elementary Classroom: the Power of Empathy –  Education Week

When introducing Design Thinking, elementary school teachers often worry that younger students cannot truly engage in empathy – the first step in the process – because they lack the initial experiences.


Julie Colantoni, a first-grade teacher in Medfield, MA, raised this concern during a Design Thinking introduction in an EdTechTeacher workshop. However, a few days later, when faced with a “bathroom challenge,” she decided to trust the process.


First, Julie presented to her students that a problem existed in the school’s bathrooms. Though guided, the students began to engage in empathy.

  • Why might this be a problem?
  • Who does this problem impact?
  • What could we, as first graders, do to fix this problem?


With those prompts, her students dove into the Design Thinking process. They came to their own realization that their actions impacted others and that this issue caused extra work for the school custodian. In essence, they defined the problem for themselves.


By Beth Holland