Design Thinking in STEM

Encouraging innovation and creative thinking

Design thinking promotes empathy, team work, and interdisciplinary problem solving.
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Creative methods teach skills such as critical thinking and the capacity for innovation.
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Design thinking shows students how to take on the perspective of the user.
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Early in the process, ideas are turned into physical prototypes – for tangible interaction, testing, and evaluation.
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Preparing young people for a future of complex challenges such as globalization, digitalization, or climate change requires high-quality STEM education. Additionally, skills such as creative problem solving, the ability to innovate, and critical thinking are increasingly important for openly embracing change and conscientiously shaping the future. Our project “Design Thinking in STEM” is aimed at developing approaches for teaching these abilities in science and technology lessons.

Working Area:



Chile, South Africa

The design thinking method encourages students to address challenges with a sense of empathy, viewing a problem through the eyes of someone actually confronting it. Through interdisciplinary teamwork, ideas and approaches are turned into physical prototypes early in the process to be tested and evaluated. We are collaborating with The Index Project on implementing the design thinking method in STEM lessons. With years of experience working in schools, the Danish nonprofit has developed several step-by-step tools and techniques for the classroom that take teachers through the various phases of design thinking.

Global challenges with local context

In addition to integrating a creative approach to learning, Design Thinking in STEM introduces the UN Sustainable Development Goals to STEM lessons. The 17 goals established by the United Nations for sustainable development provide a thematic structure for interdisciplinary STEM lessons. They include the economic, social, and environmental challenges of the 21st century, which are growing in their local impact alongside their global relevance. Complex STEM topics can be explained through specific problems, such as clean drinking water or sustainable power generation, while design thinking makes these problems more approachable.

»Creativity should be part of every step, including STEM subjects, so young people can fulfill their potential.«

We launched the pilot project “Design Thinking in STEM” in February 2019 at schools in our network in South Africa. In two multi-day workshops, teachers were introduced to the basic principles of design thinking before co-creating ways for the method to be adapted for STEM lessons. After collecting feedback from teachers based on their classroom experience, Design Thinking in STEM moves to a second phase that focuses more specifically on comprehensive, quality STEM lessons. The method is currently being implemented at schools in Cape Town, Johannesburg, and Durban.

The successful conclusion of the pilot phase also marked the start of expansion to Latin America. The newly-established CEDEL (Centro UC Desarrollo Local) sustainability center at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Villarrica is holding workshops in December 2019 for teachers and multipliers from Chile, Mexico, and Colombia. The project will expand to include additional countries in Africa as well as countries in Latin American and Germany.

With Design Thinking in STEM, we aim to encourage innovation and creativity in young people. We want to support them in creating sustainable solutions for complex challenges so they can shape their own future. The Schools Development Unit at the University of Cape Town is monitoring the project, evaluating the use of the new methods in STEM lessons, and assessing student development. We are working with Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile on these workshops at sites in Villarrica and Valparaíso.

Project manager Design Thinking in STEM
Christine Niewöhner

+49 89 540487 119

Project manager Design Thinking in STEM, The Index Project
Jana Rudnik

+45 50 102278

Charlotte Hoeg Andersen

+45 29 466094

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