Theory – Swimming

Have you been getting your students to make tangible objects and are looking to enhance your existing projects with technology? Have your students been building and making using bricolage items and you are looking to take it to the next level? Have you been considering having your students design and construct prototypes that have authentic applications in real-world contexts and would like to know more about the thought processes students (and you!) can use to accomplish this? Well then this is the spot for you!

Design Thinking

In Wading in, we presented Resnick’s (2007) Kindergarten Approach to Learning in order to help educators get started with including design elements into their projects. In Swimming, we are taking this theory to the next level and having you consider including Design Thinking into your maker projects. Researchers from the Institute of Design at Stanford University have highlighted five key considerations of design thinkers: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test.1 The process isn’t linear and students don’t necessarily have to stop after completing one cycle! They can reflect and adjust their designs and prototypes; iteration leads to students completing multiple cycles of design, improving on their ideas and the ideas of their peers along the way. Challenges, projects, inquiries, these are all words educators are using to engage students to create solutions or artifacts that are set in real-world contexts. In order to get buy-in from students, they must first empathize with the nature of the task. What are they trying to solve? Why should they care about this problem? An authentic problem and context can get students to engage in the process. Once your students understand why they need to take on this task, they then need to define it in their own words. What is the issue they are trying to tackle, for whom, and from what perspective? To ideate is what educators have been referring to in their practice as brainstorming or mind-mapping. In a design team, all voices and ideas are encouraged, considered and built upon. The only limitations are those set forth by the problem itself as decided upon by the group. Once possible solutions are discovered, the group builds prototypes to understand and learn more about the problem, refining their ideas along the way. Students test out their early prototypes, learning through failure, and revising their ideas. They seek out opinions from other groups of students, teachers, and experts. And through iteration, the process can start again.

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To find out more about Design Thinking, the theory behind it and the ways to implement it in the classroom, read about the Design Thinking Process taught at Stanford’s or more about the theory from Demian Borba’s blog, a software manager at Abode XD.  

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Enhancing with Digital Technology

We think of educational technology, not merely as a collection of tools, but as a means to enhance student learning.3 Digital technology itself cannot solve the types of authentic problems being presented to students, but it can be used to support and enhance their maker projects.4 Traditionally, technology has been used in the classroom for word processing, internet searches, and presentation software, and while we think that is still a useful endeavor, technology can do so much more! When considering using it in maker projects, think about how it can enhance the learning experience for students and how they can use technology in order to transform what is possible in the classroom.

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*Image by Dr. Puentadura

The SAMR model5 provides a useful framework for you to ask yourself if technology is enhancing an existing project, or helping you redefine what the design task could look like. Take a look at our enhancing with technology section in order to get examples of how this could translate into your maker designs!


  1. Plattner, H. (n.d). An Introduction to Design Thinking: Process guide. Retrieved from
  2. Borba, D. (2017, March 13). Design thinking: A manual for innovation. Retrieved from
  3. Guzman, A. & Nussbaum, M. (2009). Teaching competencies for technology integration in the classroom. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 25(5), 453-469. Doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2009.00322.x
  4. Lowyck, J.  (2014).  Bridging Learning Theories and Technology-Enhanced Environments: A Critical Appraisal of Its History.  In Spector, J. M. et. al. (ed.), Handbook of Research on Educational communications and Technology (4th Ed.) New York:  Springer.
  5. Romrell, D. Kidder, L.C., & Wood, E. (2014). The SAMR model as a framework for evaluating mLearning. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 18(2), 1-15.

Picture References

Design thinking:

Integrating Technology:

SAMR Model: