Think - Tinker -Tada - Guided Mastery in Innovation

Modified D-School Problem Solving Methodology for Kids.

Photo of Niranjan Vasireddy
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Inspiration: Building Confidence Ted Talk by David Kelley

When Ideo founder, David Kelley made his famous Ted Talk about Building Creative Confidence, I was hooked onto to what he said - Guided Mastery. I researched further and saw the DTToolKit for Educators. I saw video's on D-School online and could not wait to go to D-school and see it in person, even it was just for a few hours. I was soaking in all I could find on this and was very excited that someone had cracked the art of problem solving to a simple 5 step processes.

My excitement came to stop - when I heard that in the DSchool, one the first thing they do with new students - what George Kembel called "Unschooling", where there had to un-teach children of some of the old habits that do not help with collaborative design thinking.

I found it very silly - first we teach them the wrong way (unknowingly of course :)) , and teach them to unlearn it to enable students to learn the proper way.

Problem - How can we teach our children the right way from the get go?

Is there a simpler way for children to remember and embrace Design Thinking?


I think the 5 step design thinking process is very nicely articulated and laid out. However I could not see it being presented to kids, it was very geeky of sorts for me as an adult. Btw, I am an engineer and I loved it, But would a 6 yr old get it? I wanted kids to be able to remember it and it had to be fun.

A question that I always ask now before I design anything - Can a 3yr old understand this? 3yrs is a relative word for me to keep it as simple as possible.

So I simplified the process that kids could remember

Think - Tinker - Tada (In short - 3T Methodology)

All started with the word T - T for Three. I illustrated it in the Tree format (Tree starts with Tree)

Think - Comprises of Empathise, Define and Ideate Phases

Tinker - Prototyping & Test Phase

Tada - Celebrate Tada Moments (As creators we all have many of these), Share & Document.

Along with the 3T's I also use two phrases, that I always used in all my projects/ challenges - Break it down (Decode), Build it up (Recode). The decode, recode were words I used while I worked writing scripts as a DBA at Oracle. Kids like the words Decode & Recode - to them it seems like they are playing a deciphering spy game of sorts.

How it works

Any project that we took up, we had the 3T Posters put on the wall remind the children and the coach about the process.

1. Poster on 3T methodology - on the wall

2. Detail Posters on each 3T Phases - on the wall

3. Detail Posters (Card Stock / Laminated) on each Team Table for closer reference.

4. A3 Project Helper Sheets for each team to document. I sometimes found kids writing and wanting to erase it completely. I did think about White board type board, but I wanted to see the things kids had erased. I wanted kids to embrace mistakes. So I stuck with A3 size paper sheets, for kids to use.

5. Rewards - During the Ideate phase, I have many rewards, which always excites Kids.

WWW Idea Award - Wild Wacky Witty Idea

T20 Power Play - Team with the highest number of ideas in 5 mins.

(FYI - T20 Power Play is a term from the game Cricket, which is very popular in India, and power play is associated with a lot of runs in a limited time) - This could be changed to the popular scoring game here - i.e. -" Idea Shootout". Get crazy and design a few fun and rewarding idea generators. This bring the room to life.

Sample Project:

The children are given a project - Build a Dinosaur as a science exhibit.

Think Stage - They use the helper cards and Define/Redefine the Mission.

Children Redefined the Project using HMW

- How might we build a Dinosaur project that talks about Species conservation?

- How might we build a Dinosaur - that shows the connection between engineering and bio sciences?

- How might we build a Dinosaur - that help teach visitors the importance of global warming?

They would then use the Helper cards to help guide them towards mastery in design thinking.

Potential Impact / Advantages:

I have had the opportunity to show this to many students, teacher and parents. I found 3T to be easy to remember and FUN for all.

1. Easy of remembering Design Thinking

2. Builds Creative Confidence.

3. Develops Skill based experiences.

 Key Essentials for Project Based Learning - with Design Thinking.

1. Need/Desire - Competition

2. Inspiration - Nature/You Tube/Museums/Movies/ Coach

3. Open Spaces - This one is interesting.

Contrary to the belief that we need to have great labs and infrastructure, I found kids preferred open spaces. This is also re-iterated on this platform by Michael Schurr for open space idea. However there does need to be access to a place where kids could go to savage some items/ tools. They was always excitement when they savaged their find and showed it off. Same look we find when we go to a yard sales, Goodwill stores or other thrift stores.

4. Rewards - Always got to have one

It may be as simple as a candy, or a rolling cap. But this always got the kids interested.

Challenges for Implementing in PBL with 3T methodology in Schools

1. Time - PBL is a very deep form of learning and consumes a lot of time. Many of the projects we did at least lasted a good 3-6 hrs. It helped if the children stayed very close to each other. They would like to work on the project at home.

2. Curriculum - This one is a usual suspect, which always needs to be answered by the school and its management. For us at the museum - we did not have this issue. Our issue was how do we get parents to come in and pay when we do not have a curriculum. This got us to innovate.

3. Teacher Mindset - This one is a easy one - Most teacher consider themselves to first know the answer to be able to guide the children properly. While this is true, sometimes it helps to expose the unknown side to the kids. This helps in bonding. It automatically puts the teacher to a coach level, coz the kids would come up with questions like what do you think for which, we directed it right back to them. We did however spend time with them in helping them research, or show where to research and how. i.e. pass on the skill of learning by themselves.

Hoping to get more feedback and see how this can be possibly implemented in Schools.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gavin Cosgrave

I love how you have made design thinking more accessible for younger kids! I think it is really important for kids to have the space to create new things and solve problems even if they don't really have a way to put it into a "design thinking" framework.

I really like the idea of the awards for crazy ideas and highest # of ideas- creative way to encourage effective brainstorming!

How are things going now? What are your next steps? Will it continue or expand this fall?

Photo of Niranjan Vasireddy

Gavin, Thank you for your feedback. What I have posted here is a small part of the idea. I have broken a lot of my ideas an posted them as smaller parts. The BIG picture is what I have been working on for the last 2 yrs and is coming to a very good shape. There was quite a bit of research I/We did during this time to lead to what you see.
I will share it with you/team and we can work together to improve upon it and take it to the next level.