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How can we use Design-Thinking Process
to improve Problem Solving and Education?

teachers doing DEEPdt Design ThinkingThis is the home-page for a website about Education for Problem Solving, about...
educational strategies & activities that can help students improve their problem-solving skills in all areas of life.
Problems and Problem Solving:  A problem is an opportunity, in any area of life, to make things better.  And whenever you do “make it better” you are problem solving.


Craig Rusbult, PhD    (contact)
my life on a road less traveled


You can begin exploring the website in two ways:

• with a quick elevator talk about using the wide scope of problem-solving Design Thinking (it includes almost everything we do in life) to build Educational Bridges.  These bridges — from life into school, and back into life — will improve transfers of learning and transitions of attitudes.  This will help a wider diversity of students, each with their own story, improve their confidence & motivations and problem-solving skills, for better educational equity.  Basically, we can (and should) help more students improve themselves, by giving them a wider variety of experiences, and helping them learn more from their experiences.

• and by using this home-page, by reading its text and (to learn more about the ideas) clicking its links;

the main content begins below with...
    a brief Website Overview,
and continues with overview-summaries about...
    Defining Our Goals and Pursuing Our Goals,
followed by
    my model of Design Process with
        Simplicity + Symmetry  and
        4 Ways to Use Experiences (i.e. to Use Experiments).
    Learn by Discovery (using inquiry-Process to learn inquiry-Principles),
        and Combining (WHY?) Experience with Reflection and Principles,
        and Combining (HOW?) Design Process + Other Models for Process,
and then MORE about the main topics.



This brief Website Overview summarizes its main ideas:
  3 Elements in 3 Comparison-Checks

During my PhD project I designed a model of Science Process, which has been generalized into a broader model of Design Process (with updated Science Process) that describes the flexibly improvised creative-and-critical productive thinking we use for doing almost everything in life when we solve problems by designing better products, activities, strategies, and explanatory theories.

This wide scope of design thinking (used for Science-Design & General Design) lets teachers coordinate design activities across all subject areas and student ages, designing goal-directed curriculum & instruction to improve ideas-and-skills in each area and to build educational bridges that promote transfers of learning (between areas and into life) and transitions of attitudes (to improve educational equity).  Students’ motivations to learn increase when they recognize the personal benefits-in-life of skillful design thinking, including its use for cognitive-and-metacognitive Thinking Strategies to improve their learning/performing/enjoying.

experience + principles:  I think students can learn more from their inquiry experiences (in design-inquiry and science-inquiry) if we teach inquiry principles using Design Process.*  How?  With wise guiding and metacognitive reflection plus verbal/visual explanations of Design Process` while trying to maintain flow-and-fun.   /   * e.g., We can show students 4 Ways to Use Experiments (to Use Experiences) that include Comparing Goals with Predictions or with Observations in Quality Checks (so their critical idea-Evaluation can guide their creative idea-Generation in Cycles of General Design) and Comparing Predictions with Observations in Reality Checks (used for Science-Design).

collaboration:  I want to work cooperatively with other educators, developing creative uses of Design Process to improve education for thinking skills-and-process at all levels, in K-12 through college and with informal education.


This summary is expanded in a longer Website-Overview.



Defining Our Goals for Teaching Ideas-and-Skills

We should design curriculum & instruction that will help students improve not just their knowledge of ideas, but also their creative-and-critical thinking skills and problem-solving process.  How?  We can...

2-Step Cycle of Design (simple diagram)
       • show students how to combine their thinking skills (creative-and-critical) into a flexible thinking process (also creative-and-critical) that is more effective for solving problems, for "making it better" in any area of life.  We begin by helping students discover the Simplicity-of-Process [summarized in the diagram] when they DEFINE a Problem, and then to SOLVE the Problem they creatively GENERATE Options (for a Problem-Solution) and critically EVALUATE Options, in creative-and-critical Cycles of Design.  /   Later, for deeper understanding, students can see the Symmetry-of-Process when they do a Mental Experiment & do a Physical Experiment to produce the Predictions & Observations they use for 3 Comparisons in evaluative Quality Checks (for General Design) and evaluative Reality Checks (for Science-Design).   {more about Simplicity and Symmetry}  {General Design and Science-Design}
       • help students discover how they Use Experiences in 4 Ways and how they ask The Design Question (“how well does This Option match my Goals?”) in every Quality Check, and they ask The Science Question (“am I surprised?” if Observations don't match Predictions) in every Reality Check.     {in STEM Education, The Design Question can be called The Engineering Question, because Engineering is one type of General Design}
       • design thought-stimulating inquiry activities involving science-inquiry & design-inquiry and argumentation and thinking strategies.*  We can make these activities life-relevant for students by showing them how they use design thinking for almost everything in life.*  This wide scope of design thinking lets us...
       • build integrative educational bridges to promote transfers-of-learning and transitions-of-attitudes.  We can build two-way bridges — from life into school, and back into life, spanning all subject areas (including engineering & science) — that will improve students' motivations to learn and their transfers of learning from school into life.  When these bridges improve their motivations & learning-transfers, and promote attitude-transitions, this will...
       • help a wider range of students (for better diversity & equity) improve important ideas-AND-skills that include thinking with empathy` in relationships and projects

Students doing Design Thinking* Students can use Design Process to develop strategies for thinking so they can more effectively regulate their cognition/metacognition (by deciding when to avoid metacognition or use it, and how) and use reflection to help them learn more from their experiences in a wide range of activities to improve their performing and/or learning (+ enjoying) in many areas of life.  One valuable thinking strategy is coordinating their thinking-and-actions by making decisions (how?) about “what to do next” during a process of design.     {another thinking strategy is using prayer for effective living with problem solving}

* I use a wide-scope definition of design thinking.  Is this justifiable? and is it useful for education?  –  What is Design Thinking? (criteria & definitions)


LINKS  —  This homepage has lots of links that you can choose to ignore or explore.   {most links open on the right side, so if necessary you should (why?) put this page on the left side by using the link here or in the upper-right corner of page}


Pursuing Our Goals for Ideas-and-Skills Education

We have reasons to expect that using Design Process (when we combine experience with principles) might help us achieve these worthy goals more effectively, so the possibilities for using Design Process are worth exploring and developing.  I want to collaborate with other educators so we can explore possibilities and develop our ideas, especially by developing strategies for creatively combining different models-for-process in ways that are synergistically supportive, that make a combination of models better than any model by itself.

How and Why?  We can show students how short-term sequences (in Design Process) occur within long-term phases (used in all models for process, including Design Process), to help students understand how their creative-and-critical productive thinking occurs in these short-term actions & sequences.     {more about HOW to effectively combine structures (for instruction) and strategies (for thinking)}  {two sequencing-strategies for combining models}

Collaboration is necessary because although I feel skilled in some ways (like developing the ideas in this website),  I definitely need help — from those who understand the perspectives of classroom teachers more accurately & thoroughly, or are skilled story tellers or game developers, or have other kinds of experience and expertise — to design curriculum-and-instruction that is a good match for how students like to learn (and are able to learn), and how teachers like to teach.  Here is a beginning for ideas about collaborating.     (you can contact me by e-mail – and on twitter I'm @DTprocess)



Design Process — What is it?   For a quick overview of Design Process (it's my model for Problem-Solving Process), see-and-read Stage 1` in a 5-stage family of related models that has...

Simplicity and Symmetry

• a Simplicity of Process:  Diagram 1` shows — in its top & bottom parts, to Define & Solve — how you Define a Problem (Learn, Define your Objective, Define your Goals) and try to Solve this Problem by simply Generating-and-Evaluating Options (for a problem-Solution) in iterative Cycles of Design.  This simplicity lets a teacher SHOW students how they use design thinking for almost everything they do in life.  This wide scope — and the simplicity of “generate and evaluate” when they solve problems — lets us build educational Transfer Bridges between life and school, with transfers-of-learning in both directions, to improve the confidence and motivations of students, for better diversity & equity in educationDiagram 2a - showing Symmetry of Design Process Later, for deeper understanding, you can help students discover...

• a Symmetry of Process:  During their process of design, students Design and Do two kinds of Experiments (done mentally to make Predictions & physically to make Observations) so they can Use their Predictions & Observations by COMPARING them with Goals in evaluative Quality Checks, as you see in Diagram 2a.  In every Check-for-Quality they are asking, for the Option being evaluated, The Design Question:  “how close is the match between this Option's actual properties (that we have predicted or observed) and our desired Goal-properties?” which is asking “how high is the quality?” because Quality is defined by our Goals for a satisfactory problem-Solution.     /     When we show students this symmetry of Experimenting (done Mentally & Physically) it's an educationally useful visual organization of principles-for-process.     { We use 3 Elements (Predictions, Observations, Goals) in 3 Comparisons to ask Two Kinds of Questions:  The Design Question (in a Quality Check), and The Science Question (in a Reality Check, symbolized by the yellow-green dashed line, , between Predictions & Observations). }


As explained below, students can learn by discovery to develop a deeper understanding of these principles for Design Process, for the elegant beauty they can see in its simplicity and symmetry.     /     Is there a connection between aesthetics and function?  (and can we use beauty to improve utility?)


4 Ways to USE Experiments  (i.e. to USE Experiences)

Design Process shows the central role of Experiments (Mental & Physical)* in problem solving, when you Design Experiments so you can...

    1. USE an Experiment (Mental or Physical) to make Information (Predictions & Observations);
    2. USE this Experimental Information to do Evaluation of an Option (e.g. of an Action, or...);
    3. USE this Experiment-Based Evaluation to guide Generation of another Option.

* Mental & Physical EXPERIMENTS produce Mental & Physical EXPERIENCES.


When you move your mouse over the "1 2 3 3" boxes added to this diagram, you can see four isolation diagrams that show only the problem-solving actions for Use #1 (make Information) and Use #2 (do Evaluation) and Uses #3 (guide Generation for Science-Design & General Design).


And then, if you want, ...

4. USE the Experiment-Based Evaluation (from #2 above) to guide Generation (as in #3, so #4 could be labeled #3b) of more Information (in #1).   How?  You ask “what additional Information (Predictions or Obervations) would be useful for Evaluation, and what Experiments will produce this Information?” to help you Design Experiments that you can Use in the three ways (1 2 3) outlined above.


And viewing things from another perspective, you can...

Learn More from Your Experiments/Experiences:  using Design Process can help you learn more from your experiences so you can improve your performing and/or learning (+ enjoying) in many areas of life.


Experiments and Experiences  —  What are the causal relationships?

It can be educationally useful to think about these causal relationships, with Experimentally-Caused Experiences (a slightly narrower category)* being a subset of All Experiences (a wider category).     {* Here, I'm defining exeriment very broadly, as any action that is done, mentally or physically, by anyone.  With this definition, experiments include almost everything people do, and are involved in almost everything we experience. }

all Experiments produce Experiences:  When people — you or others — do Experiments (Mentally or Physically) that lead to Actions (Mental or Physical, imagined or actual), these Experiments always produce Experiences (Mental or Physical), so... all Experiments → Experiences.

most Experiences are produced by Experiments:  Usually, but not always,* Experiences (Mental or Physical) occur because of choices — made by you and/or by others — to do Experiments that lead to Actions (Mental or Physical), so... most Experiences ← Experiments.

* Your Experiences occur due to one or more of these three causes:  Experiments done by You (i.e. Your Actions, done Mentally or Physically, imagined or actual);  Experiments done by Others (i.e. Their Actions, done Physically);  or things that are not caused by people (that are not “done” by any person, that seem to “just happen”, for example if a tornado destroys your house, or a disease occurs, or ...).  Due to the third cause (things not caused by people), Experimentally-Caused Experiences don't cause ALL Experience, just almost all.  But even when some aspects of an experience are "not caused by people" (this is common), many aspects of these experiences do involve people-and-their-actions;  for example, people are involved in preparing for a tornado, and people could be sharing the experience of a tornado.


More specifically, this table is a summary of how Your Experimental Actions (Mental & Physical) are involved, always or usually, in causing all of Your Mental Experiences and most of Your Physical Experiences.

  Your Mental Experiments  &  Your Physical Experiments 
are involved (always or usually) in producing  
  Your Mental Experiences  &  Your Physical Experiences:
  For a Mental Experience,
  you ALWAYS have to 
  imagine an Action-Situation
  and imagine doing an Action, 
  so (if you want) you can 
  PREDICT what would happen. 
  For a Physical Experience,
  you USUALLY have to 
  actualize an Action-Situation 
  and actually do an Action,
  so (if you want) you can 
  OBSERVE what did happen.
  Then (in "2" above) you can
  to Evaluate the Action.
  Then (in "2" above) you can 
  to Evaluate the Action.


MORE – with clear, less condensed (i.e. using more words, thus requiring less “discovery” by a reader) descriptions of 4 Ways to Use Experiments (or is it 8 ways?)* in flexibly improvised short-term Functional Sequences – and how critical Evaluation of Ideas stimulates-and-guides creative Generation of Ideas in Design Cycles & Science Cycles.



Learning by Discovery

Students can use inquiry Process to discover inquiry Principles.  How?  In a 4th Level of Learning-from-Inquiry (by combining experience + reflection + principles)* a teacher can guide students to help them use a process-of-inquiry to DISCOVER principles-of-inquiry.     {* A typical erp-sequence (with e+r+p) begins with students getting experiences by doing design, followed by reflections-on-experience that help them discover principles of Design Process, with a teacher sometimes guiding students while they experience and reflect/discover. }

A teacher can use the structure of Design Process to guide the reflections and discoveries of students.  For example,

    Students (and teachers) can study any diagram – such as the four above – and reflect on their experiences with solving problems, asking “what part of my problem-solving process is in each part of the diagram?”
   * They (and you) can study the diagram above while thinking about 3 Ways We Use Experiments (search the diagram to find "using" & "Use" & "use", 8 times) and how these 3 Ways (but it's actually 8 Ways) are connected in flexibly improvised sequences.  Also, a 4th Way to Use Experiments happens when they ask “what do we want to know?  what additional information would be useful for us?” so they can Get More Experiences by Designing More Experiments.
    Then they (and you) can click areas in this Diagram 3b` and learn more by reading my explanations of what's happening in each area.     {learning by discovery and with explanations}  

During their teacher-guided reflections & discussions, classroom (with Students & Teachers) actively doing Design Thinking instead of “discovering” a student is “recognizing” that during a process of design they are using skills they already know, because they already have used Design Thinking to do almost everything in their life.  When students discover (when they recall-and-recognize), they are just making their own experience-based prior knowledge — of how they have been solving problems — more explicit-and-organized within the logical framework of Design Process.     { Will improving their knowledge-of-process help them improve their skills in problem-solving Design Thinking? }


Strategies for Instruction  —  WHY and HOW

WHY should we use "experience + reflection + principles" to help students improve their problem-solving skills?     {what are the benefits of supplementing inquiry-experiences with inquiry-principles?}

HOW can we design multi-model instruction that effectively combines the benefits offered by Design Process and by other models?     {structures and strategies in problem-solving education}


If necessary, you can put this page into the left frame`.
Why?  Or use the link in top-right corner of every page.
[if you're viewing with an iPad that uses iOS, click here]


MORE — To get a more comprehensive overview, you can read Page-Summaries that include these ideas:


Problems and Objectives:  A problem is “an opportunity – in any area of life – to make things better” and problem solving is “converting an actual current situation into a more desirable future situation.”  In a wide range of design fields that include engineering & sciences, humanities & arts, the objective is to design (to find, invent, or improve) a better product, activity, relationship, strategy, and/or explanatory theory.  These objectives include almost everything we do in life.


An Overview of Design Process describes — with a brief introduction to summarize its goals, then visually-and-verbally in five stages of a progression for learning — what it IS.*     {Simplicity & Symmetry in Design Process}

• But to avoid inaccurate stereotypes, it's also important to know what it ISN'T.  Design Process is not a step-by-step rigid method.  Instead it's a flexible framework that can help students master the typical thinking-and-actions used by experts when they solve problems.  Experts often use long-term planning, and always use short-term planning (for deciding “what to do next”) to coordinate their process of design.  Their short-term process is analogous to the flexible goal-directed improvising of a hockey player, but not the rigid choreography of a figure skater.  When we ask “Is there a method?”, why is the best answer No and Yes?     {long-term phases and short-term sequences}


We should think with empathy (what is it?) in projects and relationships.

Collaboration and Communication in a Productive Community


photos:  Soon, I want to put more pictures (of students & teachers) into this website to further “humanize” it, because Design Thinking — and education for Design Thinking — is about people with stories.     { The current photos are from DEEPdt - DEEP design thinking: a human-centered approach to learning, creating, & being through Empathy. }


Success and Failure:  I have two goals for my model(s) of Design Process.  I think one goal (for accurate description) has been achieved, but another (for effective education) has not.   Why do I think this?

teacher enjoying Design Thinking

Exploring Possibilities:  Should we creatively combine ideas from different models-for-process?

Objectives for Educational Design:  I want to work cooperatively with other educators to develop instruction for teaching Design Process (along with other models?) using teacher-guided classroom activities and/or computer-based interactive modules.  But, responding to an obvious question,...


WHY we should teach Design Process explains why — due to benefits arising from increased motivation, transfer, metacognition, organization, and design/science connections — "using Design Process might be very useful in education, so the possibilities are worth exploring and developing."

WHY — Experience plus Principles:  When we ask “why teach Design Process?” an important sub-question is whether a well-designed combination of experience plus principles (along with reflection) will be more educationally effective than experience by itself, to help students improve their skills in creative-and-critical productive thinking and their ability to combine thinking skills into a thinking process* that is more effective for solving problems.     {* A better understanding of process-principles can help students improve their use of conditional knowledge to make action-decisions to coordinate their problem-solving process. }

WHAT — Teachers can provide their students with 4 Levels of Learning from Inquiry.  What usually happens?  Teachers often decide (for unfortunately rational reasons) to give students no experiences (or very few) with design-inquiry and science-inquiry.  Or, for reasons that are better (especially in the long term), students can get experiences;  or experiences + reflection;  or, as I think is best, experiences + reflection + principles.

HOW — While thinking about instruction, we can ask, “is experience + principles better than just experience?” and, if yes, then “what model(s) of principles-for-process should we use?”,* and “how can we design goal-directed instruction that matches the ways teachers like to teach and students like to learn (and are able to learn)?”

HOW should we teach Design Process?  Teachers develop strategies for teaching (and coaching) that can include guiding students to help them use a process of inquiry to discover principles of inquiry.


HOW* We should search for effective ways to combine models, to pursue our goal of improving education for ideas-and-skills.  We should try to design curriculum & instruction that creatively combines long-term phases (used in all models-for-process, including Design Process) and short-term sequences (in Design Process) to produce model-interactions that are synergistically supportive, that make a combination-of-models better than any model by itself.

WHY — Typically, models-for-process are educationally useful in two ways, by offering structures (for instruction) and strategies (for thinking).  Each model has its own structure & strategies, so each offers its own distinctive benefits for students.  When we effectively combine the structures & strategies from two (or more) models, we combine their benefits.  We can design effective ways to combine structures, and combine strategies.

WHAT — One “strategy for combining” is showing how short-time sequences (in Design Process) occur within longer-time phases (in all models, including Design Process), to help students understand how their creative-and-critical productive thinking actually occurs in these short-time actions & sequences.   /   Two “ways to combine” are to use Design Process early-and-late, or to use it after beginning instruction with another model.  Huh? (descriptions of these two ways)



If you want to understand the website more thoroughly, the best way is to explore its Page-Summaries.     {and a Site-Map links to additional pages}


Control of iFrames:  A link at the top-right corner of each page lets you put it into the left frame or into the right frame if it isn't already there.*   Why is this useful?   Because when a page is on its proper side, the page remains visible while you explore its links, which open in the other frame;  this lets you click links without “losing your place” in the current page.   And because you can see both pages at the same time, you can more easily combine (in your thinking) what both are saying about related topics that are similar or complementary;  seeing both pages is always useful, but is especially valuable for mentally combining visual & verbal information, as in the Overview of Design Process`.

* Or use the first link in every page (or occasional links later in the page) that look like this` with an extra ` at the end, as in the link above, for "Overview of...".


For the failure of iPads (and iPhones) when using iframes, there is a solution and a partial solution.


Who are we?   In this website, "we" refers to other educators:  teachers, curriculum designers, researchers, policy deciders, and parents.

Audiences:   This website is designed for educators;  parts of it may also be useful for students, but “as-is now” most of it isn't intended to be suitable for instruction.   I do want to design instruction-applications that will be useful for students (and their teachers), but to do this I will need to collaborate with other educators.

Link for Verbal-and-Visual OverviewA Website for Efficient Learning

This website is large, with lots of ideas.

But I'm aiming for a high ratio of ideas/words, to help busy people like you (with lots to do and not enough time to do it) learn efficiently with a high ratio of learning/time.

I want to help you learn a lot quickly, so I'm trying to explain ideas quickly (yet clearly and thoroughly), especially in the condensed Executive Summary.  And to minimize duplication I've written many small pages;  each page-summary explains a cluster of related ideas, and links to other page-summaries (with related ideas) that you can choose to explore or ignore.  This structure makes it easier for you to learn as much as you want — in 1 minute, 10 minutes, 100 minutes, or more, in whatever time you want to invest, now and later — about the combination-of-ideas you choose.




Extras:  Tips for Using This Website plus information about
the website and me (Craig Rusbult) and my Ideas for Education.


If you want to discuss any of these ideas,
you can contact me, <> ;
Craig Rusbult, Ph.D. - my life on a road less traveled


URLs for the two pages in this left/right frameset are:
left side -
right side -
frameset -


Copyright © 1978-2018 by Craig Rusbult.  All Rights Reserved.