Education Opinion

An “Extraordinary” Approach to Bringing Design into Any Classroom

By Beth Holland — September 22, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

In his 2009 book, Catching Up or Leading the Way, author Yong Zhao argues that students need to engage in creative problem solving across the curriculum to develop the skills required for success in a global economy. However, most curriculum primarily focuses on student acquisition of content knowledge and then assesses them based on their ability to reproduce a single response -- a practice which does little to encourage creativity and problem solving. Johns Hopkins University researchers, Gregory, Hardiman, Yarmolinskaya, and Limb (2013) insist that creativity needs to be explicitly taught in schools. By asking students to provide multiple, varied responses to questions; encouraging idea generation and brainstorming; making students justify their solutions and provide alternative rationales; and providing collaborative opportunities, teachers can foster students’ creativity, divergent thinking, and adaptive expertise (Gregory et al., 2013).

While this can sound great in theory, what does it look like in practice? If both students, and teachers, need prior mental models on which to base new knowledge and understanding, or scaffolds to support their thinking (Gregory et al., 2013), how are they supposed to gain this initial experience? In many ways, the recent rise in Design Thinking and Project Based Learning could be attributed to these questions.

A few months ago, John Umekubo - Director of Technology at St. Matthew’s Parish School in California - introduced me to an “extraordinary” solution to this challenge. Both teachers and students could gain that valuable initial experience through the Extraordinaire’s Design Studio. This tool encourages participants to deeply understand a character, seek out a problem, brainstorm, and then design a unique solution. Each design kit includes a series of cards: characters, inventions, gadgets, and think-cards. When used in the classroom, it creates a self-contained activity that serves as a catalyst for beginning the design process. Sabba Quidwai provides an excellent overview of both the game as well as how it supports the Design Thinking process in the video below.

By using the Extraordinaire’s Design Studio, teachers can focus on the processes of engaging in creative problem solving and design without having to focus explicitly on their curriculum. The kit provides guidance and instruction as well as the tools to spark student curiosity and scaffold interdisciplinary projects. In fact, the new Extraordinaire’s Education site provides additional teacher resources, activities, and articles to bring play and design into any curriculum.

In his 2013 book, World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students, Yong Zhao further calls for a paradigm shift in schools, “from one that prepares employees to one that cultivates innovative entrepreneurs so creative entrepreneurs are not simply an accidental outcome but the result of deliberate design.” Bringing the Extraordinaires into the classroom could represent one small step in this shift as students assume an active role in the key elements of creative problem solving: problem identification, information searching, solution generation, and idea evaluation (Carmeli, Sheaffer, Binyamin, Reiter-Palmon, & Shimoni, 2013).


Carmeli, A., Sheaffer, Z., Binyamin, G., Reiter-Palmon, R., & Shimoni, T. (2013). Transformational leadership and creative problem-solving: The mediating role of psychological safety and reflexivity. The Journal of Creative Behavior, 48(2), 115-135. doi:10.1002/jocb.43

Gregory, E., Hardiman, M., Yarmolinskaya, J., Rinne, L., & Limb, C. (2013). Building creative thinking in the classroom: From research to practice. International Journal of Educational Research, 62, 43-50. doi:10.1016/j.ijer.2013.06.003

The opinions expressed in EdTech Researcher are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
School & District Management Webinar
Ensuring Continuity of Learning: How to Prepare for the Next Disruption
Across the country, K-12 schools and districts are, again, considering how to ensure effective continuity of learning in the face of emerging COVID variants, politicized debates, and more. Learn from Alexandria City Public Schools superintendent
Content provided by Class
Teaching Profession Live Online Discussion What Have We Learned From Teachers During the Pandemic?
University of California, Santa Cruz, researcher Lora Bartlett and her colleagues spent months studying how the pandemic affected classroom teachers. We will discuss the takeaways from her research not only for teachers, but also for

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education Schools Get the Brunt of Latest COVID Wave in South Carolina
In the past few weeks, South Carolina has set records for COVID-19 hospitalizations and new cases have approached peak levels of last winter.
4 min read
Two Camden Elementary School students in masks listen as South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster talks about steps the school is taking to fight COVID-19, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, in Camden, S.C. McMaster has adamantly and repeatedly come out against requiring masks in schools even as the average number of daily COVID-19 cases in the state has risen since early June. (AP Photo/Jeffrey Collins)
Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP