Nurturing the Design Thinking skills in primary school education through game-based learning
‘Empatheia’ is an innovative computer learning game for Design Thinking Education of children between 6 and 10 years old, to be used in formal, non-formal and informal education settings, and that is online available and completely free Europe wide.
The game and an accompaning toolkit have been developed in the Change Makers project. Their design is organized around the ‘Change Makers Design Thinking Competences Framework’: This framework is an innovative contribution for the field of Design Thinking, and especially to understand how to apply this methodology in European primary education contexts. Link to the Framework.
In Empatheia, students (guided by educators) are sent to a period which appears to be in between the medieval age and the renaissance age. Why this period ? Because it is a period where crafts become more and more focused on combining both functionality and aesthetics together, where efficiency joins with beauty. The players play the role of a craftsman/designer who will have to design a carriage for the royal couple. Of course, the brief is quite blurry as the couple have just asked for the « best carriage in the world », but what does it mean? What are the needs of the couple? how do they travel? what are their habits? what do they like? Since the player can’t get answers from the royal couple, s/he has to explore the subject by meeting with characters and discussing with them, especially with people who directly concerned by the royal couple and/or the carriage : the captain, the court people, but also people we forget about like the coachman or the stable boy. The player has then to define what directions s/he wishes to take according to what s/he has listened to and her/his own intuition. Then the player starts generating ideas by first having a look at what already exists out there, then by starting creating its own idea of the carriage. After a couple of iterations, the player finally get to a functioning prototype which will need to be tested. And that’s where things get more complicated : as the player tests its prototype, s/he encounters unexpected disruptions : s/he gets attacked, s/he passes totally unnoticed then s/he encounters a situation where s/he gives a ride to someone else. This is the critical point of the game as it enlarges the scope of solutions way beyond the carriage features. We are seeing a bigger picture in which the carriage shall not only be seen as a product but as a product-service system of transportation. It opens new options like surrounding the carriage with soldiers or entertainers but also sharing it.
Finally, the game does not end with one solution to the problem but a multiple set of possible solutions as Design Thinking is not only about problem solving but also problem setting and about finding unobvious and/or unexpected and/or indirect solutions to problems. Because, as Mencken says « For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong ". That is why the game invites the player to dive into complexity to better explore and understand it, and come up with a rich combinations of ad-hoc solutions.
The game is complemented by a ‘Toolkit’ guide, to support educators with the implementation of the game both in class and off-class and also with inspirational hints on how to further develop the design thinking mindset.In addition, the toolkit offers a set of ‘Toolcards’ that educators can use to combine the use of the online game with a serie of offline activities. This extra output of the project has proven to be a valuable add-on to the game as it offers an opportunity for kids to collaborate together in class around real items that they discuss, manipulate and reflect on.
The use of the game and toolkit helped the students (and teachers) to go deeply and reflect about the different phases of DT. Teachers said: “Totally agree that it helps a lot, we believe that related skills are being worked on. The game helps - makes the children play a role in a specific situation.” (Spanish teachers).
The analysis and conclusions of the use of the game and toolkit in real educational environments can be found in the Change Makers Final Evaluation report (shared in the Erasmus + platform results), this report can be useful for educators or professionals interested in the fields of Design Thinking, Game-based learning and Primary education.