Creative Thinking
by Design

About Design-Based Learning

Reimagine your classroom experience with Design-Based Learning (DBL). Building upon the Doreen Nelson Method of Design-Based Learning™, a research-based instructional methodology successfully used in classrooms since 1959, our Project engages K-12 teachers as they integrate hands-on Design Challenges into the classroom to teach the required content standards. Learning by doing, students develop the Deeper Learning competencies by seeking and solving curriculum-based problems.

Why Design-Based Learning?

Using Design-Based Learning builds a student-centered community in the classroom. Students play an active role in learning through intentional play. As lessons progress, students gain confidence, practicing leadership skills, explaining and justifying their thinking, and collaborating with classmates while the teacher acts as a facilitator, or guide.

Centering teaching and learning around the student-built 3-Dimensional artifacts–an avatar, a shelter, a starter city–, opens up the high-level thinking skills that propel creative thinking and expression. Students practice how to  transfer their learning and apply it to new situations, an invaluable skill in an ever-changing global environment. 

Our Goals

The goal of the Design-Based Learning Project is to introduce educators to the Design-Based Learning methodology through professional development and instructional coaching.

Over 50 years of collected data from K-12 classrooms shows that students immersed in the Backwards Thinking Design-Based Learning methodology—including English Language learners, neurodiverse students, and accelerated learners—develop a keen interest in learning. Students gain self-confidence, improve their speaking and listening skills, make significant growth in learning basic skills, and are able to apply the information they learn across subjects and grade levels and into their everyday lives.

We work collaboratively with K-12 schools and districts to support the development of a student-first curriculum that is engaging, socially conscious and  interdisciplinary, effectively meeting the needs of diverse learners.

To learn more about Design-Based Learning and how we can best support your students’ needs, contact Jessica Heim, .

Our Partners

Center for City Building Education

Southeast DREAMS Magnet (LAUSD)

San Gabriel Unified School District

UCLA Lab School


Interested in Design-Based Learning for your school or district?

We offer personalized professional development programs, curriculum development, instructional coaching, and community/family engagement services for K-12 schools.

Contact us to set up an introductory meeting with our Director to learn more.

Latest News

The Design-Based Learning Project is proud to announce the publication of Cultivating Curiosity: Teaching and Learning Reimagined, written by distinguished educator, author, and Founding Director of the Design-Based Learning Project, Doreen Gehry Nelson. The book includes explanations of the methodology’s 6 ½ Steps of Backwards Thinking™ process as well as discussions on how to launch creative and critical thinking in students and the personal experiences of K-12 educators who practice Design-Based Learning in their classrooms.

Not only does DBL allow my kids to think creatively on a consistent basis, it allows them to take a subject like math that seems abstract and foreign to them, and turn it into something they’re actually building.”

Rana Masri
Del Mar High School, SGUSD