The Design-Based Learning at Center X Project applies and builds upon the Doreen Nelson Method of Design-Based Learning ™. Successfully taught in K–12 classrooms since 1971, this student-centered teaching methodology engages students in seeking and solving curriculum-based problems as they build a city, colony, civilization, or other small, contextual model in the classroom.

Design-Based Learning is structured around Essential Questions described in the standard K–12 curricula content. Encompassing all subject areas, Design-Based Learning is an interdisciplinary methodology that ignites creativity and motivates civic engagement to teach critical thinking and problem solving.

Design-Based Learning is rooted in the spatial domain — learning by doing.  It is not arts and crafts. Designed and built by students as solutions to content-related problems, quickly made physical artifacts—a creature or avatar, a shelter, a neighborhood, a colony, a city—open up the high level thinking skills that propel creative thinking. Students learn to express themselves and become agile decision-makers with the ability to use and reuse concepts and big ideas across the curriculum and in multiple settings.

Design-Based Learning is not intended to replace the mandated curricula. Rather, it gives teachers a powerful methodology for presenting engaging subject matter across the disciplines to meet the required content standards and the needs of diverse learners.


San Gabriel Unified School District
Center for City Building Education


Jessica Heim, Director of Design-Based Learning at Center X