In a Design-Based Learning classroom, the teacher acts as a facilitator, observer, and guide. Students learn that their opinions count. They gain confidence in explaining and justifying their thinking as they try out ideas in a safe environment and find that there are many right answers and perspectives.

Design-Based Learning is a research-based methodology integrating civics and life skills to deliver the required K–12 curricula. Teachers have the flexibility to determine how and when to use a comprehensive sequence of connected, curriculum-related Design Challenges to teach the Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, Visual and Performing Arts Standards, English Language Development Standards, California History-Social Science Standards Framework, etc.

In Design-Based Learning, building a small City (or business, or other contextual model) targets high level thinking, and promotes shared problem solving. It functions as a vehicle for students to connect concrete ideas to abstract academic concepts, and to imagine creative solutions to challenges that arise in the building and running of their City. The City lends itself to the discussion of numerous academic subjects, such as characters and plot, government systems, and biological functions. Students learn to revise their solutions after discussion, textbook study, and research. They learn to collaborate and communicate by role-playing the jobs of city life within the student-created City. They learn to become both self-directed and interdependent as they discuss, describe, and justify their solutions to a sequence of Design Challenges that have content-embedded assessment.

The 6 ½ Steps process is the core of Design-Based Learning. Students develop Never-Before-Seen 3-D solutions to problems posed as Design Challenges with pre-set criteria before textbook study and research. When asked to solve problems, students engage from the start in the highest level thinking skills on Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge. In the process of designing their own solutions, students use the lower level skills on Bloom’s Taxonomy and Webb’s DOK. They present their solutions for peer feedback to expand their critical thinking, creativity, and ability to communicate and collaborate.

Students’ unfinished, imperfect, Never-Before-Seen 3-D designs invite revisions based on new knowledge and encourage learning from mistakes. Teaching students to justify their designs and to think critically cultivates their ability and willingness to become active participants in the learning process. Design-Based Learning promotes community-centered projects, fostering civic literacy, global awareness, active citizenship, governance, and cooperation.

Design-Based Learning teachers constantly encourage students to explore powerful ideas, including universal concepts, principles, values, and morals. Students’ knowledge of the powerful ideas behind what they have learned leads to the application of that knowledge to another field or situation. Students learn to be active members of their local and global communities.


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I am convinced that the work of building a sense of social responsibility is one of the biggest priorities of most educational leaders at the moment. Design-Based Learning not only exercises the mind and thinking skills, but builds the comfort, security, and confidence that working together builds better solutions. DBL brings the elements of exploration, critical thinking, planning, and building to not just support curriculum and standards, but to build that sense of cooperation and mutual responsibility to identify and develop solutions to problems of learning, life and community in a way like nothing I have seen.”

Jeff Seymour

Professor at Cal Poly Pomona and former Superintendent of El Monte City School District

Interested in Design-Based Learning?

We’re gathering interest for partnerships for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years. Please fill out our form!