What Makes Design-Based Learning Unique & Effective?

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.

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

The students are analyzing, thinking about what works best, and taking their learning seriously. I have never found anything that works better to engage learning than this methodology.”

Georgia Singleton
4th Grade Teacher, Roosevelt Elementary, SGUSD