The Structure of Thinking Programme for Elementary Schools
Working on Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory (1954), the stand-alone Thinking Programme should be divided into 2 core courses:
Introductory Course in Thinking
The Introductory Course should be introduced at the age of 7, once the Concrete Operational Stage is formalised (Piaget, 1954). At this level, the students are introduced to logical thinking as well as basic Critical Thinking and Applied Thinking Skills centred around manipulatives and concrete manifestation of Thinking. Furthermore, Creative Thinking will feature greatly at this stage to enhance the level of innovation and imaginative thinking which many theorists suggest are “schooled” out of them at this critical stage. Brown and Wyatt (2010) argue that Design Thinking incorporates three key overlapping processes: Inspiration, Ideation and Implementation, of which Inspiration and Ideation are key processes of the Introductory Course, while Implementation becomes central in the Advanced Course. The Introductory course also focuses on opening up the “problem space” (Schön, 1983) through divergent thinking processes, although “wicked problems” (Rittel and Webber, 1973) may not be introduced in the Introductory Course. Nonetheless, pupils will be introduced to the exploring of possibilities, and examine how designers synthesise disparate knowledge across different disciplines (Brown & Wyatt, 2010). As per the humanistic paradigm of the Thinking Programme, the Introductory Course thus seeks to explore human-centred element in Design Thinking, which in turn serves to nurture qualities necessary for social interaction and the cultivation of empathy among the learners themselves through an interactive, collaborative and metacognitive process.
The exemplar 10-week curriculum plan for Grade 3 below illustrates some of the guiding principles. Firstly, different fields of Thinking are covered and varied throughout the weeks, and links were made to the existing lessons in Science, Social Studies and Language learning. Next, Lessons are designed around concrete experiences such as putting out fires using vinegar and baking soda, using reinforced cardboard to build furniture, and undergoing a Haunted House experience. Finally, a free topic is created for students to provide input on their interest areas and the instructor/designer will customise the lesson for the specific class.
Advanced Course in Thinking
The Advanced Course should be introduced at ten or eleven, where the Formal Operational level of Piaget’s Cognitive Development Model begins. This is a stage where students develop abstract thought, but such thoughts are newly present during this stage of development. Abstract Thinking is used alongside the introduction of metacognition to create greater awareness of their thought processes and to properly develop strategies to correct and enhance their reasoning. Along with this, children in the formal operational stage display more skills oriented towards problem solving, often being able to use multiple steps. As such, this stage of the programme introduces wicked problems in which the skills of Critical, Creative and Applied Thinking are used within the principles of Design Thinking to examine real-world issues and develop solutions to them. Lewis and Smith (1993) reiterate that higher-order cognition is especially important for design, and the multi-disciplinary approach of the Advanced Course provides a perfect stage for Design Thinking, as a significant part of the problem-solving process in Design Thinking involves the ability to synthesise problems from a variety of sources (Pink, 2006; Simon, 1996).
The exemplar 6-week curriculum plan for Grade 4 below illustrates some of the guiding principles. Again, different fields of Thinking are covered and varied throughout the weeks, and links were made to the existing lessons in Science, Environmental Education and Language learning. Next, lessons are designed around both concrete experiences and abstract problem-solving, such as analysing issues of communication in the world and in their personal experiences, exploring the history of automatons and creating one, and considering the “wicked problem” of overfishing in oceans and developing solutions. The Advanced Level uses far more texts and media as input, which students use to evaluate the evidence necessary for the problem-solving process to be sound and well-thought. Stories are used as extremely powerful tools to trigger the process of Thinking and learning as they are fundamental tools in capturing the human condition, which the entire programme situates itself based on its humanist principles. Rossiter (2002) notes that narratives are valuable classroom tools as they can enable students to understand life events, personal actions, and solidify identity formation, and are equally effective for children and adult learning.