two teachers inspecting landform model

DBL Track Record: 30 Years of Extraordinary Results

The Doreen Nelson Method of Design-Based Learning has a long track record of significantly improving standardized test scores. In particular, DBL students at the lower end of the testing scale and those with learning disabilities (ADD and ADHD) have far surpassed their previous scores. Other areas and student populations showing marked improvement include:

  • attendance
  • problem students’ attitudes
  • reading
  • math
  • critical thinking
  • English Language Learners (ELL)
  • educationally handicapped

What Teachers Say About DBL

Teachers find that Design-Based Learning fosters a new excitement in the classroom and is a powerful antidote to burnout. Students’ hands-on experience as problem-solvers puts the focus on learning, goal-setting and self-evaluation. Rather than commanding and controlling, teachers guide and empower students. In one teacher’s words, “Once you teach this way, the students won’t let you go back.”

Here are just a few of many positive comments by participants in the 2007 DBL Summer Institute for Teachers at Art Center College of Design:

“I found that the whole DBL process activated my imagination and brought to life a new aspect of my teaching.”

“I have been teaching for over 35 years. DBL yanked me right out of ‘classroom mode’ and into a creative, active experience, for children and myself—a complete 180 degrees in terms of my thinking about what it is I’m really doing with my students, and getting excited about it.”

“Thank you so much for this opportunity to be reinvigorated as an educator.”

“I found the connections between the hands-on, philosophical and academic aspects of DBL to be stimulating and worthwhile."

“I enjoyed the pace of the workshops. We were able to get information, play with the ideas, discuss, and return to the DBL concepts again and again. This circular learning process reinforced Dewey’s principles.

What Students Say About DBL

“It helps me so I can use my brains to invent things.” — 2nd-grade student

“It helps by giving you creative ideas and it helps on tests when they ask  you things that involve lots of thinking.” — 2nd-grade student

“I think DBL helped me to kind of understand things.” — 3rd-grade student

“It helped me learn to make stuff and in writing about it.” — 3rd-grade student

“I designed a cereal box and turned it into a report.” — 3rd-grade student

“We take lessons from the books we read and apply them to our community and real life. We learn what it takes to govern ourselves and think on a higher level. We get to come up with our own answers and explanations.” — 10th-grade Community Building language arts student

“We use writing, speaking and literature skills...to deal with community problems. After each meeting, we often write essays about the issues. We use the literature to interpret our thoughts. Everything is a presentation.” — 10th-grade Community Building language arts student

“We are able to relate the books we are reading to the things in our class community. We learn the characters’ mistakes, and try to prevent them in our community.” — 10th-grade Community Building language arts student

“The most valuable lesson we have learned is that there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is what you learn, but wisdom is what you do with the knowledge you have.” — 10th-grade Community Building language arts student

What Parents Say About DBL

 “It teaches our kids about responsibilities, being a good citizen of the community and being part of a team.”

“[Our son] has learned to participate, improve his writing and put it into context.”

“This gives my child the ability to discuss information with others before making a decision.”

“I have seen [my daughter’s] written language skills improve with this class because of the ongoing documentation she has been required to do.”

‘[Students] are learning good conflict resolution and debating skills. They have been able to observe differences in thought patterns and opinions.”

“Instead of just reading literature, you are living it.”

“I was so proud to see the work [my daughter] did; the model is wonderful. Hands-on for my daughter is always best, making it easier to grasp concepts.” — parent of a learning-disabled student.

What Professional Educators Say About DBL

Los Angeles Unified School District

Dr. Richard Vladovic, Board Member (PDF)


Dorothy Dunn, Head of Education, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

"Doreen Nelson has been at the forefront of design education in this country for more than twenty five years. She has been, and continues to be, an important ambassador between architecture and K-12 education as her innovative programs have served as models for her colleagues in both fields."

Peter Hawley, Program Specialist, National Endowment for the Arts

Quite simply put, Doreen Nelson is a seminal thinker in the application of design methods to teaching and learning. She has not merely been a tireless advocate for design in education but has been in the trenches herself as a classroom teacher, a curriculum developer, and a trainer of teachers. Her early work in Los Angeles came to the attention of Charles and Rae Eames, who encouraged and documented her work.

David Rockefeller, Jr.

"Ms. Nelson has been tireless in her recruitment of high level advisors from design and architecture, education theory and practice, as well as from the arenas of govenment and finance. She is a first-rate thinker and an elegant implementer of ideas.