About Design-Based Learning

Developed by an award-winning educator, Design-Based Learning “sneaks up on learning” through hands-on problem-solving that develops reasoning skills while teaching the standard K-12 curriculum.

student explaining her project

What is Design-Based Learning?

A teacher using DBL, challenges students to create physical objects that  reflect themes, concepts and standards.  With these objects students learn basic subjects in an interactive environment that promotes the recall and reuse of information. They learn to make logical connections, identify cause and effect, draw analogies, and think critically at the highest level. Using simplified techniques from the design professions, they learn to plan, experiment, discover, interpret, discriminate, revise and justify their thinking.

What Does DBL Accomplish?

DBL enables students to acquire intellectual and social skills that can be used in all fields of study, as well as in everyday life. These skills include:

  • Thinking critically and asking thoughtful questions
  • Independently locating relevant information
  • Creatively adapting information to a specific need
  • Testing the validity of an idea
  • Learning from mistakes and coming up with fresh solutions
  • Working cooperatively with others and democratic decision-making

DBL is a proven method of:

  • Teaching key concepts in K-12 education.
  • Raising test scores.
  • Involving students of all ability levels.
  • Guiding students toward basic themes, concepts and principles to prepare them for guided standard based lessons.
  • Making the curriculum come alive without any special supplies or equipment.

students using tools to construct city

Why Design-Based Learning?

Design-Based Learning prepares students for the continuous changes that they will face as adults. It makes learning relevant and leads to dramatic results on standardized test performance and attendance while discipline problems decline. English language learners in particular are motivated to learn.

Practicing designers in the design professions are always faced with new challenges and have tools for approaching the constant change of the marketplace. For example, how can you make a portable cup that keeps a beverage hot but protects your hand from heat? They make progressively more complex models, analyzing and revising them to come up with a workable solution. DBL applies this way of thinking to teach the required curriculum, by turning topics into a challenge and having students make models that reflect the concepts they are learning.

What Kind of 3-D Models Are These?

crumpled notebook paperThese are very simple models. Single sheets of notebook paper are crumpled, folded, rolled, torn, pasted or punctured. What the finished model actually looks like is not important (it will probably look a lot like a manhandled piece of paper). What matters is that making the model—and explaining how it works—unlocks students’ ability to figure out how things function.

Learning Becomes a Hands-On Experience.  Making the model invests students in the learning process. As they prepare to read the textbook, they are actually experiencing the curriculum. When Angela rolls up a piece of paper to demonstrate her solution for moving people across the United States before there were roads, you can see how involved she is—and how ready she is to open the book.