Design thinking is, according to IdeoU, “a process for creative problem solving,” with a “human-centered core.” What could be more human-centered, and more problematic, than an ideology of hate that threatens to destroy entire cultures? Nazi Germany, and the reactions to the rise of Naziism, can be taught in history classrooms with design-thinking, and there are some amazing resources to help humanities teachers!

At Dare to Design, I’ll be asking students to discuss how they would react to the problem of Nazi ideology and political control spreading in Europe, taking a particular look at how Nazi ideology spread through propaganda and fear. This is a sensitive subject, but one that is essential to tackle, given the political climate of rampant nationalism present in many areas today. Design thinking can help students absorb the content delivered in a more personal and authentic way!

I take a lot of cues from Facing History and Ourselves in this lesson, as well as from one of my favorite movies, The Sound of Music. Centering the question of how Nazi ideology could spread around a problem, like the one faced by Austria and the von Trapps, is a great way to bring practical problem-solving to content.

I’m excited to share this lesson with students at Trinity Preparatory School on March 12th – as a preview, here are some of my tips for teaching humanities with design thinking!

  1. Make learning fun! Nazis = not fun, eminently punchable, bad news bears. But role-playing, games, projects that are student-led? These can make learning about history – and realizing the human component that exists beyond the textbook – enjoyable, even when tackling heavy subjects.
  2. There are no wrong solutions. There are always solutions that students come up with that don’t work – but they aren’t wrong. They’re part of the design process. Having a process in place for first (and second, and third, and…) drafts is an essential part of teaching students through design thinking!
  3. Bring the human element in. Design thinking, especially in the humanities, is human-centered. The ultimate goal is to come up with solutions and processes that bring our global community together in positive ways. Design thinking isn’t just solving problems – it’s having empathy for others. So don’t make it just designs on paper! Bring in speakers, show movies, read autobiographies!
  4. Don’t. Just. Do. Crafts. As a parent, I HATE the crafts my kid comes home with. They’re usually sticky (although less so now that she’s in middle school and doesn’t eat the glue…) and they only kind of teach any skills. And worst of all? She wants me to keep them FOREVER. I’m a bad person and throw them away when she isn’t here, but you know what I wouldn’t throw away? A project she actually learned from, that taught her something about the world, that she owned – like a project that made her want to go change the world. So don’t do a diorama of Nazis doing Nazi stuff. Do a project where students actually learn – it can be visually appealing, but please don’t send me things that have cotton balls attached to them. I won’t send them home to you either.

Come see some projects I do, and watch me teach students (and make them sing!) on March 12th at Dare to Design!