Jessica Varela - Design Thinking/STEAM/PBL/Makerspaces

I am a first grade teacher at The Lamplighter School in Dallas, Texas. My program at Lamplighter focuses on educating the whole child, supporting them in their individual growth and development. I focus on building 21st century soft skills with students through hands-on learning, including: design-thinking routines, STEAM/STEM challenges, project/problem-based learning units and makerspace activities. Prior to working at Lamplighter, I worked with Alexandria City Public Schools in Virginia as a third grade teacher and with the District of Columbia Public Schools as a first grade teacher.

I am part of an exclusive group of professionals called the Creative Catalyst Cohort who are being trained and mentored by the Stanford school’s K-12 Lab to initiate change in education at the classroom, grade and whole-school levels. I earned my Masters of Elementary Education degree from George Washington University, and my Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of Kansas. I also have post-graduate training specific to reading disorders from Columbia University and mathematics from Stanford University.

I am passionate about using hands-on activities to help instill soft skills in young children early on so that they may apply those competencies throughout their learning journeys. Engagement with students on a kinesthetic level builds on the innate abilities young children already possess. This can be as simple as a weekly challenge or as elaborate as a year-long project. Many times soft skills are developed without children even knowing, however, I advocate for being intentional in communicating with students about these skills in order to build their self-awareness.

The research outcomes of developing soft-skills through hands-on learning include:

  • Increased creativity
  • Enhanced academic engagement
  • More flexibility in thinking
  • Improved metacognition
  • Ability to navigate ambiguity
  • Increased confidence

Engage Jessica Varela

If you would like to engage Jessica, please fill in the form below or email acolvin@lausannelearning.com. Jessica’s contact information is below if you would like to talk to her directly.

Mentor Contact

As a Lausanne Learning Consultant, Jessica exemplifies the Lausanne Learning Five Consulting Characteristics:

  1. Student-Centered Character: Lausanne Learning Consultants always keep each student at the center of the conversation in imagining what “could be” from “what is”
  2. Sustaining Character: Lausanne Learning Consultants are focused on working with the school to implement practices that can be sustained over the long term to support the school’s mission
  3. Imaginative Character: Lausanne Learning Consultants are expert and thus can imagine different answers as you interrogate the key question or questions that you are being asked
  4. Independent Character: Lausanne Learning Consultants ensure that their clients become independent of them over time, not co-dependent
  5. Fearless Character: Lausanne Learning Consultants won’t tell their clients what they want to hear but what, in their professional opinion, should be said


BRIGHT Magazine: 2018 Is the Year of the Intangibles

SMU Maker Ed Project: A Transformative Partnership

Edutopia: Design Thinking in Education: Empathy, Challenge, Discovery, and Sharing

Stanford: Design Thinking & 21st Century Skills

International Journal of Designs for Learning: Can You DIG It?

TED talk on Creative Confidence: David Kelley


LLI Southwest 2016: Design Thinking & Makerspace in the Primary Classroom

LLI Southwest 2018 & 2019: Tinkering + Technology – Innovate your Makerspace

Jessica Varela

First Grade Teacher

The Lamplighter School

11611 Inwood Road

Dallas, TX 75229

tel. 214-369-9201


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