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Art, Business, Tech Faculty Trained in Design Thinking

Imagine a group of high school students are given the ambitious challenge to develop a product prototype that will help the environment. This assignment would call for them to define a problem to overcome, brainstorm ideas, create, reflect, provide feedback and identify and use the strengths of each team member. The project outcomes might include concept illustrations, a technical instruction guide, a marketing and sales plan, digital advertising pieces, a production and marketing budget and the use of manufacturing processes and CAD drawings to develop a prototype. 


This culminating capstone assignment could be in the course syllabus for art, business and technology students over the next few years. Amherst middle and high school fine arts, technology and business faculty took the first steps this summer to learn the tools, mindsets and strategies of Design Thinking in order to support student learning in individual class projects and cross-curricular projects.


Over three days in July, two trainers from the Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI) in Detroit visited Amherst CSD to offer The Design Thinking for Deeper Student Learning workshop. Faculty became familiar with and practiced using the Design Thinking tools, mindsets, and strategies to support the development of independent learners achieving ambitious individual outcomes.


“Amherst is embracing the use of design thinking to strengthen and deepen student learning, build stronger outcomes and empower teachers to create unique opportunities for student learners,” said Deborah Parizek, HFLI Executive Director. 

HFLI Director



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 She describes Design Thinking as a collection of mindsets and methods that allow students to creatively explore problems, then reframe and act on them. A key point in the process is that it involves action, or “design doing,” as well as thinking. It is open to and inclusive of other disciplines and methods; acknowledges the complexity involved in the process and doesn’t oversimplify; and, continually evolves and expands.


“This is the catalyst for the program that we will be implementing in our new facilities over the next few years,” said Steven Appler, district fine arts coordinator. “This will give our students the opportunity to learn a design process that is used in most design industries in the U.S.” 

Fine Arts Coordinator



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 He said design is a huge field that incorporates so much more than just graphic design or product design. “Our goal is to open our kids' eyes to all of these little pathways that they could investigate. We will have the facilities and ability using this methodology to get them to the best level to transfer into the profession they want to do.”

Work is being completed at the high school on the innovation lab, computer lab, photography and art classrooms in the Fine Arts wing. In the latest phase of the capital improvement project, a brand new technology area, wood shop and ceramics classroom will offer students world-class facilities in which to launch the newly branded Amherst School of Design and Innovation (ASDI). Framing course descriptions around the School of Design and Innovation concept resulted in new course names for art and technology courses in Design & Communications For Innovation, Digital Graphics/Photo 1 & II, 21st Century Design & Innovation, Design & Innovation For Industry (DDP) and Advanced Innovation & Robotics.