Why should we teach
Design Method
Scientific Method?

by Craig Rusbult, Ph.D.



        Problem Solving in Life
        Design is a way to solve problems.  In common language, a "problem" is usually bad.  But in design, a problem is any opportunity to make a difference, to make things better.  Whenever you are thinking about ways to increase the quality of life (or avoid a decrease in quality) you are actively involved in problem solving.
        In every area of life, creative thinking (to generate ideas) and critical thinking (to evaluate ideas) are essential.  These mutually supportive skills are integrated in the problem-solving methods used in a wide range of design fields — such as engineering, architecture, medicine, music, art, literature, philosophy, history, law, business, athletics, and science — where the goal is to design a product, strategy, or theory.  In fact, design includes almost everything in life.

        Making Connections with Life
As a concept, Scientific Method is more familiar than Design Method.  But as an activity, design (which includes "almost everything in life") is more familiar, for most students, in what they have experienced in the past and what they can imagine for the future.  Design makes a concrete connection with the past (so students can build on the foundation of what they already know) and with the future (so they will be motivated to learn skills that will help them achieve their own goals for life).  Because design "connects" with students (with their past, present, future) and with enjoyable activities in the classroom — and because design method can help students learn scientific method — it makes sense to teach design method before scientific method.


        connecting the past and present:
        The simple framework of Integrated Design Method — making quality checks by comparing GOALS with PREDICTIONS or OBSERVATIONS, and making reality checks by comparing PREDICTIONS with OBSERVATIONS — will help students recognize the "design logic" they use in everyday activities.  This familiarity makes Design Method seem less intimidating, when students realize they are working with methods of thinking they already know, instead of learning something new and strange.  This familiarity will help to reduce any feelings that "I can't do this," thus reducing this emotion-based obstacle to learning that is a cause (and effect) of low self-esteem in school.
        Establishing connections with the past is also pedagogically sound because, consistent with constructivist approaches to education, students can build on the foundation of their prior knowledge.  Design activities give students a chance to practice and improve their thinking skills, to use what they know and expand into new areas of application.

        connecting the present and future:
        In design the goal can be an improved product, strategy, or theory.  Since this includes almost everything in life, students can see that design education is practical, that it will be useful in "real life" outside school, both now and in their future.  When they realize this, and if they truly appreciate the value of what they can gain, then (quoting from Aesop's Activities),
Students will be excited about learning.  They will invest extra mental effort because they are motivated by a forward-looking expectation that what they are learning will be personally useful in the future, that it will improve their lives.  They will wisely ask, "What can I learn now that will help me in the future?"  They will discover that thinking is fun, and will want to do it more often and more skillfully!
Due to its wide scope, design (to a greater extent than science) includes future activities that every student can imagine, especially if their imaginations are stimulated by a teacher who helps them see that what they are learning in school can be used outside the classroom, that it can help them achieve their personal goals for life.  And if students are convinced that what they learn in school will "transfer to life" and will help them live a better life, they will be more motivated to learn.   { Motives & Strategies for Personal Education }
        The Joy of Thinking
        It's exciting to use our minds skillfully.  Thinking is a grand adventure, in design and in science.
        Design is used in many areas of life, so you can find many ways to enjoy the excitement of design thinking, to experience the satisfaction of solving a problem and achieving a practical goal.  Since the beginning of human history, people have been designing strategies for better living, and designing products to carry out these strategies more effectively.  For example, strategies for getting food (by hunting and farming) were more effective when using products (spears and plows).  Design continues to be useful in the modern world.
        Science is also useful, in two ways.
        First, the understanding gained by science is often used by designers when they develop new products or strategies.  The technological results of "applied science" are familiar.
        Second, science can help us fulfill a deep human need, because it is one way to search for answers when, inspired by our curiosity, we ask questions about what, how, and why.  Most of us want to know the truth, so an intrinsically appealing goal is the design of scientific theories that are true, that correctly describe what is happening now and what has happened in the past.  In our search for truth in nature, we are motivated by curiosity about how things work, a desire to solve mysteries.  { A fascinating mystery story, about a simple theory that is strange yet successful and seems to be an accurate descripti, illustrates The Joy of Science. }
This section assumes you are familiar with the concept of "reality checks" in science and design.

        Building Bridges (from Design to Science) in Education
        Because design "includes almost everything in life" it's easy to find design projects that are fun-and-useful for a student, who is thus motivated to think and learn.  This is a bridge from life to design.  Teachers can also use bridges from design to science

The process of scientific thinking also becomes fun-and-useful when design and science are connected by making bridges from design to science.  This bridge allows a smooth transition from design method to scientific method, which is introduced in a way that is easy, fun, and comfortable, not difficult, boring, and scary.

        Reality Checks:  Reality checks, which are used in both design and science, can be used to build a bridge from design to science.  Teachers can watch for appropriate times, during design projects, to ask a science question: When predictions and observations are compared, do they match?  Because this question is a reality check, which is the logical foundation of science, it provides an opportunity to explain the logic of science: gathering observations, and comparing these with predictions or retroductions (theory-based deductions made before or after the observations) and (for the generation and evaluation of theories) reality checks. thus making it easier to learn scientific method  Of course, you won't do all of this at once.  Pacing is important.  But most components of scientific method are already being used in design method, and this will make it much easier to learn scientific method.
        Science as Design" Bridge:  It is useful to view science as a specialized type of design in which the overall goal is to develop an improved theory, and the main strategy is to evaluate the "quality" of a particular theory by comparing our GOALS for a theory with our OBSERVATIONS or PREDICTIONS about this theory, with the theory's CHARACTERISTICS as they currently are observed or as we predict they will be in the future.  This approach will stimulate important questions (about the process of setting goals and determining characteristics, and about the factors that influence our choice of evaluation criteria) and educationally productive discussions.  { How do scientists design a theory? }
        A "Design to Science" Bridge is explained in the next section.

Design and Science: If we define design as the process of designing products or strategies, and science as the designing of theories about nature, the main objective of design is to improve human technologies, while the main objective of science is to understand nature.
        A "Learning from Reality" Bridge:  We can also see a useful transfer of skills from science to design.  In a scientific reality check, sometimes there is a close match between predictions and observations, and this gives us confidence in the theory being tested.  And when there is not a close match, this can help us change our thinking so it more closely corresponds with reality, which is very useful in science and design, in education and life.

        Design before Science

        As a concept, Scientific Method is more familiar than Design Method.  But as an activity, design is more familiar, for most students, in what they have experienced in the past and what they can imagine for the future.  Because the everyday lives of students have been filled with design thinking, design makes a concrete connection with their past (so they can build on the foundation of what they already know) and with their future (so they will be motivated to learn skills that will help them achieve their own goals for life).
        An Experience Bridge:  If students understand and personally internalize these "past, present, and future" connections, they will be motivated to study design.  And some of this motivation can be transfered to science.  How?  If we teach design before science, and we explain the similarities between design and science, we can create an experience bridge (from design to science) that connects experiences in design with experiences in science that are similar although not as familiar.

        Similarities and Differences:  When students study Design Method and Scientific Method together, they can understand the many similarities and differences between design and science, and between various types of design or types of science.  It can be useful to understand and appreciate both similarities and differences.  The similarities call attention to opportunities for transfer, and the differences help us appreciate the unique characteristics of each area.   {Design and Science examines their relationships, similarities and differences}



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Thinking Skills in Education
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Copyright © 2001 by Craig Rusbult, all rights reserved