Case Study Sharing: Primary Schools

Prof Paula Kwan, Ms Joyce Chung, Ms Christine Greenberg and Ms Poon Lai Man

Prof Paula Kwan, Director of Hong Kong Centre for the Development of Educational Leadership of Chinese University of Hong Kong, moderated the panel sharing on design thinking applications in primary schools with:

Ms Joyce Chung, Principal of Catholic Mission School

The Catholic Mission School has implemented design thinking in the last 2 years. Chung empahsised the pre-requisite of changing the habits of mind of both the teachers and students in the following ways:

  • Building relationship with students and other stakeholders vs cyber interaction
  • Learning by doing vs memorisationsation
  • Solving real world problem vs text book learning

Slide 1

1. Re-design the classroom: Students can now choose to stand at a high bench, use a table, or even sit on the floor. Through consulting the needs of students and introducing choices in the classroom, students feel more respected, more comfortable and have a greater sense of belongings.

2. Re-design the lesson: Teachers define the learning objectives and students feel empowered that they are given the choices to tackle challenges of varying levels to suit their interests and abilities.

3. Re-design teacher-student relationship: Teachers serve as role models on how to express their feelings. By sharing their emotional needs, both teachers and students develop a closer relationship, and also learn and grow together in their daily interactions.

Slide 2

Greenberg, underscored the need for schools to teach differently in highlighted that we are living in an age of abundant information with the accelerating growth in technology and the future needs of our students are least predictable. Quoting the famous educator John Dewey, she said “if we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” The Harbour School asked itself 6 critical questions:

  1. Is it a cybernetic system?
  2. Does the school culture enhance diversity of perspective?
  3. How does the school authentically define and celebrate success?
  4. Does the curriculum emphasise outcomes for the community?
  5. Does the curriculum emphasise learning outcomes for the students as individuals?
  6. Is the school a joyful place to learn?

She has infused the elements of design thinking in her school and student participation is a major component of design thinking.

The Harbour School uses design thinking to answer and address these questions.

Greenberg shared how the school includes students in the school uniform design committee and the school renovation team. She stressed the importance of these small but meaningful initiatives, as there is as much to learn from the children, as they have to learn from school.

Greenberg emphasised there must be diversity of perspectives, with different pathways of success – not just academic. Teaching reading should be as important as art, sewing, theatre or the development of entrepreneurial skills. Assessments should not only be limited to multiple choices and essays, but could be the performance of a task. More importantly, she said that the school values “kindness’ more than “grades”. The school curriculum placed a strong emphasis on the outcomes for the community and the students as a person. Greenburg concluded by reminding us that “the school should be a joyful place and having a little bit of silliness is important.”

The Munsung College Primary School is a Direct Subsidy Scheme School. Poon shared her observations of the challenges of teachers and students at the school. She shared her experience of learning design thinking from a Hong Kong Design Centre teacher training programme last year, and how she adopted design thinking to enable develop students to have courage to ask, to think and to try. “From Impossible to I’M Possible”.

Poon led her students to redesign playgrounds in the HKDC design thinking programme, going through the different stages of observing and emphasising the needs of the users, developing personas and their ideal playgrounds, redesigning the playgrounds based on the insights, presenting their ideas and soliciting feedback, and finally reiterating and redefining their work. She emphasised how the process has enabled students to strengthen their C skills – Compassion, Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking, Curiosity and Confidence.

Apart from benefiting the students, Poon also shared the value of design thinking to teachers:

  1. Build Better relationship with students & parents: Teachers acted more like a facilitator during the process. This new role of the teacher enabled students to feel more equal, resulting in better relationship with students and also with their parents.
  2. Save Time for Long-Term: Whilst teachers might need to invest time to learn a new process at the beginning, it help them to save time in the long-term when students become more self-driven to learn.
  3. Improve Health: Teachers could save time, do more exercise and have more work satisfaction.

Poon gave her tips on how educators can begin the design thinking journey:

  1. Acquire basic knowledge: She recommended IDEO’s free online “Design Thinking for Educators” and the HKDC resources on the Unleash! website (
  2. Change your mindset and get out of the comfort zone
  3. Start small: Beginning with a group, then a class, the form and eventually the school

Panelists discussed how they persuaded colleagues to embrace design thinking. Poon shared that it is important to start small with herself first. Colleagues will be attracted by the outcomes and changes. Greenberg reminded us that learning is an emotional exercise. Chung said she is mindful of the difficulties that teachers face and should attend to their needs.

Participants walked away with a strong message from the panelists that design thinking is a human-centred approach to solve problems, for both teachers and students.