Illustration of a field of lughtbulbs—some lit, some not.

Design Thinking

Design is endlessly trying, refining, improving until slowly something begins to emerge that is so ingenious that it looks like magic if you don’t know what went on before: that’s what evolution does. – Designer, Joris Laarman

Design is all around us, whether it takes the form of objects and spaces, images and interactions, or systems and processes. Beyond meeting a need, design can experiment with forms, techniques, or materials to be an expression of a concept or beauty.

In this Web Quest, you will explore notions of design and learn about a creative problem-solving process called Design thinking. How do artists solve problems? Use these activities and videos at home, online, or in the classroom to spark curiosity, conversation, and critical thinking.

Web Quest includes:

  • A scavenger hunt activity, where students identify how objects in the Denver Art Museum collection speak to both aesthetics and function
  • A lesson plan inspired by Basket Chair (includes two videos, a facilitator’s guide and supportive materials for kids to dive into dive into design related concepts)

Worksheet for scavenger hunt

Print out this scavenger hunt or insert it into the learning management system of your choice to create an interactive activity prompting kids to look closely at the artworks found in the object gallery below.

Object Gallery

Wedding Headdress

Web Quest Resources

  • Design Thinking: Facilitator's Guide (web)
  • Design Thinking: Facilitator's Guide (PDF)
  • Design Thinking: Instructions for Kids (PDF)
  • Scavenger Hunt Worksheet (PDF)
  • Slides for Elementary (PowerPoint)
  • Slides for Elementary (Google)
  • Slides for Middle and High School (PowerPoint)
  • Slides for Middle and High School (Google)
  • Library Resources

The DAM established Creativity Resource thanks to a generous grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Featured activities are supported by funding from the Tuchman Family Foundation, The Freeman Foundation, The Virginia W. Hill Foundation, Sidney E. Frank Foundation – Colorado Fund, Colorado Creative Industries, Margulf Foundation, Riverfront Park Community Foundation, Lorraine and Harley Higbie, an anonymous donor, and the residents who support the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). Special thanks to our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education. The Free for Kids program at the Denver Art Museum is made possible by Scott Reiman with support from Bellco Credit Union.

Design Thinking: Artists Solve Problems is supported by Herman Miller Cares.

Struggling to solve a problem? Historian says that exposure to art could help

Assorted paintings on the wall in an art gallery.

The average museum-goer spends less than 30 seconds looking at a work of art. Image:  UNSPLASH/Andrew Neel

.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo{-webkit-transition:all 0.15s ease-out;transition:all 0.15s ease-out;cursor:pointer;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;outline:none;color:inherit;}.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo:hover,.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo[data-hover]{-webkit-text-decoration:underline;text-decoration:underline;}.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo:focus,.chakra .wef-1c7l3mo[data-focus]{box-shadow:0 0 0 3px rgba(168,203,251,0.5);} Anne Quito

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Andrew Valdivia for Unsplash

Public education often considers fine arts classes and programs expendable luxuries. This article explores how beneficial the fine arts are in education.

It is no secret that, when faced with recession pressures and budget cuts, most American public school systems decrease funding for fine arts programs or cut them entirely. Reasons cited for these decisions include fine arts do not generate much money for schools, nor are they part of the school’s core curriculum; therefore, they are expendable. Unfortunately, educational leaders are often not able to maximize the full educational and economic possibilities of the fine arts, and consequently, students’ learning opportunities suffer.


Many American public schools sponsor annual plays and musicals, and despite performances being limited to a handful per semester, they do generate income for the school through ticket sales. Although they do require a considerable amount of time and practice to perfect these performances, as well as need a limited budget for props and supplies.

However, school drama performances can be increased to generate revenue and stay within budget by sponsoring ticketed events that do not require as much time or resources to produce. Such an example is orchestrating a comedy improv troupe, where only a few simple props and little preliminary preparation are necessary.

In addition, most schools completely neglect to showcase the talents of their budding visual artists. Sponsoring frequent school-wide art shows, auctions, and awards can generate additional funds for public schools, as well as provide enriching educational experiences for students.

For example, until visual art students reach college, few have opportunities to apply to an open call for entries or learn how to promote and set up an art exhibition. Learning these skills early gives visual arts students an edge over many art students who begin to navigate the exhibition circuit in their later college years. Furthermore, participating in art shows provides high school students who intend to study visual art with valuable experience to add to their college applications.


Matthieu Comoy for Unsplash

Matthieu Comoy for Unsplash

Art education authorities Eric Oddleifson and Judith Simpson have analyzed numerous studies conducted in urban and suburban school systems involving increased integration of the arts into classrooms. These studies overwhelmingly found that when the arts are incorporated into daily curricula, positive results are observed which transcend all subject areas. Examples include increased student creativity, better problem-solving abilities, more options to express ideas, open-mindedness and tolerance for different people and ways of thinking, and increased joy and motivation to learn.

Oddleifson’s writing also references the theories of Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, who has conducted additional research advocating fine arts in schools. Gardner hypothesizes that there are seven total forms of intelligence: visual/spatial, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, verbal, and logical. The first five intelligence forms are predominantly found in fine arts. However, most American school systems’ core curricula focus on subjects involving verbal and logical intelligence, such as English and science.

Removing fine arts from educational institutions not only deprives students of a well-rounded education but also denies students the ability to maximize their intellectual capacities. Just as art students require a scientific understanding of the natural world so they can render plants and animals with photo-realistic accuracy, wouldn’t science students benefit from creative stimulation to better generate ideas for hypotheses and experiments?

For students who are passionate about the fine arts, little is more devastating than extensive cutbacks or complete removal of fine arts classes. Furthermore, students who prefer other subjects do learn beneficial skills from fine arts, and the fine arts can contribute financially to public schools. Let us remember the true purpose of education and enrich students with a broad range of subjects so they may reach their full potential.


Martina_Bulkova for Pixabay

Martina_Bulkova for Pixabay

Through the development of qualitative intelligence, art teachers assist students to raise their consciousness and increase their capacity to interpret their world. Drawing on the work of Dewey, Eisner explains that the creation, appreciation, and understanding of visual form in general, and visual art in particular, is a mode of activity he considers to be a form of intelligence.

“The production and appreciation of visual art is a complex and cognitive-perceptual activity that does not simply emerge full-blown on its own.” [Eisner. 1972, p113]


Dewey advanced the idea that intelligence is the quality of an activity performed on behalf of inherently worthwhile ends. On this account, intelligence is a verb, a type of action, not a quantifiable noun, something that one possesses. For Dewey, intelligence is how a person copes with a problematic situation.


When applying this notion of “intelligence” as problem-solving to the way students learn to make meaning through the modality of visual art, Eisner develops a descriptive argument [2002, p114]. He describes a process whereby students identify a problem, select qualities, and organize them so that they function expressively through a medium.

  • A student who sculpts paints or draws is solving a problem
  • He or she must find a way to transform, in some medium, an idea image, or feeling
  • They start with a blank piece of paper, a lump of material, or data in electronic form
  • The student uses this raw material to articulate a vision
  • During this process, they hope to be responsive to the consequences of personal actions when managing material so that it functions as a medium
  • When manipulating the media, the artist learns to be aware of the happy accident that is inevitable in the creation of artworks
  • Through this learning strategy, it is hoped that the student will develop an ability to manage anxiety, frustration, and tension. The ability to forestall closure allows for the possibility of openness to a moment of unity and cohesion
  • Students learn to recognize moments when the whole work comes together
  • During the process, students will develop an ability to cope with thousands of interactions among visual qualities. Moments of cohesiveness, clarity, and unity will emerge through the child’s use of material
  • Upon reflection students (perhaps in conversation with others) will conceive of her artistic purpose and recognize the meaning

Eisner calls the ability to problem solve in this way qualitative intelligence because it deals with the visualization of qualities expressed in images. The activity is directed at the creation and control of these qualities. It is generally recognized that artists work with seven elements of design.


Rahul Jain for Unsplash

Rahul Jain for Unsplash

Qualities are mediated through thoughts, which are managed through the process, which terminates in a qualitative whole. A qualitative whole is an art form that expresses an idea or emotion by how those qualities have been created through the organization.

People use this form of intelligence throughout daily living. Artistic decision-making occurs when people select furnishings for the home, design a brochure, create a website layout, or decide upon what clothes to wear. The ability to do this is not simply given at birth, as one aspect of a genetic bundle of attributes. Rather, qualitative intelligence is an educable mode of expression that develops through experience and (hopefully) with guidance.

Intelligence, in this sense, is capable of expansion and through expansion, it expands the potential understanding of students. Through the arts, teachers assist students to raise their consciousness and increase their capacity to interpret their world.

The tendency to separate art from intellect and thought from feeling has been a source of difficulty for the field of art education. One of the results of this distinction is a lessening of the value of the creative arts fields of inquiry within the curriculum. Such a dichotomous distinction does not do justice to art or education.

For another presentation of this view see The Philosophy of a Creative Arts Educator Wisdom is the Legacy Left by Harry Broudy.

About the author : Kaylee Osuna is a professional writer at , who loves to read and write about Psychology. She has participated in different conferences and presentations to gain more knowledge and experience. Her goal is to help people cope with their problems.

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How Art Programs In Schools Provokes Creative Problem Solving

The fact of the matter is that the economy of the future requires art. It requires creative people developing new solutions for businesses, communities, and our world as a whole. In the past art was seen as superfluous, a fuzzy area in the humanities where practicality vanished. Just because art can be beautiful doesn’t mean it’s not essential, important, or impactful.

Making sure there is art in schools is about giving our children the tools to think outside the box, color outside the lines, and find white space to develop brand new ideas & solve the problems of the future.

In this sense, art isn’t extra, it’s required.

Mirrors and Windows

What’s incredible about exposure to art is that it can serve as a reflection of our experience (mirrors) or it can provide a glimpse of a world we don’t yet know (windows). And the thing is, it always does, because art provokes questions. 

Getting good at asking the important questions regarding a piece of art is similar to circumnavigating any problem to think critically about how we can solve it.

Art in schools creates well-rounded students.

Art Engages

Whether a mural , an art gallery exhibition, set design, or music, art calls out to those who see or hear it and asks them to participate, inherently. Art gets kids thinking organically about:

1. How it was made

2. What they like about it,

3. Inspiration for making their own art, and 

4. Ideating around things that don’t exist yet.

The result is a school where engagement and creativity are implicit expectations for what being part of that community means. Art in schools implicitly tells the kids, “we expect you to wonder, critique, create, and solve.”


Art in schools has a positive impact.

Art Is More Than Paint and A Canvas

Art in schools really is about so much more than students becoming skilled in the arts: it’s about facilitating the type of creative problem solving that pushes the world forward, creates value, solves pressing issues, and makes the world a better place. Learning to actively critique and create is the muscle all kids need to develop. It not only produces more aware, impactful adults, but it also has implications for our country in that creative business people create the companies that change our ideas about what is possible.

In the end, making sure our children have access and exposure to the arts in their schools, means engaging them in creative problem solving from a young age. So much so, that they reflexively think about innovation, value, and service in everything they do.

Art in schools = a better future. It’s that simple.

Learn More About IPaintMyMind’s mission and work:

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The Arts and Creative Problem Solving

The Arts and Creative Problem Solving

Judy listened nervously as her seven-year-old son and five-year-old niece began what she was sure would turn into an argument ending in tears. “I want to play spaceship,” said Peter. “I wanna play house!” said Carrie. “Spaceship!” “House!” “Spaceship!” “House!”

Judy finally rose from her chair to referee the escalating conflict then heard Peter say, “Hey, we could have a kitchen on the spaceship!” “Okay,” Carrie responded, and the children played happily together the rest of the afternoon.

Without adult intervention, Peter and Carrie came up with a creative solution to a difficult challenge by inventing a new way of playing together. It would be every parent’s dream if children consistently used creativity and innovation to resolve conflict like this.

However, the reality is that most children need to learn how to reason creatively and envision multiple solutions to dilemmas. They also need sustained practice with these skills in different kinds of situations. But how, when so much of children’s attention in school is directed toward finding “right” answers and avoiding “wrong” ones, can a child learn and practice these important habits of mind? Where is there room in a child’s life for the messiness and risk-taking involved with creative thinking?

Engagement in the arts offers a wonderful starting point for parents who want to develop and exercise their children’s creative problem-solving skills. It might seem counterintuitive to think of the arts as a place for critical thinking and problem solving, as we typically associate softer qualities such as appreciation of beauty, encouragement of personal expression, and nurturing talent with artistic pursuits.

Elliot Eisner, a professor of education at Stanford University, offers a deeper understanding of the role of the arts in a child’s life: “The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer. The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of the large lessons kids can learn from practicing the arts is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.”

Dr. Eisner’s view that the arts can be about problem solving leads us away from the idea that children’s art is only about making aesthetically pleasing objects or providing entertainment, and gives a parents a way to help children be more innovative in very simple, yet powerful ways.

For example, Nancy, a parent of three elementary-aged children, pulls out the “scrapbox” when her kids say, “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do!” or if she feels they have had enough screen time. The scrapbox is a container filled with simple and inexpensive materials like paper towel tubes, rubber bands, scraps of paper, paper clips, cotton balls, etc.

Nancy challenges her children to create “junk sculptures” that solve a problem in an original way: “Using only the materials in the box, build the tallest, most interesting or most beautiful structure that is also able to stand securely on its own.” Nancy says, “My children love these kinds of challenges, and each of them creates a very different solution to the same problem. It’s fun to point out to them that everyone is ‘right’ in their own way. And they are never bored with this creative activity!”

Jordan, a day care provider, does something similar. “I give each child the exact same quantity of various materials like pipe cleaners, pieces of cardboard, etc.,” she explains. “Then I ask them to create something original from what they have to work with—anything they want. It’s amazing to witness the range of creations that children construct from the same materials.”

Jordan also encourages collaboration between children as a way of sparking creativity. Often a new idea will emerge when two children are sharing their thinking and supporting each other’s work. She also helps them understand that feeling frustrated is okay. “The right amount of frustration can force someone to think more creatively and reach for a new way of solving a problem. It’s fun to see a child move from being stuck and wanting to give up to feeling excited about trying out a new idea.”

Creative thinking and reasoning have been identified and highlighted as an essential twenty-first-century skill by many business, education, community, and government leaders. As our children grow and develop, introducing them to the idea that the arts involve creative problem solving will teach them how to manage frustration, uncertainty, and ambiguity with innovative ideas and solutions.

Through the arts, our children can learn how to express their unique identities, while simultaneously developing habits of mind that will help them succeed anywhere, from the playground to the workplace.

Katrin Oddleifson Robertson is a lecturer at the University of Michigan’s School of Education, and founder and creative director of Wholemindesign, an organization that supports using design intelligence in the learning process. Katrin studied art and art history at Oberlin College and education at Stanford University. She currently teaches preservice and practicing teachers how to incorporate the arts into their work in the classroom.

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