How to enhance students’ motivation for learning by adopting the approach of Design Thinking in the primary school curriculum
— Teacher’s sharing 4

— Jade Lee Yuk Chun〡Former Assistant Principal of Lingnan University Alumni Association (Hong Kong) Primary School


Design Thinking is a hot topic in the education field recently. It has been widely used mainly in secondary schools and adopted by some primary schools. One of the reasons for enforcing the method is because teachers believed the Design Thinking approach is mainly used for designing ‘things’, e.g. designing a device for the elderly in STEAM education. However, the importance of Design Thinking is not the final product but the thinking process behind it. It can be applied in different ways including value education, language learning, etc. Throughout the process of Design Thinking, students are highly involved in different stages. It’s effective in enhancing students’ learning motivation and fostering self-regulated learning. In this article, I would like to share how we implemented Design Thinking in the primary school curriculum followed by a reflection.



First of all, what is the motivation for learning?

Motivation refers to the need for achievement, the probability of success, the incentive values of task fulfillment, and the incentives to avoid failure (Dörnyei & Ushioda, 2013). According to the social cognitive theory, a person’s behaviors can be influenced by their personal beliefs and thoughts (Bandura, 2001). Motivational factors including intrinsic motivation and self-efficacy have the strongest influences on students’ behavior (Berger & Karabenick, 2011). Self-efficacy is defined as individuals’ evaluations of whether they are capable of accomplishing a particular task (Schunk, Pintrich & Meece, 2008). Students who believe that they will be successful are more likely to achieve success, and vice versa (Hong, Sas & Sas, 2006). Students with higher levels of self-efficacy beliefs have a greater tendency to believe the learning materials are useful, important, and interesting. They are more willing to pay effort and use a variety of strategies regardless of the difficulties or setbacks (Kim, et al., 2015; Walker, Greene & Mansell, 2006).


What is Design Thinking?

According to Brown (2008), Design Thinking is a problem-solving approach that involves empathizing with the end-user, defining the problem, ideating potential solutions, prototyping and testing those solutions, and then implementing the best solution. It is a human-centered approach that prioritizes understanding the needs, desires, and behaviors of the people for whom a solution is being designed for. The goal of Design Thinking is to create innovative, effective, and sustainable solutions that meet the end user’s needs while also considering the technical and business constraints of the problem. It is a collaborative and iterative process that encourages creativity, experimentation, and learning from failures. Design Thinking can be applied to a wide range of problems and is used in fields such as product design, service design, and organizational design (Brown, T. (2008). Design thinking. Harvard business review, 86(6), 84-92.).


The Design Council in the UK suggested a framework for innovation which is also useful to construct the curriculum of Design Thinking—the Double Diamond. There are 4 major processes: Discover🡪Define🡪Develop🡪Deliver. In these four steps, it involves both convergent and divergent thinking which are effective to foster active learning as well as to develop a variety of generic skills such as critical thinking, creativity, problem-solving, etc.



Why implement Design Thinking in primary schools?

This approach is suitable for primary school students because of the following reasons:

•  It allows 100% student Students are required to work in small groups. All students have to be involved in different parts of the learning process. There is no free-rider and each student has to play their role. It facilitates students to perform their potential and talents in different ways.

•  It caters to learning diversity throughout the whole process. Unlike the traditional learning tasks which request students to complete a task with a fixed final product, students are granted greater flexibility and allowance to develop their products.

•  It encourages students to practice empathy. Empathy is one of the core values listed in the EDB curriculum which is challenging to teach explicitly. In Design Thinking, students start by considering the needs of the target users. They have to observe, understand and comprehend their needs. Empathy is learned without being taught in the classroom.

•  It helps students develop communication skills, creativity, and problem-solving skills. These skills are significant for 21st-century learners and they are also included in the EDB curriculum frameworks (9 generic skills). Throughout the process of empathizing, defining, and prototyping, students practice communication skills spontaneously. They also apply their creativity in solving problems as well as other generic skills.



How to implement Design Thinking in primary school curriculum?

First of all, we started with a small group. We joined the program organized by PMQ Seed in Fall 2022. The theme of the programme was “Collaboration” which emphasized the importance of teamwork. The programme was designed for Primary 3 and 4 students. We recruited around 25 students to join on 5 Saturday mornings. Unlike the regular classes at school, the programme was carried out with a smaller teacher-student ratio, longer lesson time, and a series of group work was involved. It was when school resumed not long ago after the pandemic. The students were excited about playing and working with one another. They were highly engaged in all activities.

After the first successful trial, we then put it in the school-based curriculum.


Here are the details:

Topic: Mini Olympic Day


Values & attitudes:

•  Courage, persistence, empathy, respect for others, respect for self, respect for different ways of life & Appreciation


Generic Skills:

•  Communication skills, collaboration skills, critical thinking skills, creativity & problem-solving



•  Students will work in teams of 4-5 to create a new sports game to help P1 students to make more friends

•  Students will organize a Sports Day and learn about 3 core Olympic values: Excellence, Respect, and Friendship.

•  Students will experience the design thinking process by creating a Sports Day for P.1 students.


Target levels:

•  Primary 4 as the designers and Primary 1 as the clients


Subjects involved:

•  Core subjects: English, P.E.

•  Others: Chinese, General Studies, Music, Life Education, Bible Studies


First of all, we guided the students to think about the needs of the P.1 students. They interviewed them and observed their interaction during recess. After discussion in class, we formed the mission statement: “How might we organize a LUAAPS Olympic Day to help Primary 1 students to make more friends?”

In short, the students designed a new sport or a mini-game for P.1 students. Here is the timeline:


Stage ❶:

Interview P.1 students

Empathise their needs


Stage ❷:

Design a new game or a new sport for P.1 students

Set up rules for the game


Stage ❸:

Prepare the props and tools for the games


Stage ❹:

Final rehearsal

LUAAPS Olympics Day



Again, students were excited and enthusiastic about the design. As a teacher as well as a facilitator of the programme, many magical moments surprised me a lot:


For students:

•   They connect. Playing game is the language among students. They connect when they play.

•   It’s okay to make mistakes. There are no model answers to follow. Students are free to create without being afraid of making mistakes.

•   Find a purpose for learning. The design they made was catering to a special need behind. To fulfill the need, they apply different skills and knowledge proactively. Such a learning process is meaningful and purposeful.

•   100% participation. Students work in groups and they need to work closely together. To work out their design, all of them have to play their part. There were no free riders. Everyone can find their positions which also helps them develop their potential.


How to make learning happen spontaneously?

Motivation is the key. Unlike the traditional teaching approaches, we would like to elicit students’ intrinsic motivation by involving students actively in nearly all the learning tasks. By conducting a DBL project, students are required to explore the topics through acting, reading, conducting experiments, designing and making models, etc. There are no model answers nor competition among themselves. Students can take the initiative to make choices. Students are granted the freedom to control and manage (1) how much they would like to learn; (2) how far they would like to go and (3) how they would like to present their ideas. Students are the owners of their learning and are responsible for carrying out the learning process and achieving the learning goals by themselves. Teachers, as facilitators, accompany the students throughout the learning journey by providing guidance and encouragement.