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Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School’s First Expo Showcases Detroit’s Youngest Design Thinkers and Innovators

posted Mar 7, 2014, 8:41 AM by Lisa Kreinbring   [ updated Mar 8, 2014, 8:07 AM ]
 Quarterly Design Thinking Challenges Give Students the Opportunity to Create Solutions to Real-Life Problems and Develop Critical Skills

Design Thinking Expo

At a school-wide exhibition at Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School on March 4, 2014, students showcased their emerging creativity, collaboration, entrepreneurialism, and 21st century problem solving skills, putting a new twist on a familiar “science fair” format. Each class cohort, grades K-5, selected a team of innovative thinkers to represent their learning studio during this special evening. These 20 teams presented the prototypes they developed to potentially change the world of an adult, child, or pet.

The educational program for the 390 students at Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School follows the requirements of the Michigan Curriculum Framework. In addition, they learn the processes and ways that “Design Thinkers” approach problems through four challenges each year. These activities differ by grade-level and give students the opportunity to innovate solutions to real-life human problems while at the same time applying concepts and skills from other disciplines, such as language arts, math, science, and social studies. They learn a specific way to understand and solve those problems.

“In our Design Thinking Challenge, we went on a field trip to the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, and the Second Baptist Church. We interviewed our user and some of the people who work in those places. What they said helped us make our prototype,” said Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School fourth grader Amaurion Moore, whose team was challenged to develop a possible way for families to take advantage of the cultural resources of Detroit. “My group worked together to develop the idea of a Detroit History Scanner. Our user, a male college student, can put his hand on the scanner, press start, and the screen tells him at least three of his ancestors who helped Detroit. It can help you learn your heritage. I think our Design Thinking Challenges help me learn business and social skills.”

“Through our quarterly Design Thinking Challenges, Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School students have the opportunity to collaborate, apply what they’ve learned in core subjects, and generate thoughtful ways they can improve the world around them. As a result, they feel like they are valuable members of their communities and that their opinions, thoughts, and ideas matter,” said Curtis Lewis, Ph.D., Principal of Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School. “We see Design Thinking not as an add-on, but rather an integral process for cultivating skills like perseverance, endurance, and grit, which are expectations of the Common Core, but even more importantly, essential skills to be successful in life.”

The CEO of IDEO, one organization responsible for the growing popularity of Design Thinking, has said that Design Thinking might just be the quintessential career and college skill set for this new era, central to success in every career. Henry Ford Learning Institute (HFLI), which developed and manages the school, has worked with the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford University (“the”), to refine the Design Thinking process for use with teachers and students in K-12 schools.


Henry Ford Academy: Elementary School, housed in the historic Duane Doty Elementary School building,  is part of the Thompson Educational Foundation’s more than $130 million investment in Public School Academies of Detroit (PSAD), which is serving more than 4,400 students during the 2013-2014 school year. They include students at Henry Ford Academy: School for Creative Studies, University Preparatory Academy Schools, and University Prep Science + Math Schools, which are all located within the City of Detroit. All PSAD schools, which are authorized to operate by Grand Valley State University, share a commitment to providing an educational program that graduates at least 90 percent of ninth-grade students and sends at least 90 percent of graduates to college. For more information, visit or call (313) 826-1159.


Lisa Kreinbring                                   

Henry Ford Learning Institute
               or 248-259-4066


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