A process for creative problem-solving, design thinking is a pillar of Nueva's learning approach. It draws on the humanities for empathy and ethnography; the arts and engineering for idea generation and invention; and the sciences for hypothesis creation, prototyping, testing, and reflection. Students develop the mindset to identify situations where they can better the world, and design thinking gives them the tools and resolve to take action.




Design thinking—empathy-centered design—asks students to put themselves into someone else’s shoes in order to understand their needs and create meaningful solutions. This gives students tools and mindsets to embrace new challenges, unleash creativity, and develop a strong sense of self-efficacy, all starting from a place of empathy.

And because developing empathy in our students is a core principle of our foundational Social-Emotional Learning program, the overlap creates natural synergies, building students’ capacity to look beyond themselves.

Nueva partnered with IDEO and Stanford’s d.School to develop the first design thinking program and Innovation Lab (I-Lab) specifically for PreK–12 education. Students engage in design thinking across the curriculum daily—in our two dedicated I-Labs and in their classrooms.

design thinking

Students engage with design thinking principles on a daily basis across the curriculum, both in the dedicated I-Labs and in their classrooms. Design thinking and engineering are taught, applied, and explored through project-based learning, integrated projects that require real-world problem solving, and independent exploration.

By asking "What do we need next?", design thinkers craft a unique process for each particular project. As students become more mindful of the process they have used on previous projects, they build confidence in their ability to successfully navigate open-ended challenges.

The immersion in design thinking and engineering at Nueva begins in PreK, and students build on their skills throughout their years in the Lower, Middle, and Upper Schools. Student projects address issues from the local to the global and touch on all disciplines of the curriculum—science, math, engineering, art, humanities, music, and more.

As part of Nueva's mission to share our resources, talents, knowledge, and innovation with the larger gifted and education communities, we offer on-site tours of the I-Labs and share best practices at our Innovative Learning Conference and Design Thinking Institute, as well as in presentations at national conferences.

Kim Saxe

Founding Director of the Innovation Lab

“Design thinking is a collection of techniques and mindsets that enable people to identify underlying needs through empathy, to harness and develop their ability to generate ideas, and to actively seek feedback. By flaring and focusing, people discover a path through complex, difficult problems, which transforms them into fearless and effective changemakers.

Design Thinking and Engineering