Guide Evaluating TopImage
Windshield Wipers — Sometimes, empathic inventions solve problems the original inventor never even imagined. In 1903, Mary Anderson invented a “window cleaning device” for street cars. The device was designed to clear snow and sleet from the window of the streetcar. Mary Anderson was awarded a patent for her idea. Only later did the technology she invented transfer to windshield wipers for the new and expanding automobile industry.

Tacit knowledge (as opposed to explicit knowledge) is difficult to transfer and is learned through experience.

Almost two decades into this new century we find educational pedagogy in the middle of a remarkable shift from knowledge that is taught to knowledge that is experienced. Teachers understand that much of learning is tacit, not explicit. Tacit knowledge (as opposed to explicit knowledge) is difficult to transfer and is learned through experience.

Tacit learning requires engagement — both cognitive and physical. In his book, The Tacit Dimension, Michael Polanyi, a scientist, discusses tacit learning with the simple phrase, “we know more than we can say.” Polanyi talks about learning that arises from experience and interaction with the dimensions that cannot simply be taught. This guide has been about how we capture moments of tacit learning and this section is about how we assess such learning.

The notion of tacit learning is well-supported in research that argues for the application of design thinking in the classroom. Researcher D.R. Hancock in his journal article, “What Teachers May Do to Influence Student Motivation,” points out that design thinking appears to motivate students and their minds. Immersing students in activities that encourage divergent thinking stimulates co-activation among parts of the brain that are engaged in creative endeavors. This also appears to develop personal confidence, self-efficacy, and engagement. Not only does the design process produce creative thinkers, it produces passionate and resilient innovators as well.

How does one measure such attributes? Clearly, design is an empathic catalyst for engaged thought and motivated action. By applying the techniques of design thinking to our instruction, tacit experiences tap into the students’ deep well of ingenuity to mindfully consider and solve nuanced problems far beyond their initial ability to explain or talk about an idea or concept. This process requires careful planning and even more careful assessment.

Rather than simply validating or recreating the finished ideas of others, design thinking presents opportunities for students to do more than they know. In order for the design process to be purposeful and support the instructional dimensions named above, clear evaluation strategies must exist. In general, design thinking includes four main areas that require both looking back and thinking ahead. These areas include:

  • Problem Identification (Context, Sources, Stories)
  • Solution(s) Identification (Brainstorming, Teamwork…)
  • Research and Exploration (Books, Web, Skype, Observations, Interviews…)
  • Design Techniques (Machine, CAD, Handwork….)
  • Effectiveness of Solutions

Sometimes, assessment is thought of as a post-project process. In design thinking, assessment is encouraged throughout the process in order to identify problems, make a plan, keep track of thinking, reflect on progress and project constraints, make improvements, and synthesize thinking. In design thinking, forms of assessment like the ones listed below exist to develop metacognition — the ability to be aware of one’s own thinking strategies — reflect and evaluate one’s thinking with the goal to skillfully direct and improve future thinking, planning, and action.

Templates and Graphic Organizers

Templates like the ones in this guide deepen metacognition if the templates are used for documentation for later reflection. Templates slow down thinking so the students have time to reflect. Templates can be simple or complex, depending on the age and/or ability of the learners. Graphic organizers such as templates encourage later conversations in individual or group meetings about progress and learning. Learning Management Systems such as Google play an important role in documenting student work.


Informal observations are useful assessment techniques. Running records provide a glimpse of the student’s thinking at a given moment, and their sustained observations over time provide information about focus, safety, skill, and social dynamics.

Interviews and Class Discussions

Class discussions develop relevant content. During such times, individual students may make some important conceptual links that are worth noting. Time for individual conversations during collaborative work is important in order to monitor and track individual accountability and progress. There is a social component to these conversations as well: in a group conversation, when thinking is shared, an individual’s thought process develops more than would happen if they were trying to solve a problem on their own. Through the words and phrases offered by others, thinking becomes more visible for all. Careful guidance and coaching by the teacher can help provide insight into how plans or ideas are developing.


Design thinking rubrics are vital elements for sharing specific expectations with students. A leveled rubric that covers many general benchmarks is provided in the appendix at the end of this chapter.

Models/Prototypes/Finished Products

Conversations about in-process and finished work are important strategies for developing the student’s metacognition. In-process assessments and check-ins provide the student with opportunities for realizations, insight, and improvements about their project and progress.

Process Work

Project portfolios are highly recommended in order to archive process work like hand and CAD sketches, formative drawings, and routine templates to develop ideas.


Whether physical projects, cumulative portfolios, or digital portfolios are encouraged, informal sketches and writing are important ways of capturing student thinking and progress. Portfolios are used during interviews and critique sessions, and supply evidence for meeting rubric level benchmarks.


Journaling can take the form of an annotated sketchbook or written summary, completed as a daily exit ticket. Over time, journals become an archived record to be mined for insight and information about success, challenges, progress, and next steps.

Benchmark Checkpoints

If a project is to be accomplished, personal and collective accountability must exist. Checkpoints are a way to monitor specific actions and accomplishments during long-term projects. Such benchmarks may include context paper completion, sketch development, interviews, construction of prototype, and testing protocols.

Context and Research Papers

While students know more than they can say, it is important for them to be able to ground their ideas in historical, mathematical, and scientific reality. Context papers help frame the thinking students use to form solutions to a particular problem.

Open-Ended Application Questions

Paper and pencil quizzes and tests offer insight into the student’s level of understanding about a design-related concept. For example, if the students are designing small submarines, the teacher may want to check for the students’ conceptual understanding of buoyancy and water displacement by an object.

Self-Critique and Peer Critique

Peer critique need not be feared. Favoring observations over judgments provides a meaningful way to gather and give feedback. Small Post-Its provide just the right amount of space for targeted critique. For example, a critique may focus on the ease of user interaction with a design solution. After or instead of peer critique, students should be encouraged to complete their own self-critique in order to assess success, challenges, and next steps.

Capstone Presentations

No matter the developmental stage, capstone presentations for parents, experts, peers, and the broader community offer an exceptional way for the students’ work to be validated, questioned, and exposed to a broader world of feedback. Upper level students should be exposed to juried feedback from panelists or a competition-level jury.

Design Thinking Rubrics

Design thinking requires rubrics and plans for determining sufficient vs. insufficient effort, organized vs. disorganized plans, processes and conclusions, or precise vs. imprecise explanations and skill. The following rubrics develop a suggestion for how to delineate among different levels of competency and mastery in the design process. Since creativity is an extensive element of the design process and sometimes difficult to assess, a separate rubric listing many of the different characteristics to assess is provided first.