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Books to Spark Inquiry and Design Thinking

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This year, students in the library at my school have been focused on using design thinking as a framework for inquiry and STEAM projects. The design thinking process takes the learner through five non-linear stages: empathize (to understand the user or who we need to solve a problem for), define (to narrow down the problem we want to solve), ideate (to brainstorm solutions), prototype (to create a model or plan), and test (to determine if the solution works). Because several iterations are often necessary, students build resilience and learn how to fail forward. Design thinking can take students to many different end results: a tangible product or invention, a virtual design, or a campaign to raise awareness. Integrating the Global Goals for Sustainable Development can not only make the learning more authentic, but also foster global citizenship. The following fantastic titles can launch inquiry and design thinking in relation to some of these goals.

Global Goal #1: No Poverty

On Our Street: Our First Talk About Poverty by Dr. Jillian Roberts and Jaime Casap, illustrated by Jane Heinrichs introduces several topics that can be used to spark both inquiry and design thinking. Poverty, homelessness, access to education and health care, refugees, and human rights and all addressed in this nicely laid out nonfiction text. Students will be inspired to examine issues in their own communities as well as other parts of the world.

Global Goal #2: Zero Hunger 

A family from Honduras struggles to grow enough food because of poor soil conditions in The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Kate Smith Milway, illustrated by Silvie Daigneault. A new teacher shows Maria Luz, the daughter, how to create compost and make the land rich for growing again. This poignant story shows how some people must depend on the food they grow, to eat. It can initiate further inquiry into hunger and its causes and spur students into thinking about solutions to this local and global issue. 

Global Goal #4: Quality Education

Slug Days by Sara Leach, illustrated by Rebecca Bender explores a few days in the life of Lauren, a little girl with Autism Spectrum Disorder. In this short early chapter book, the reader experiences how Lauren feels differently than the other students at school and how she uses strategies that are part of her safety plan. Slug Days can be used to ignite student thinking about safe and inclusive schools. How can we make sure that our school is inclusive? What changes can we make to the design of our classroom to make sure that everyone feels safe?

Global Goal #5: Gender Equality

Every Day is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International uses very simple text to explain why Malala Yousafzai is a leader for gender equality and a hero to many young girls. The book will prompt discussions about how woman are treated in Canada and other countries and ask the question: What can we do about this? Students can generate ideas on how to effectively launch change and ensure that women and girls are given equal rights.

Global Goal #6: Clean Water and Sanitation

The Water Walker by Joanne Robertson is the true story of Nokomis Josephine Mandamin, who walked around the Great Lakes with the Mother Earth Water Walkers to raise awareness for the conservation of water. The book is a call to action and can lead to discussions and research into water conservation and the fact that even within Canada there are communities without access to clean water. Students can design systems to improve water quality and generate social media campaigns to raise further awareness of the problem.

Global Goal #10: Reduced Inequalities

The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad, illustrated by Brock Nicol describes the  experiences of the author at a residential school. As soon as she arrives, her new orange t-shirt is taken away by the nuns and her hair is cut short. The book is ideal for primary students because it focuses on how residential school children were treated differently than the other children at the public school. Older students may be interested in pursuing research into residential schools and Truth and Reconciliation. Younger students can explore why some children were (and still are) treated differently than others and come up with ideas on how to change this injustice.

Global Goal #11: Sustainable Cities and Communities 

In the beautifully illustrated Butterfly Park by Elly MacKay, a little girl convinces the people in her town to help bring butterflies to Butterfly Park. Their solution is to plant flowers that will attract the colourful insects. This book fits in nicely with the global sub-goal to provide access to safe and inclusive green and public spaces. Students may research and survey people in their own communities to come up with a design for a park that would benefit residents and be inclusive for all. Park prototypes can be created out of Lego or digitally using a platform like Minecraft.

Global Goal #12: Responsible Consumption and Production 

How can zoo poo and food waste be turned into electricity? Can you make houses out of recycled paper? The answers to these questions and more can be found in Trash Revolution by Erica Fyvie, illustrated by Bill Slavin. This non-fiction text has a wealth of interesting information on where water comes from, how to eat locally and sustainably, how to reduce plastic use and how to have a zero-waste classroom. The book provides opportunities for students to create innovative solutions to issues that can directly affect them.

Global Goal #14: Life Below Water

The Brilliant Deep: Rebuilding the World’s Coral Reefs by Kate Messner, illustrated by Matthew Forsythe follows the life of Ken Nedimyer and how he began to save the dying coral in the coral reefs, which were his favourite places to explore when he was a child. Conversations about the ocean can lead to ideas of how to face issues of pollution and the destruction of sea life. The book illustrates how one person can make a big difference if they have the passion and commitment to try. 

Global Goal #15: Life on Land 

If you’re looking to start a guided inquiry and design thinking project, Follow That Bee!: A First Book of Bees in the City by Scot Ritchie is the perfect resource for you.  It contains many interesting facts about bees and addresses the issue of why bee populations are disappearing, especially in urban areas. The fun graphics and speech bubbles will engage readers and have them thinking about protecting natural habitats and planting native species. Even our youngest learners can make plans for a pollinator garden or design habitat improvements for other insects and animals in their community.



Allison Hall is a Teacher-Librarian at a K-8 public school in Brampton, Ontario. She is passionate about creativity and empowering students. She is also a bit of a Lego addict. 


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April 18, 2019
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