Common Sense


Design-Thinking Tools for Students

Solving problems creatively and iterating on those solutions is at the core of design thinking. What could be better suited to the 21st-century classroom, right? Check out this collection of great apps, websites, and games for design thinking. We've separated these picks into three categories: ideation and collaboration tools students can use during the design process, creation platforms that will foster design-thinking skills, and web-based resources that students can use to find their next design project.

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Top Picks


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Ideation and Design Tools


A compact, simple organizational tool for minimalist presentation

Bottom line: Great web-based presentation tool for beginners.

Paper by FiftyThree

Beautifully designed digital sketchbook for any age

Bottom line: The simplicity and effectiveness of the app make this a powerful sketch and note-taking tool for the iPad.


Powerful mind mapper aimed at adults, simple enough for older kids

Bottom line: Sophisticated productivity tool enhances learning and organization with simple dashboard and slick workspace.


Collaborate, brainstorm in real time with easy-to-use online whiteboard

Bottom line: A versatile, full-featured online brainstorming collaboration tool that can facilitate small-group projects.


Build slick, engaging whiteboard animations with Web-based tool

Bottom line: A stellar -- if somewhat pricey -- creation tool for the classroom.

Grafio 3 - Diagrams & ideas

Flexible app transforms sketches into pro-level designs and diagrams

Bottom line: A terrific choice for creating simple diagrams or presentations on iOS.

Creation Tools That Build Design-Thinking Skills


Drag-and-drop programming is an effective intro for budding coders

Bottom line: With a little adult help, this is a great platform for getting kids into programming.

The Robot Factory by Tinybop

Improve designs, collect favorites in robot creation sandbox

Bottom line: A well-made and enjoyable STEM app that leverages what's great about play -- experimentation -- to spark engineering interest.

Minecraft: Education Edition

Stellar collaboration tools, controls make Minecraft classroom-ready

Bottom line: An excellent tool to engage students in learning, collaboration, and critical thinking is now more accessible than ever to teachers.

Curiosity Machine

Kids build, share, receive pro feedback with awesome engineering site

Bottom line: Though it may not be an instant fit for your classroom, the exceptional quality of the site’s projects and processes makes it worth any problem solving.

3D Slash

Minecraft-like 3D modeling (and printing) made super easy for all ages

Bottom line: This may be the fastest, cheapest route from idea to 3D printing out there, if you don't mind low-res, pixelated designs.


Spiraling sandbox of adventure and creation gets kids to dig deep

Bottom line: An irresistible and seemingly limitless incubator for 21st-century skills that, with a little guidance, can chart new courses for learning.

Gamestar Mechanic

Captivating manga romp teaches kids game design

Bottom line: This terrific and affordable toolset teaches kids how to design games and shows teachers how to use games to teach.

LittleBigPlanet 2

Accessible yet deep game creator will dazzle and challenge

Bottom line: A deeply charming experience for teachers and students interested in pushing boundaries, making things, and participating in a healthy community focused on boundless creativity.

GameMaker Studio 2

One of the best creation tools available for aspiring game developers

Bottom line: Provides teachers with the best choice for a full unit or class on game design, and gives students a tool to help them realize their game-making dreams.


Code-free game development tool helps kids program and publish

Bottom line: It ups the sophistication of building block coding by connecting student work to major publishing platforms.

Great mobile app creation site has solid teacher resources

Bottom line: A fantastic and complete introduction to Android app programming concepts and methods.


Make learning meaningful through 3D design

Bottom line: SketchUp is a fantastic, subject-agnostic tool that does take time to learn but helps students gain truly useful, transferable skills.

Play or design text adventures, but creation can get technical

Bottom line: Text adventures can be a blast to play and make, but the Quest game-making tool, while offering some decent support, can be tough to use effectively without coding experience.


Build a working iOS or Android app, even without coding experience

Bottom line: A great way to help motivated students create real apps, though others will need more support.


Amazingly simple yet powerful and flexible online CAD tool

Bottom line: A big step forward in making 3-D design more accessible and social.


Create and share apps even without the coding know-how

Bottom line: Create real-world apps right away and make ideas come to life.

Websites With Design Resources, Activities, and Inspiration

Design Squad Nation

Classmates can compete to solve fun engineering problems

Bottom line: Design Squad Nation makes engineering fun through hands-on activities and easy-to-understand scientific explanations.


Design, build, and share new things offline and online

Bottom line: DIY motivates kids to tackle a wide range of problems with independent and scientific thinking.


Projects inspire creativity; a place for kids' sharing would boost fun

Bottom line: A go-to site for teachers looking for well-presented project ideas; kids will need opportunities to share work locally.

Autodesk Design Academy

Outstanding project-based tutorials for popular engineering software

Bottom line: The projects found here are a great way to teach and learn digital design; all are truly fantastic (and free!), with everything you need ready to go.

Get tips for using these tools in the classroom

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