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A Methodology for Infusing Creative Thinking into a Project-Based

Learning and its Assessment Process

Yaron Doppelt
University of Pittsburg, USA

Imparting creative thinking to pupils through the design process of their projects requires
not only changing the teaching methods and learning environment, but also adopting new
assessment methods, such as portfolio assessment.
The participants in this study were 128 high school pupils who have studied Mechatronics
from 10th 12th grades (16-18 years old). By the end of 12th grade, the pupils had created
57 authentic projects. The intervention program had two parts: first, the pupils
documented their project according to the creative design process (CDP) that had been
introduced to them. Second, the projects were assessed according to a creative thinking
scale (CTS). CDP was designed to assist pupils in documenting the design process. CTS
could be used as a guideline for teachers and pupils during course of the project.
The research examined pupils performance during project-based learning (PBL). Data
were collected using the researchers diary, pupils interviews, observations of class
activities and portfolio assessment.
The findings show first that pupils learned to document their design process according to
CDP. Second, pupils projects demonstrated creative thinking according to CTS.
Evidences for high-level documentation of CDP were found in pupils projects. On the
other hand, there is much to be learned about documenting teamwork and pupils
reflection. This research could assist researchers and teachers who are interested in
assessing engineering education outcomes.

Key Words: Engineering Education, Design Process, Project-based Learning, Creative

Thinking, Learning Environment, Assessment,.

Infusing a specific disciplinary course with instruction in creative thinking skills results in
a rich learning environment that will contribute not only to the development of thinking
skills but also to a better understanding of the discipline under study.


education in the high school level, which is common in Israel, has a unique structure that
combines practical and theoretical knowledge, synthesizes vertical and lateral thinking, and
creates a rich and flexible learning environment.
Project-based learning (PBL) through authentic issues, which are taken from the pupils
worlds, enables pupils from various backgrounds to study science-technology. PBL
enables pupils to research, plan, design and reflect on the creation of technological projects
(Doppelt, 2000). Imparting creative thinking to pupils through the design process of their
projects requires not only changing the teaching methods and learning environment (LE),
but also adopting new assessment methods, such as portfolio assessment, which is based
on records of pupils activities.
The CTT (Creative Thinking in Technology) program (Barak & Doppelt, 1999) integrates
Co.R.T. Thinking tools (De Bono, 1986) into the engineering curriculum using the LEGOLogo LE for creating authentic projects. Pupils learn to use lateral thinking tools in order
to consider alternatives and factors and refrain from hasty judgment. In this program,
pupils also use vertical thinking tools in order to document a design process. In addition,
they document their calculations and create a structural programming of the control of their
projects. The field research that was described elsewhere (Barak, Waks & Doppelt, 2000)
is a follow up of the CTT program, which began in 1994, and combines qualitative and
quantitative tools. Findings from this research showed that pupils prefer a LE that
emphasizes team projects, planning, and building activities. Pupils feel that the aspects of
such a LE create challenges, develop their imagination, and contribute to their success in
studying technological subjects (Doppelt & Barak, 2002). Over the course of the previous
research, a creative thinking scale (CTS) was developed for assessing pupils portfolios
(Barak & Doppelt, 2000). The current study continues the CTT program by detailing a

Creative Design Process (CDP) and suggests an implementation of a Creative Thinking

Scale (CTS) for assessing the pupils projects.
Theoretical Background
The theoretical support for the current intervention lies in three issues: how to integrate
knowledge and design in engineering education, how to infuse the design process with
creative thinking, and how to assess project-based learning.
Engineering Education: A MECHATRONICS Context
De Vries (1996) claims that we should help pupils integrate knowledge (scientific and
other bodies of knowledge) into their design processes. It is evident that there is a role for
science education in technology education and that science education remains a crucial part
of general education even where technology education has gone beyond the "technology is
applied science" paradigm. Technology education is an equally valuable subject to science
education, and both subjects should be taught (Gardner, 1997).
Engineering education in Israel is part of the comprehensive high school curriculum. At
the end of junior high school, pupils have to choose one or more areas as a major, such as
Sciences, Humanities or Engineering. The Engineering curriculum for high school in
Israel contains several major subjects that are related to physics and mathematics, such as
civil engineering, computers and electronics, mechanics and control systems. Mechatronics
is a new sub-major in the mechanics and control subject. The pupils study Mechatronics
for three years, 10th 12th grades. During these three years they learn Physics, System
Control, Mechanics and Programming for 15 hours per week each year. This syllabus is
about half of their weekly schedule.
This MECATRONICS curriculum helps educators to create rich learning environments.
The characteristics of a rich LE have interesting impact on learning outcomes. Some
gender differences were found in pupils perspective towards the science-technology LE
(Doppelt, 2004a). The current study proposes how to infuse the design process in projectbased learning (PBL) with creative thinking skills.

Infusing Creative Thinking into the Design Process

A design process is similar to problem solving and has a general structure which includes
six stages: defining the problem and identifying the need, collecting information,
introducing alternative solutions, choosing the optimal solution, designing and constructing
a prototype and evaluation and correcting the process. The design process also includes
four hierarchical layers of reasoning skills: (1) Understanding of existing systems; (2)
Systematic and functional understanding of an engineering system; (3) Applying set
procedures of analysis and synthesis and (4) A controlled design process which implement
the previous layers (Mioduser, 1998).
It is difficult for pupils and even for teachers to learn how to use a general design process
(McCormick & Murphy, 1994). In order to avoid teaching a general design process, it has
been suggested that one can assist pupils in integrating disciplines during their design
process while teaching standards, rules, marketing, and a wide base of scientific
knowledge (De Vries, 1996). The current work illustrates a design process which takes the
latter approach while being sensitive to the authentic content of pupils projects. This
design process is used during PBL as pupils study Physics and System Control. CDP
(Creative Design Process) was based initially on the PISCO thinking framework (De Bono,
1986). The PISCO stands for Purpose, Input, Solutions, Choice and Operations.
Infusing the teaching of thinking skills into a specific disciplinary course may provide a
rich LE that will contribute not only to the development of thinking skills but also to a
better understanding of the discipline under study (Glaser, 1993; Ennis, 1989; Zohar &
Tamir, 1993). De Bono (1986) differentiates between two types of thinking: Lateral
thinking refers to discovering new directions of thinking, in the quest for a wealth of ideas.
Vertical thinking assists in developing the idea and checking it against objective criteria.
Lateral thinking and vertical thinking are quite different processes. It is not a matter of one
process being more effective than the other, as both are necessary. Lateral thinking is a
central, but not singular, component of creative thinking. Waks (1997) points out that
during work on a technological project, lateral thinking initiates the learning process while
pupils seek for alternatives and examine different solutions. Vertical thinking is essential in

the stage of choosing a solution and developing it. Vertical thinking and lateral thinking
complement each other, and both are the essential elements of creative thinking (De Bono,
1986). Infusing pupils design process with instruction in creative thinking creates
opportunities to assess creative thinking in PBL.

Assessing Creative Thinking in PBL

Computerized technological systems provide a rich LE and expose the learner to a variety
of representations and configurations, such as true model, simulation, building models that
represent formulas, algorithms, graphics and animation. One of the better-known examples
of such a rich computerized LE is the LEGO-Logo system (Doppelt & Armon, 1999;
Jarvinen, 1998). Resnick and Ocko (1991) state that this LE puts children in control of
their learning, since they formulate their own designs and experiments, and work on
projects that they care about personally, instead of recreating someone else's experiment.
Project based learning in engineering encourages pupils to work in teams (Barak &
Maymon, 1998; Denton, 1994). In this way, pupils combine "hands-on" activities with
what Papert (1980) has termed "heads-in" activities. Project-based learning (PBL) could be
used as a tool to develop pupils competencies by working on integrated projects (Barlex,
2002). Project-based learning through authentic issues that are taken from the pupils
worlds enables pupils from various backgrounds to study science-technology (Seiler,
Tobin & Sokolic, 2001). Authentic projects reflect real life situations and by definition
have an integrated nature. This approach has been widely implemented, and past research
has shown interesting findings regarding the opportunities that PBL affords the learners
(Barak & Doppelt, 1999, 2000; Barak, Eisenberg & Harel, 1995; Barlex, 1994; Doppelt,
2003; Doppelt & Barak, 2002; Resnick & Ocko, 1991). One of the keys for succeeding in
PBL is to engage the pupils in the assessment process.
Imparting creative thinking to pupils through science and engineering education requires
not only changing the teaching methods and LE, but also adopting new assessment
methods, such as portfolio assessment, a method based on records of pupils activities. The
portfolio can consist of written materials, computer files, audio and video items, sketches,
drawings, models or pictures. The portfolio reflects what pupils have learned, how they
question, analyze, synthesize, solve problems, and create new ideas or design and build
useful products or systems. The portfolio shows also how pupils interact intellectually,
emotionally and socially with others (Collins, 1991; Wolf, 1989).

Barak and Doppelt (1999) have shown that the pupils cope with complex problems and
find solutions that depend on creative thinking in the sense of synthesizing lateral and
vertical thinking. In that study, pupils created portfolios in which they collected evidence
of their own creative thinking and other outcomes of the learning process.
Over a period of several years, each class developed criteria for assessing the portfolios.
On the basis of these experiences, a scale for assessing pupils creative thinking through
their portfolios was developed (Barak and Doppelt, 2000).
The assessment scale of creative thinking proposed here can help educators strive for a
gradual development of higher-order thinking skills in two main areas. The first area,
designing and construction processes, involves the complexity, originality and creativity of
the project topics that the pupils have chosen, on the one hand, and the extent that pupils
used mathematical-logical and scientific thinking on the other hand. The second area,
learning and thinking processes, involves developing learning and thinking processes in
class, through problem solving, and via teamwork and reflection.

Intervention Program
The intervention program lays out a new design process and assessment scale, which were
both used in this study.
Six Stages of a Creative Design Process (CDP)
The creative thinking tools, which are suggested in this design process, are part of the
Co.R.T thinking program (De Bono, 1986), P.M.I (Plus, Minus, Interesting), C.F.A
(Consider All Factor), F.I.P (First Important Priority) and O.P.V (Other People View). The
creative thinking framework was developed originally by De Bono (1986). He founded this
framework on five thinking steps which he named PISCO Purpose, Input, Solutions,
Choice and Operations. The creative design process (CDP) which is presented in this
article adopts this creative thinking framework and extends it to be implemented in project-

based learning (PBL) in engineering education. Furthermore, the assessment scale is based
on the four layers of creative thinking (De Bono, 1996).

First stage: Design Purpose

The first step in the design process is defining the design problem. The pupils need to set
the design goals. These goals must fit the definitions of the problem. How one reaches
these goals is constrained by the designers restrictions: available budget, technologies,
schedule and so on. Pupils are taught three steps for documenting the first stage:

The problem and the need: Describe the reasons which motivated you to choose
this project. Define the problem and the needs the system you will design will


The target clientele and restrictions: Describe target clientele and define the
restrictions you are going to take into consideration.


The design goals: Define the necessary demands from the system.

Second stage: Inquiry Field

The second step in the design process is to define the inquiry field. This definition is based
on the problem definitions and goals. Pupils are asked to consider similar systems in order
to arrive at designs for their own system.
Pupils have been guided to organize the inquiry documentation in the following way:
1. Information Sources: Textbooks, professional journals, manufacturers catalogs,
internet sites.
2. Research Scientific and Society Aspect of Engineering: Engineering concepts,
scientific concepts, social and environmental influences on design and cultural
3. Organize the Information and Its Assessment: Arrange the information according to
your goals and restrictions Summarize the information in order to clarify the design

problem Express your opinion about how the information addresses, or doesnt
address, the design problem or how your system is a better solution than existing
similar systems.
Third stage: Solutions: Alternatives, Ideas and Factors
The third step in the design process is to consider alternative solutions to the design
problem. This is a lateral thinking stage which has three parts: Ideas, Factors and Opinions
(of other people). Pupils must learn to give their thought freedom and to temporarily avoid
judgment or friends ideas. This strategy increases the likelihood that pupils will generate
a rich set of possibilities or a creative idea that nobody has tried before. There are no bad
ideas in this stage. Judgment will come later.

Idea Documentation:

P.M.I (Plus, Minus, Interesting) thinking tool is useful at this stage for helping
the pupil generate as many ideas as possible and consider them from as many
sides as possible.

Table 1 can assist the pupil in performing this task successfully.

Table 1: P.M.I Thinking Tool




Consider All Factors (C.A.F):

Pupils are encouraged to write all the factors involved in the system they
design. They can change Thinking Hats to consider different points of view.
For example, the pupil may imagine their design from the point of view of the
consumer, the planner, the designer, the manufacturer and the marketer.

Pupils learn to check all the consequences of each idea in the short term, the
medium term and the long term.


Other People View (O.P.V):

Pupils ask other peoples advice regarding the documentation of their ideas.
They consult with their colleagues.

Fourth stage: Choosing the Preferred Solution

The fourth step in the design process is choosing the preferred solution. The choice is
made by considering the ideas which were documented in the third stage. The suitable
solution will likely meet the following criteria:
1. The solution should be characterized by the largest number of good and interesting
points, while being characterized by the fewest negative points
2. The solution should consider as many factors and view-points as possible.
3. The solution that the team finds relevant and efficient not only in the short term,
but also in the long term.
4. The solution that caught the attention of the pupils colleagues.
5. The solution that answers all the necessary and desirable demands.
Table 2 may be useful as pupils choose the best solution.
Table 2: Choosing a Solution
Positive Points
Negative Points
Interesting Points





Factors Involved
Short/Long Term
Other Peoples View
Necessary Demands
Desirable Demands

The F.I.P (First Important Priority) thinking tool is also helpful during this stage in order
to set priorities and arrive at the optimal solution.

Fifth stage: Operation Steps:

The fifth step in the design process is planning the methods for implementing the chosen
solution and constructing it. The following suggestions help to guide this planning stage:

Sometimes the chosen solution is a system. Dividing the system to its subsystems may assist in defining the steps which are needed to apply the solution.

In many cases, choosing materials, parts, mechanisms are a central part of the
design process.

The CAD/CAM, sketches and drawings are important to the presentation of the
design process.

Choosing machines, tools and manufacturing processes are also necessary steps
to create a prototype.

Planning how you make the prototype should also be considered, for example:
timetable, availability of materials, parts, machines, human resources etc.

Creating the prototype.

Sixth stage: Evaluation

The evaluation stage occurs at the end of the process only for the purposes of
documentation. A formative evaluation is done in every step. In this final stage pupils
must document:

Difficulties and methods which were used to overcome those difficulties.

Whether or not the system solves the problem.

Whether or not the system fulfills all requirements

In what way the prototype could be improved

Implications for further developments.

The strength of CDP is the integration of the lateral thinking tool with reflection and
evaluation of each of the stages in a non-linear process.

The Creative Thinking Scale (CTS)

CTS (Barak & Doppelt, 2000) was developed in order to assess pupils portfolios. It was
administered in Mechatronics courses where pupils were creating authentic projects in high
school. However, CTS is also used by pupils as a guideline during the course of their
project, and by teachers as they tutor their pupils. CTS was implemented in this study as
an instrument to assess pupils documentation of CDP.
CTS, which is shown in Table 3, is comprised of four thinking layers which De Bono
(1996) defined:
(1) Awareness of ones own thinking, (2) Observation of ones own thinking, (3) Thinking
strategy, and (4) Reflection upon thinking.

The first layer addresses the pupils awareness that thinking is a skill that can be
developed; that the pupil can prepare his or her mind to reason about something, to
inquire, and to listen to other people opinions.

The second layer concerns the observation of consequences of action and choice;
consider other peoples views; compare alternatives.

The third layer addresses the use of thinking tools; organizing ones thinking as a
sequence of steps; define goals.

The fourth layer concerns the pupils systematic use of thinking tools; awareness of
reflective thinking; evaluation of ones own thinking; designing thinking tasks and
methods to implement these tasks.

CTS is applied in two domains of the portfolio: (a) System or product design, construction
and evaluation which the pupils design create and control. Lateral thinking products:
Originality, authenticity, usefulness, unique design. Vertical thinking products:
Functionality, reliability, accuracy, geometric structure, scientific principle. (b) Processes
of learning, thinking, problem-solving and teamwork during the performance of CDP.

Evidence for: Individual and group efforts in project development and problem solving.
Processes of teamwork decision making and leadership.

Table 3: CTS: Creative Thinking Scale

Portfolios Components
A. System or product
design, construction
and evaluation

B. Learning, thinking
and problem-solving

Standard diagram of a
system or product taken
from available literature.

An example of solving a
simple problem in planning
and construction.

Basic explanation of the

model and its construction.

Division of tasks in the


Description of the model by

means of pictures or

Some examples of using

lateral and vertical thinking

Original schematic diagram

of system or product
designed by the pupil.
Detailed drawings of the

Justified examples of
choices among a number of

Specification of planning
and construction stages
including calculations,
specifications or computer

Various examples of using

thinking tools.

Original system functional

block diagrams, structural
the use of thinking
tools; organizing ones tree or flow chart.
thinking as a sequence Description of a number of
of steps; define goals
iterations in the planning
and construction of the

Examples of the
contribution of individuals
and teamwork to solving
complex problems.

Thinking Layers
Layer 1: Awareness
pupils awareness that
thinking is a skill that
can be developed; that
the pupil can prepare
his or her mind to
reason about
something, to inquire,
and to listen to other
people opinions
Layer 2: Observation
The observation of
consequences of
action and choice;
consider other people
view; comparing

Layer 3: Strategy

Comparison among and

choosing from a number of
Layer 4: Reflection

Examination of the final

products features,
compared to the set goals.

A systematic use of
thinking tools;
awareness of reflective Conclusions about
thinking; evaluation of successes or difficulties

Information exchange and

reciprocal help in the team.

Evidence of planned use of

thinking tools, openmindedness and postponing
decision (lateral thinking);
setting priorities, goals and
criteria (vertical thinking).
Conclusions drawn about
the influence of the team's
functioning on the
completion of the project.
Pupils view on the

ones own thinking;

designing thinking
tasks and methods to
implement these tasks.

during the development

Suggestions for
improvement in the
planning and construction

influence of the teams

functioning on thinking and
learning processes.
Assessment of the selected
solution compared to the

This study consists of three stages: First, field research was designed to implement an
intervention program that would assist pupils in designing creative and authentic projects.
The pupils had to choose a subject or search for a need or define a goal, design a prototype,
construct it, create a program that controls the prototype and document their design
process. The second goal was to understand the way pupils design their projects. The
third goal was to field-test CTS as a method for assessing CDP.
Over the course of seven years, this study followed 128 pupils who studied
MECHATRONICS as their major subject in high school. These pupils learned according
to the CTT program during their 10th grade year. In addition they studied according to the
Mechatronics syllabus which was mentioned earlier. In 12th grade, the pupils chose an
authentic project to design, construct, program and present.
CDP was also introduced to these pupils. CDP has been taught in the context of helping
pupils to document their projects. The pupils have not used CDP as a tool for planning
their projects.
Data Collection and Analysis
The data collection and analysis methods used in the current research rely on the use of
naturalistic observation in order to gain a wide perspective on the performance of the
pupils using CDP. Various research tools were used in order to validate the findings.

Observations of class activities were documented in the researcher diary. The researcher
was a teacher who had been tutoring these pupils since 1996. Each year the researcher
documented in his diary the pupils progress, problems, and evaluative criteria that were
developed with various classes.
Interviews with pupils and analyses of pupils portfolios assist in validating the findings.
Each year the researcher interacted with five to ten teams of pupils who conducted projects
for two hours a week during the school year.
A total of 57 team-projects were assessed according to CTS (Barak & Doppelt, 2000).
Every pupil has to take an expanded examination at the end of the 12th grade. These
projects were presented to an outside instructor from the Ministry of Education who tested
the pupils and gave them their final grades in Mechatronics.

The findings are presented in two sections. First, the implementation of CDP during PBL
will be presented as it was documented in pupils portfolios. Second, a portfolios
assessment of the projects using CTS will be presented.
Pupils apply CDP in their projects
One hundred and twenty-eight pupils conducted projects since the CTT program was
initiated in 1994. There were thirty-seven projects conducted by teams (two to four pupils)
and twenty projects that were done by an individual pupil. Table 4 presents an evaluation
of pupils implementation of CDP.
Table 4: CDP Summative: N=57 Projects
CDP Stages Percentages



90 %

Most of the portfolios document instances of defining

the problem, describing the need, explaining the
demands from the system.


70 %

There were pupils portfolios in which the pupils did not

document information they have collected. Some of the

portfolios were not organized according to the
suggestions in CDP.

80 %

In most of the pupils portfolios various alternative

solutions were well-documented.


40 %

There is much to study and practice before the pupils

portfolios will reflect the way pupils choose their


100 %

In all the portfolios evidences were found for

comprehensive operations steps.


30 %

High school pupils lack the maturity to evaluate their

own thinking.

These findings reveal the strong and weak aspects of pupils implementation of CDP as
was reflected from their documentations that were found in their portfolios.

Assessing pupils project according to CTS

Figure 5: A Comparison between CTS layers and the external supervisor grades

Figure 5 presents a summative description of the portfolios assessment according to the

CTS layers of achievements compared to external evaluation of the supervisor who has
examined the projects. The external evaluation (matriculation grades) in Israel is scaled
such that scores above 55 indicate a passing grade.

Table 5: Percentages of portfolios in various CTS layer

Portfolios Components
A. System or product
design, construction and

B. Learning, thinking and


Achievements Layers



Layer 1: Awareness



Layer 2: Observation



Layer 3: Strategy



Layer 4: Reflection



These findings reveal that most pupils created portfolios that reflect a high level of
achievement in the first domain as measured by CTS. Pupils learned to use CDP and
implemented it well regarding various aspects of their system or product. On the other
hand, only 12% of the portfolios reflected a high level of achievements in the second
domain as measured by CTS.

Discussion & Conclusions

A wealth of experience about how CTS contributes to the assessment of pupils projects
was collected over a seven-year investigation. The results demonstrate how this assessment
methodology can help educators to develop and evaluate learning assignments aimed at
fostering creative thinking. Through CDP and systematic reflection on it, pupils can
develop awareness of their internal thinking processes and learn to direct their own
thinking and document it. These are the main reasons for using CDPnot to educate
pupils to design according to a general procedure ((De Vries, 1996), but to document their
design process. It is not essential that pupils construct their ideas, solutions and products
according a certain design process. It is an educational goal to teach them to document
properly and to reflect on their creation.

Pupils should not repeat the methods in this design process slavishly, as this is contrary to
creative thinking. Pupils are expected to internalize the principles of the design process,
modify the process in their own way and in new situations, and demonstrate general
patterns of lateral thinking and vertical thinking in their engineering projects. Not less
important is fostering pupils meta-cognition, or thinking of thinking. The way pupils
begin and complete their project demonstrates that creative thinking in engineering is a
combination of vertical and lateral thinking (Waks, 1997; Barak & Doppelt, 2002).
In addition, the projects showed that pupils in high-school can create, design, control and
document an authentic real-life project instead of solving only well-defined problem. A
major criticism of current science and engineering education is that there is an
overemphasis on solving well-defined, closed problems (NSPE, 1992).
Furthermore, pupils have proven through their projects that they are capable of dealing
with the large definition of DESIGN. The DESIGN activity is, in fact, the entire process
of planning, designing, constructing and managing the development of a product (De
Vries, 1993).
CTS enabled teachers and researchers to set goals for the pupils (and for the teachers)
during PBL. CDP and CTS are useful and can be implemented by teachers who have
participated in relevant in-service training (Doppelt, 2004b). The assessment of
engineering education can be very instructive to teachers and pupils when it is highly
integrated in engineering educationeducation that allows pupils to combine and integrate
various knowledge and skills (De Vries, 1997).

Final Remarks
The field research in which CDP and CTS were implemented with 128 high-school pupils
has revealed that most of the pupils created portfolios reflecting a high level of
achievements in the first domain as measured by CTS. Pupils have learned to use CDP
and implemented it well regarding various aspects of their system or product. On the other

hand, there is much to be practiced in the domain of learning processes, thinking and
problem-solving activities and team-work.
The implementation of CTS in assessing the outcomes of CDP has important consequences
for the development of pupils skills. Teachers can use CTS as the goal of their teaching.
When CTS is introduced together with CDP to pupils, pupils become competent in various
learning styles. This research also contributes to the body of knowledge about assessment
of engineering education.

I would like to thank Dr. Nadav Betzer, Mr. Ron Eizenberg, Mr. Haim Dribin, Mr. Oded
Richsefeld and Mrs. Irena Glikin for our continuous work aimed at improving Engineering

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