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OUR APPROACH to Innovation

Through real-world problems and creative, open-ended challenges, students learn the fundamentals of design thinking, digital literacy, and the four C’s — critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, and communication skills. 

Benchmark’s Innovation Lab, a makerspace facility designed by world-renowned architects, allows students the chance to develop their gifts and test their skills through project-based learning.


Design thinking is a tool, a system to help students manage their thinking as they navigate through real-world, human-centered problems.

Design thinking projects or challenges often involve real-world context, and are shaped in the form of a “How might we…?” question.

Benchmark’s design thinking process, similar to the design and engineering process, focuses on the needs of the user. At its root is empathy. Students observe, interview, research, and inquire about the needs of others in order to uncover insights and deeply consider the context of a problem. Once they understand the person or people for whom they are designing, they ideate, prototype, test, and get feedback on their solutions that help to address the core needs of the user.

The design process is inherently interdisciplinary, drawing on multiple subject areas at once as student research, experiment and prototype, evaluate information, practice empathy, examine human behaviors and needs, creatively make and design solutions, and so much more. 

Genesis of the Innovation Lab

It started with a question: How might we create opportunities for students to develop the skills and mindsets needed to understand how the world works and how to contribute in a meaningful, empathic way?

Though the structure is new, innovative, research-based teaching and learning strategies have been employed at Benchmark since its inception in 1970. At the base of this rooted foundation, we have, in essence, added a new layer. This layer involves the design thinking method of problem solving.

The stunning design of the Innovation Lab is the work of two world-renowned architects and Benchmark alumni, Bill and Chris Sharples ‘77 of SHoP Architects. In appreciation for the positive difference that Benchmark made in their lives, they generously donated their time and talent to designing a facility that is a source of great pride for the school.


The best way to deploy design thinking is when students come across a sticky, human-related problem in their course of study.

It can be a hurdle experienced by the main character in a novel, a challenge that a community is experiencing in their social studies unit, or an ecological problem that students are unpacking in science class.


Being a strategy and language-based school, Benchmark fully embraced design thinking to become an added hallmark to our program. Through a series of school-wide exercises, design sprints, and brainstorming sessions, we crafted, reflected, and ultimately voted on our very own design language.  See the model of Benchmark's own design language and process below.