Design thinking is an approach to learning that includes considering real-world problems, research, analysis, conceiving original ideas, lots of experimentation, and sometimes building things by hand. The projects teach students how to make a stable product, use tools, think about the needs of another, solve challenges, overcome setbacks and stay motivated on a long-term problem. The projects also teach students to build on the ideas of others, vet sources, generate questions, deeply analyze topics, and think creatively and analytically. Many of those same qualities are goals of the Common Core State Standards. (What Does ‘Design Thinking’ Look Like in School?)
I use the following activities to introduce elementary students to the design thinking process. The ultimate goal is for the learners to work on their own, self-selected problems in which they will apply the design thinking.
Introducing the general design process to elementary student occurs through showing the following video about the engineering process:
The Task: Build the Highest Tower
The goal of this activity is to have learners practice a simple version of the engineering design process.
In teams of 3 to 4 members, learners are asked to build the highest tower out of 50 small marshmallows and 50 spaghetti noodles.
As a team, ask learners to sketch out possible solutions
Design thinking requires that no matter how obvious the solution may seem, many solutions be created for consideration. And created in a way that allows them to be judged equally as possible answers. Looking at a problem from more than one perspective always yields richer results. (Design thinking… what is that?)
Prototype and test ideas
After brainstorming and sketching possible designs, learners begin the process of building this spaghetti-marshmallow towers.
Revisit the design process
After some time prototyping, a time-out is called so learners can reflect on what is working and not working. Learners are encouraged to see what the other groups have created to spark new ideas.
Design thinking allows their potential to be realized by creating an environment conducive to growth and experimentation, and the making of mistakes in order to achieve out of the ordinary results. At this stage many times options will need to be combined and smaller ideas integrated into the selected schemes that make it through. (Design thinking… what is that?)
Return to the building and testing process
Next Step: Introduction to Empathy
As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. As a design thinker, the problems you are trying to solve are rarely your own—they are those of a particular group of people; in order to design for them, you must gain empathy for who they are and what is important to them. (from the d-school)
The second part of the introducing elementary-level learners to the design process is introducing them to empathy and its connection to the design process.
To have learners discover and explore the elements of empathy as it relates to design.
Warm-Up: Great Egg Drop
Preparation and introduction:
Learners are asked to draw a face on an egg and are given the following directions: “Pretend the egg is alive – has thoughts, feelings, and opinions. Your job is to use the straws to create a protective covering for the egg so it will not crack when dropped from a 10 foot height. Address the following questions prior to building your egg structure:
- What do you think your egg is feeling about his or her upcoming drop?
- What do you need to make your egg’s journey less stressful?
- What can you do to reassure your egg that everything will work out okay?
- What forces do you need to consider in order to keep your egg safe? Consider gravity, rate of descent, impact.
To begin, assemble groups of 4 or 5 and give each group various materials for building (e.g. 5-20 straws, a roll of masking tape, one fresh egg, newspaper, etc.) Instruct the participants and give them a set amount of time (e.g. 30 minutes) to complete building a structure, with the egg inside in which the structures are dropped from at least 10 feet in elevation and then inspected to see if the eggs survived. The winners are the groups that were successful in protecting the egg. (http://eggdropproject.org/ and http://www.group-games.com/team-building/great-egg-drop.html)
Delving Deeper: An Environment for a Gamibot
Lead learners through the following steps:
- Create a Gamibot – http://www.howtoons.com/?page_id=3475. With available art materials, decorate the Gamibot.
- Develop the Backstory for the Gamibot: Report via a Blog Post or Voki
- Create an Environment for the Gamibot Out of Natural and Art Materials. Make sure it fits your Gamibot’s backstory creating an environment that is tailored for your Gamibot. Be ready to explain why it fits your Gamibot.
- Extension: Code a Friend for the Gamibot Using Scratch or Tynker
This past summer I facilitated maker education classes for 5 to 10 year old kids. This school year I am a gifted teacher meeting with 2nd through 6 grades one day per week per group. I like mixed age groups and have no problem designing learning activities for them. I realized that the reason for this is that these activities are open ended permitting each student to naturally and instinctively to work at or slightly above his or her ability level. This actually is a definition of differentiation.
Many classrooms consist of students from different knowledge backgrounds, multiple cultures, both genders, and students with a range of disabilities or exceptionalities (Alavinia & Fardy, 2012). Differentiated instruction is defined as “a philosophy of teaching that is based on the premise that students learn best when their teachers accommodate the differences in their readiness levels, interest, and learning profiles” (Konstantinou-Katzi et al., 2012, p. 333). (in http://edutechwiki.unige.ch/en/Differentiated_learning)
One of results or consequences of providing such activities is an increase in learner engagement, excitement, and motivation. Open ended learning activities permit and encourage learners to bring their “selves” into the work. They become agents of their own learning.
Because of this freedom, they often shine as true selves come through. Learners often surprise both the educator and themselves with what they produce and create. It becomes passion-based learning. Not only do the activities become self-differentiated, they become personalized:
Personalization only comes when students have authentic choice over how to tackle a problem. A personalized environment gives students the freedom to follow a meaningful line of inquiry, while building the skills to connect, synthesize and analyze information into original productions. Diane Laufenberg in What Do We Really Mean When We Say ‘Personalized Learning’?
Personalized learning means that learning starts with the learner. Learning is tailored to the individual needs of each learner instead of by age or grade level. It is more than teaching to “one size fits all” or just moving to learner-centered learning and changing instruction. Personalized Learning takes a holistic view of the individual, skill levels, interests, strengths and challenges, and prior knowledge. The learner owns their learning. Barbara Bray in What is Personalized Learning?
The educator, in this environment, introduces the activities and then steps back to let the learners take over their own personal learning. The educator lets go of expectations what the final produce should be; should look like; should do. The educator becomes a provider of resources, feedback giver, and communications facilitator. S/he becomes a tour guide of learning possibilities. S/he shows learners the possibilities and then gets out of the way.
Creating the conditions for self-differentiation and personalization can occur with learning objectives that start with action verbs such: create, write, explore, invent, make, imagine, prepare, build, compose, construct, design, develop, formulate, originate.
Parting Shot: The following is an Animoto I created to show how many forms of making there are, but it also demonstrates what can happen when open ended projects are introduced into the learning environment.
There is a new platform for immersive learning games that’s taking classrooms across the world by storm. Based on the same principles as interactive Escape The Room digital games — which challenge players to use their surroundings to escape a prison-like scenario — Breakout EDU is a collaborative learning experience that enhances critical thinking and creativity while fostering a growth mindset in students. Gameplay revolves around a Breakout EDU box that has been locked with multiple and different locks including directional locks, word locks, and number locks. After listening to a game scenario read by the teacher, students must work together to find and use clues to solve puzzles that reveal the various lock combinations before time expires (usually 45 minutes). (Stretch student collaboration skills with Breakout EDU)
I developed my own game which is adapted from Oh, the Places You Will Go http://www.breakoutedu.com/oh-the-places-youll-go
Title: Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg
Story: Uses the children’s story, Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg. Cast out of the refrigerator because of a small crack, Eggbert sets out into the world, using his talent for painting to try to blend in. Eventually he realizes that cracks are everywhere and reminds us all that our flaws are perfectly natural.
Topic Theme: This cross-curricular BreakoutEDU activities incorporates English, Math, and Social Studies standards as well as skills such as problem-solving and team building.
This cross curricular activity address the following standards. Students will:
- Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. (ELA CCSS)
- Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas and information clearly. (ELA CCSS)
- Understand how latitude and longitude are used to identify places on a map. (Social Studies)
- Describe and compare the physical environments and landforms of different places in the world (e.g., mountains, islands, valleys or canyons, mesas).
- Use personal experience as inspiration for expression in visual art. (Visual Arts)
- Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways. (21st Century Skills)
- Assume shared responsibility for collaborative work, and value the individual contributions made by each team member. (21st Century Skills)
- Copy of Eggbert, the Slightly Cracked Egg
- Breakout EDU Box (Large Lock Box)
- Directional Lock (speed dial)
- Five Digit Letter Lock
- UV / Black Light Flashlight
- Invisible Ink Pen
- Small Locked Box with Three-Number Combo
- 3-Digit Lock
- 4-Digit Lock
- Key Lock
- Computer or Tablet
- Printouts: Plane Tickets, Maps, Longitude-Latitude Coordinates, Quotes, We Broke Out Card
- Silly Putty – one per student
Steps to Set Up:
- Set the directional lock to Up-Down-Up-Down. This represents the directions and times that Eggbert goes up and down walls.
- Set the lock box to 3-4-7. The plane tickets have the clues for the 3 number lock box. The plane tickets are cut apart from the print out to make three tickets. This number, 3-4-7, is on the tickets and can be found as the seat numbers. The order of the numbers can be found in one of two ways: (a) the seat letters, a – b – c, and/or (b) the places Eggbert visits, from the Refrigerator to New York City, from New York City to the Grand Canyon, Arizona, from Grand Canyon Arizona to Hilo, Hawaii.
- Put the encrypted message, and the weblink to how to do the encryption in the lockbox. The encrypted message is JE VYDT JXU AUO, BEEA JE FEIJUH JXHUU QDT VYDT JXU SHQSA (which decrypted means “to find the key, look to poster three and find the crack”).
- Tape the key to the key lock behind word “crack” on the poster 3 quote – tape this poster to the wall.
- Set the four number combination lock to 8-7-3-1. This matches the coordinates on the map found in the support materials. Cut out the four longitude-latitude coordinates from the bottom of the map and place those near the maps. FYI – all of the numbers on the map correspond to canyons in the United States.
- Set the word lock to P-R-I-D-E. Using the invisible ink pen, circle letters P – R – I – D – E on the posters 1 and 2 of quotes.
- (Optional) With a Sharpie, draw a crack on each silly putty egg – one for each participant. Put silly putty and We Broke Out sign in the Breakout box.
- Attach the hasp to the breakout box and to the hasp lock attach the directional lock, the key lock, the word lock, and the four number combination lock.
Video Overview on the Set Up
With the Students
- Show students the BreakoutEdu Box.
- Read Eggbert: The Slightly Cracked Egg emphasizing that there are clues
- Project http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/usa/best-canyons-usa/ – have students view the different canyons in the US
- Give participants record and hint sheet preferably via a Google doc but paper versions can work, too.
- Go through the hints one at a time as a group. They can work with a partner or two of they choose. I emphasize not telling the answer until everyone has it. I strive to have everyone in the class participate by insuring that all have the correct answer prior to attempting to solve that clue – unlock that particular lock.
- Once they open the box and find the silly putty in the eggs, instruct them to sculpt something that makes them unique.
- For reflection, have the students blog about their experiences. If they are using iPad or Chromebooks, they can take a photo to go with their blogs.
- Further study: Students can look up the latitudes and longitudes to find out which canyons and gorges were represented.
Slideshow of Our Breakout Edu:
I believe in the importance of participating in ongoing and continuous reflective practice as an educator. This is my reflection on my Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp that was taught to twelve 5 to 10 year old learners for five days, 2.5 hours each morning. My Cardboard Challenges webpage of ideas can be found at http://www.makereducation.com/cardboard-challenge.html.
This post is divided into three sections: (1) a rationale for using no tech, minimal cost materials, (2) some of my general observations about how the learners interacted with the materials, the projects, and each other during the camp, and (3) a description of the specific cardboard activities along with my observations how well they worked with the learners.
A Rational for Using No Tech, Minimal Cost Materials
The Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp utilized no technology (except for projecting images of example projects on the whiteboard) and low/no cost materials. Many of the discussions about and actions related to integrating maker education into educational environments center around the use of new technologies such computer components (Raspberry Pis, Arduinos), interactive robots for kids (Dash and Dot, Ozobots, Spheros), and 3D printers. These technologies are lots of fun and one of my maker education camps this past summer was Bots and Coding. The learners engaged in these learning activities with high excitement and motivation. Such high excitement, engagement and motivation, though, were also seen at my low tech/low cost maker education camps: LED crafts, Toy Hacking and Making, and Cardboard Challenges.
As a recent NPR article discussed several challenges for maker education. One of them was related to equity issues, providing maker education for all students regardless of income level:
A big challenge for maker education: making it not just the purview mostly of middle- and upper-middle-class white kids and white teachers whose schools can afford laser cutters, drones or 3-D printers (3 Challenges As Hands-On, DIY Culture Moves Into Schools).
In order to adequately address this challenge, it becomes important to speak of making in broader terms; that maker education is so much more than 3D printing, drones, and robots. As Adam Savage from Mythbusters notes:
What is making? It is a term for an old thing, it is a new term for an old thing. Let me be really clear, making is not simply 3D printing, Art Lino, Raspberry Pi, LEDs, robots, laser and vinyl cutters. It’s not simply carpentry and welding and sculpting and duct tape and drones. Making is also writing and dance and filmmaking and singing and photography and cosplay. Every single time you make something from you that didn’t exist in the world, you are making. Making is important; it’s empowering. It is invigorating (Adam Savage’s 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire Talk).
Doing and promoting maker experiences such as cardboard projects have the potential to offset the challenges associated with access and costs as well as provide opportunities for making by all.
General Observations from the Cardboard Challenges Maker Education Camp: How the Learners Interacted with the Materials, Projects, and Each Other
Going with Learners’ Energy and Ideas
During the making activities, I had one learner who often generated ideas for extending the projects we were doing. For example, when we made jet packs (see below), he asked for permission and made a space helmet to go with it. When we made small robots (see below), he proposed making a cardboard house for his robot. The other learners loved his ideas and joined him in these extensions of the make projects. I believe it is important to follow learners’ leads and ideas as it creates energy, motivation, and momentum for learning. Traditional teaching is way too often focused on keeping to an agenda both in time and with the learning activities. I think it is important to grab onto those teachable moments; the moments when learners propose what direction they would like to go. It validates that their voices as students are valued and acted upon.
The Experiential Nature of Maker Activities Makes Them Messy, Loud, and Chaotic
Traditional classrooms are often marked by students quietly at their desks completing the same tasks at the same time. This is opposite of what went on during the Cardboard Challenges Maker Education camp. The classroom was loud, seemingly chaotic and messy. Cutting and working with cardboard creates a mess, but authentic and engaged learning is often messy.
Learning is often a messy business. “Messy” learning is part trial and error, part waiting and waiting for something to happen, part excitement in discovery, part trying things in a very controlled, very step by step fashion, part trying anything you can think of no matter how preposterous it might seem, part excruciating frustration and part the most fun you’ll ever have. Time can seem to stand still – or seem to go by in a flash. It is not unusual at all for messy learning to be …um …messy! But the best part of messy learning is that besides staining your clothes, or the carpet, or the classroom sink in ways that are very difficult to get out … it is also difficult to get out of your memory! (http://www.learningismessy.com/quotes/)
This description marked what occurred during all of the five days of the Cardboard Challenges camp and I believe lots of learning resulted.
Concepts and Skills Naturally Embedded in the Experiential Activities
Concepts and skills became embedded in the experiential activities. Learning of concepts and skills occurred at the time when the campers’ interest and need were the highest. For example, when the learners did the cardboard garages and ramps for toy cars, several concepts were introduced and talked about: inclined plane, angles, rate of acceleration, and weight and density. These discussions and knowledge helped them to better their design their ramps. Their learning had a context and a reason.
The same was true for the the learning of skills. Learners were motivated and attentive when I demonstrated certain cardboard folding and connecting techniques. This also included soft skills such as communicating needs, asking for what they needed, and collaborating with others as they found a genuine need and desire to use them.
Shared and Collaborative Learning: Natural and As Needed
Research supports the use of collaborative and shared learning. The best kind of collaborative and shared learning, I believe, is when it occurs naturally and when needed (similar to the learning of skills as discussed above). Shared learning was evident when the learners created space helmets after one learner started his; when the youngest learner, a 5 year old girl, showed others how to use the shelf contact paper correctly (also demonstrating that learners of all ages and genders had something to contribute to the learning community). Collaborative learning happened when the learners began to individually create their car garages and ramps, and realized that if they combined their creations, they would have cooler and more elaborated structures.
Semi Structured Projects with Simple Photographic Examples Work Well
This elementary age group seemed to respond well to semi-structured cardboard projects. For all of the cardboard challenge activities, I only needed to show the learners a few examples projected on the whiteboard. From these examples, the learners gathered enough information and were able to take off to construct their own modifications of the projects. The cardboard projects became personal as the campers became self-directed learners.
Assumptions About Skill Levels
The educator needs to be an astute observer of how learners interact with instructional materials, and make adjustments if problems arise. How this translated into the cardboard challenge is that I assumed the learners could use transparent tape, hot glue guns, and scissors. I knew the younger ones, the Kindergarten students, would have some problems but didn’t expect this of the older ones, 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders. I observed the learners as they interacted with the cardboard constructing tools. I had transparent tape in the disposable plastic dispensers. Most of the campers had trouble getting it off. I realized that the heavy duty tape dispensers worked better and switched to using those. I used hot glue guns with elementary level kids for years but this group had an especially difficult time using them resulting in minor burns by 3/4 of the learners. I was forced to ban them half way through the week. I needed to change the use of hot glue to duct tape and cardboard screws from the Makedo kits. These may seem like small or inconsequential things but insuring that the learners can effectively use the tools and materials can make the difference in their success with the projects.
Cardboard Challenges: Descriptions and Reflections
This section provides brief descriptions of the activities I did during this camp and my reflections on their degree of success with the learners.
Directions for constructing the jet packs can be found at http://www.kiwicrate.com/projects/Recycled-Jet-Pack-Costume/500 . I spray painted them silver prior to the camp but the kids constructed the rest of their jet packs.
This was a great way to start off the week. All of the learners seemed to enjoy creating them and adding their own personal touches. One of the learners, a 10 year old boy, asked if he could use another box to create a space helmet. I said, “Of course,” and the other learners began to follow their lead (which led me to spray painting the helmets during their recess). I would definitely do this activity again and would facilitate extensions of the activity such as, “Is there anything else you’d like to create to go with your jet pack?’
Directions for a Marble Run can be found http://lemonlimeadventures.com/recycled-marble-run/.
The Marble Run was another very engaging and successful activity. The learners worked on different methods and materials to make the marble run. There were lots of iterations of this project but all the learners were successful in getting their marbles to drop from tube to tube.
I would definitely do this activity again. I would add, though, sketching the marble run designs and patterns on a piece of paper and then on their large pieces of cardboards prior to adding the tubes and other obstacles. I had marbles and small balls available to test the runs but would include additional types of small balls in the future.
Directions for building a version of this can be found at http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/10/14/how-to-make-a-cardboard-box-marble-labyrinth-game/
This seemed to be another highly engaging activity. I would do this again in the future. I would just include more options to create the maze – e.g., construction paper, cubs, toilet paper tubes – as some of the learners had trouble managing and building the walls out of cardboard.
Cardboard Roll Robot
A version of this project can be found at http://gluesticksgumdrops.com/robot-toilet-paper-roll-craft/. I added the vending machine bubbles for use for heads and feet; and LED lights to light up the head.
I believe the learners found this fun but not overwhelming so. What added to this activity was a learner who asked if he could make a cardboard house for his bot with the other learners then following his lead.
This activity was okay – engaging but not highly engaging. I would do it again as an auxiliary to another activity – e.g., being the characters for a cardboard city.
Basketball Hoop/Ring Toss
I obtained boxes and figured out how to fold them to create a type of basketball arcade game and added the triangle in the front (based off of http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/boxescardboardboxesartscraftstideasprojectskids.html). I used pool dive rings so the learners can use the ring as both a basketball hoop and a ring toss. After its completion, the learners painted their boxes with poster paint.
Since this was a sports – arcade type of project, I expected high interest and high engagement. The most fun, I believe, was when they painted their games. They didn’t seem to have much interest in playing the game. This also might be that this project had the least wiggle room for personalization. I will probably not include this activity for future cardboard challenges.
Parking Garages and Ramps for Toy Cars
For example directions for the cardboard parking garage, see http://frugalfun4boys.com/2015/02/03/cardboard-box-hot-wheels-car-garage-ramps/. For example directions for car ramps, see http://www.sheknows.com/parenting/articles/1023689/diy-race-car-track-crafts-for-kids.
The learners really jumped into this project. Anything with hot wheel type cars, I believe, are attractive for elementary students. I offered an option to build a zoo to take into account the girls and any boys who wanted such an option. Only one of the three girls at this camp selected the zoo option.
This was a very high interest and engagement activity which is what I expected. What I didn’t expect was how several of the learners ended up joining their structures to create bigger structures. I found that with projects that include buildings and other city structures, the elementary level kids naturally join them together resulting in collaborative work. This also happened during my LED craft camp.
I would definitely do this activity again. In the future, though, I would intentionally build in connecting structures together as a group.
Directions for very similar Pinball Machines can be found at http://www.instructables.com/id/Makedo-Pinball-Machine/ and http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/kidscraftsactivitiesblog/2011/02/how-to-make-simple-pinball-machine-with-recycled-materials-crafts-project-for-kids/. To prepare for this activity, I cut the boxes as can be seen the picture below. To the plans, I added the use of shelf contact paper to cover the pinball cardboard face.
This was also a high engagement activity, but parts of creating the pinball machine were difficult for most of the learners, e.g., adding flippers. One of the highlights for learners, I believe, was the use of the Makedo kits. First, the screws take the place of adhesives such as hot glue, tape, etc., and second, the learners got the chance to use and learn how to use simple tools: saw, screw driver, screws. Both the kids and I loved these kits and I would use them again for the cardboard challenges.
We worked on the pinball machines for about 3 hours and only two of the learners were able to add their pinball flippers. I would do this activity again but would spend more time preparing the boxes ahead of time. I would cut the holes for the flippers, ball catchers, and as I spent a lot of time doing this during the activity. I would also plan for more time to put the finishing touches on them.