Stewart Middle Magnet is a STEM magnet school, and part of our curriculum comes from Project Lead the Way, including classes in engineering, robotics and aerospace. The Design Process is an important part of that curriculum. It also ties in beautifully with what we do in our makerspace. So it made sense for me to partner up with one of our Project Lead the Way classes to teach our students about the basics of the design process. While this was a lesson with a specific class, it could easily work with small groups, after-school clubs, or any group that you bring into your makerspace.
Activating Prior Knowledge
I started out by surveying my students to see who had already heard of the design process. If they had, I had them explain it from their point of view. We talked about our experiences creating and building things (projects in the makerspace, building with our toys as kids) and what kind of processes we tend to experience when that happens.
Design Process vs. Scientific Method
While many students will have never seen the design process, most have been exposed to the scientific method. Students usually learn this process when they go through science fair. To help introduce the class to the design process, I had them create Venn diagrams comparing the two different methods. I used diagrams from Science Buddies to help my students see the different elements of each process (Engineering Process here, Scientific Method here). Each table had a piece of chart paper with the circles on it (otherwise it takes them five minutes just to get them drawn). I gave them about ten minutes to put their Venn diagrams together, then called on students randomly to review what they wrote. We talked a lot about how there isn’t necessarily a perfect right or wrong answer, and how some aspects of the two processes use different vocabulary but mean similar things.
Rapid Prototyping Session
To help my students learn how the design process works, I gave them a chance to put it into practice by going through a rapid prototyping session. I intentionally kept the time limit on this short because I wanted my students to focus more on going through the design process and less in getting caught up on specific design features. Each group was given a worksheet with an overview of the design process and then picked one or two people who documented their process using the sheet.
(Note: I realize that there are multiple versions and multiple vocabularies for teaching the design process. I choose to adjust the wording and steps to what worked best for my students.)
I started by introducing them to the design problem they had to solve:
We want to make a stop motion video and need something to hold our phone steady. What’s the best design?
Each group had a bin of K’nex or LEGOS, and they got 20 minutes to come up with their design and prepare a “pitch” about their product. As students worked on their designs, I circulated around the room and helped each group to identify where they’re at in the design process. Sometimes it took a little prompting, but it usually doesn’t take long for the lightbulb to go off as students begin to see where they’re brainstorming, designing, testing and redesigning.
Practicing the Pitch
To wrap up the lesson, each group had to come up in front of the class and pitch their design. They had to explain how they came up with the idea, how it works, and why it’s awesome. If they weren’t able to complete their design the way they wanted, then they explained what their design would have looked like with more time to complete it. This was a great chance for them to practice their communication skills and to reflect on the learning experience.
Is the design process a part of your school’s curriculum? Is there a way that you could incorporate it into a class collaboration?
More design resources to check out: