At Engine in Biddeford, I taught a series of design thinking workshops for a combination of 2nd and 3rd grade students.

I started with a course designed by Stanford D-School K12 Lab called 5 chairs. I modified the assignment to fit with our time constraint and the abilities of the students. Upon an exuberant and energetic arrival, the students were first asked to work in groups of two to establish a semi collaborate experience. I say semi because each student was required to draw and build the prototypes. Sometimes they traded ideas but some groups diverged from each other entirely and created independent ideas. Though I did notice that these students verbalized their making process throughout the entire 30min session, which helped establish a loose collaboration.

collaboration, design thinking, drawing

Each group was given a story card with different scenarios and told to identify two needs for their chair design. One major challenge that surfaced was their varying abilities to read. The adults present helped to read the story cards out loud, coaxing them in identifying their needs. The scenarios for the chairs range from a grandmother, to a baby, to fishermen. Some of the students identified with the given story card, some had very young siblings, family members who loved to fish or strong relationships with grandparents.  

After identifying their design needs, they were told to design 3 versions of their chair using the materials provided. I gave a brief overview of what prototyping meant and the first iteration was drawn with sharpie and individual sheets of paper.

drawing and design thinking

Next the students were ask build another iteration of their design with tin foil. Many of the students were very willing to test and try their ideas with unfamiliar materials, other were not as eager. Demonstrations on what is possible with the material was helpful to encourage those not as eager to jump into making. What most of this age group struggled with was translating their 2D designs on paper into 3D models. Thus providing materials which don’t need a lot of manipulation or cutting worked best.

design thinking, k-12

The last and most familiar material we used was clay. All the students were enthusiastic about this step, so much so I had to leave it off the table until they were ready to start that session. For each prototype they had 5 - 10 mins to build their idea. This shortened the original workshop from 5 chairs to 3 but it gave this age group the necessary time to become familiar with new materials and spatial thinking.

design thinking, drawing, k-12

At the end of the session I asked them to share what they were making, what materials were challenging, and how they choose their design needs. Most of the students were very willing to share and what they made was surprising, chairs ranged from the very practical to fanciful and outlandish. My assumption before the workshop was that these students would all design chairs that were extremely extraordinary and unconventional.

drawing, design thinking

Afterward the session was over they were introduced to the 3D software Tinkercad and the 3D printers to create a “designers badge” provided by the Maine FabLab.