Design Thinking to Support Students' Ownership of the Learning Process
Design Thinking in the Junior School

The Design Thinking Process is an important part of many units of inquiry in the Junior School. Helping our students learn the value of and the steps in the Design Thinking Process is an integral component of our teaching in the Junior School. Read below to learn about one example from how our Grade 3 students benefited from this exciting approach to learning and design.

What does Design Thinking Look Like?

The Grade 3 teachers took advantage of a request from a local ski equipment manufacturer to test ski helmets on our students at the school. Two MIS alumni who work at this company came to MIS to trial ski helmets with different students. The Grade 3 students were invited to observe the testing, including the recoding of test results. The MIS alumni shared information from the trials and the desired features of the ski helmets and then used this data in their professional designs.


Take Apart Thinking Routine: Parts – Purposes – Complexities

Harvard University Learning Applied to Grade 3 Project

As part of this unit, the Grade 3 students were invited to design a product for the Grade 2 students. The Central Idea for the unit was, “Societies use systems of production, exchange, and consumption of goods and services.” Grade 3 students inquired into design with ‘take-apart’ lessons to explore the design features relevant to items of interest that students brought from home to school. The Harvard Graduate School thinking routine, Parts-Purposes-Complexities, was used to take a systematic approach to design principles relevant to everything found in our environment or brought from home by a student. Students took toys, technological devices and everyday items apart and carefully recorded the components and process. With particular emphasis on the many features of each part, students were then supported in identifying the broader systems required for production. By taking apart and examining them, students discovered a new-found respect for some of the most simple toys and everyday objects.

Students "Taking Apart" items

Survey Research

Grade 3 students then conducted surveys of their market: Grade 2 students. Information was interpreted, recorded and graphed. Then the students started to design products that fit their market while empathising with the Grade 2 students. Through this design process, the students defined the product and each part, purpose and complexity in making the product. The students thought about their role in the production system with the parts, people and interactions thinking routine.

Real-World Learning

Midway through the unit, the students visited the ski factory, design, and testing facilities to learn how the design cycle is used in the production of ski helmets and bindings. The students developed and tested several prototypes and then chose one to model the production of more products. The students developed advertisements as part of marketing their products. Grade 2 students visited the Grade 3 ‘market’ and purchased items with 10 Euro credit in for form of fake money. The Grade 3 students calculated their earnings as well as the net loss from credit taken for the various supplies and materials required for production. Students used primarily upcycled goods for in their products.

Grade 3 Market for Grade 2 Students

Junior School Maker Space

The JS Maker Space was of particular importance throughout the unit as I led the teachers through this learning process. Students learned to use specialised tools for the safety in the ‘take-apart’ of different items. Many students chose to continue this type of research during open ‘drop-in’ times in the JS Maker Space. The students learned and applied different thinking routines and design techniques in producing their prototypes and products.

Designing and Making

Students across the Junior School are learning how to design and create in class and in the Makerspace. More and more our units of instruction are becoming infused with this important form of learning. Be sure to ask your children what they have made or designed recently.

Armin Martin
Teacher on Special Assignment Tech, Inquiry and Making