Sneakers, Telephones, Cups, and Curls: The Power of Invention in Everyday Life
By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 13, 2006
- Middle School
- Product Design
- Language Arts
- Social Studies
One fifty-minute class period
Problem solving is an essential element of the design process. In this activity students will learn how to identify and solve problems as they modify the design of an everyday household item. They will learn about innovation, gather and analyze information, and work in collaborative teams to create a design plan for a new product.
Standard 1., Level III: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process
Standard 7.Level III: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational text
Working With Others
Standard 1., Level III: Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Level III: Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques
Family & Consumer Sciences
Standard 6., Level III: Understand how knowledge and skills related to living environments affect the well-being of individuals, families, and society
Students will do the following:
- make connections between prior knowledge and new information
- summarize information from varied sources
- analyze the components of varied products
- identify problems
- generate new ideas and solutions
- synthesize information
- evaluate information
- create a written presentation
- create a visual representation
- "New and Improved!" handout
- computer with Internet access
Building Background Talking Trash CansThe purpose of this activity is to help students begin to understand the role that problem solving plays in the design process. 1. As a class, read the following article that highlights innovative problem solving. http://www.bu.edu/eng/news/articles/20060522_smartrashinworldfinals.shtml The article describes the efforts of a group of Boston University engineering students who designed solar powered trash cans that "talk" to each other. 2. Discuss students' reactions to the article. Use the following questions to guide the discussion:
Why do you think the Boston University students invented these trash cans?
What problem were they trying to solve?
- Can you think of other inventions that solved problems?
- Why are new products invented?
- Can you find an example of a product in your classroom that was designed to solve a problem? (Possible examples might include a whiteboard, a file cabinet, an answering machine, a computer desk, a plant stand, a coat rack, etc.) Encourage students' creativity as they explore the classroom environment from a design perspective. Help them focus on understanding why products are designed in specific ways.
Steps for Learning
Brainstorm, Analyze, Create and DefendThe purpose of this activity is to encourage students to identify a problem that relates to an everyday item they use and generate a solution by creating a new and improved product design. 1. Divide the class into groups of four or five students. Provide a copy of the "New & Improved" handout below to each group. If possible, allow time for students to share their work.
ReflectionCreate a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their design process. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric. -How effective was your brainstorming in generating ideas? Excellent Good Adequate Poor -Rate how effectively you analyzed the information you used to identify your problem. Excellent Good Adequate Poor -Rate the effectiveness of your solution. Excellent Good Adequate Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated the problem you wanted to solve. Excellent Good Adequate Poor -Rate how clearly you communicated your solution. Excellent Good Adequate Poor -Rate your effectiveness as problem solvers. Excellent Good Adequate Poor
Enrichment Extension Activities
Activity One: Hall of Fame
After discussing, reviewing and critiquing each group's work, have the students create a design hall of fame. Invite others in the school to view students' creations.
Activity Two: Charles Harrison: Design for Life
As a class, listen to National Public Radio's feature on Charles Harrison, an industrial product designer and artist who creates masterpieces out of everyday items. http://www.tavistalks.com/ttcom/tsradio/ARCH2006/060206arch/index.html Discuss the students' reactions to the audio transcript. Use the following questions to guide your discussion:
- Why did Harrison design garbage cans with wheels?
- What did Harrison think about design?
- What life challenges did Harrison face that influenced his ideas about design?