Community Minded

By Dana Holden, December 15, 2016

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

2 x 90 minute lessons


Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s By The People: Designing a Better America exhibition has a range of designs that explore American design innovations, including one entitled City Digits: Local Lotto, which anchors mathematics curriculum in projects and applications that engage students in investigations of their urban environment. These lessons are inspired by this exhibition and look to challenge students to design solutions for identified users in their communities. What could be designed for a particular user that would enrich their life? How can an elderly person carry objects if they have arthritic hands? How does a single mother manage a baby, young child and groceries? Is there a way a homeless person can wear that serves a second purpose? Is there an app that could be developed to be used for a community center to connect members? These two lessons pose questions to students whose job it is to develop a product prototype using materials that represent real world materials that solve an existing user issue. Students then learn to identify problems in their communities and create a solution for an identified user.


Students will be able to: • identify both school and wider community issues; • develop skills in empathy, critical and creative thinking; • design and prototype a solution.


• Computer • Projector • Video: “How Might We…?” • Videos – D School Stanford Brainstorming (hot not to) Brainstorming (how to) • By The People exhibition – City Digits: Local Lotto • Power point attached BEFORE COMMENCING THE LESSONS: It would be a good idea to begin conversations with students around issues that exist within your community.


• A bag of materials per group including, but not limited to: o Pipe cleaners, coffee filters, sticky tape, straws, wooden stirrers, etc. • Challenge cards: An elderly person needs to carry objects but they have arthritic hands. A single mother needs to manage a baby, young child and groceries. A homeless person needs to wear something that can also be their shelter. A community center needs an app that can let members know what is going on and send out other information.


• Design • Prototype • Community • Iteration


LESSON 1 1. What is design? Ask students what they think design is and discuss their understanding of it in society. Use slideshow to curate discussion. Link to Cooper Hewitt’s By The People exhibition. 2. Discuss: If design is all around us and a way to create innovative solutions, what solutions could you develop for problems in your day to day life? What solutions could you create for wider community issues? (Give examples that suit your school’s context. For example, if there is little recycling at your school, how could you solve that?) 3. Ready, Set, Design! Put students into groups of 4 and give them a “challenge card” and a bag of materials including pipe cleaners, coffee filters, sticky tape, straws, wooden stirrers, etc). Students draw a challenge card and use their materials to create a solution, they have 20 minutes. Remind them that it is representational and therefore does not have to be “perfect”. Let them know that at the end of the time they will either present as a group or have a spokesperson for the group to share what the group creates. Challenge cards: • An elderly person needs to carry objects but they have arthritic hands. • A single mother needs to manage a baby, young child and groceries. • A homeless person needs to wear something that can also be their shelter. • A community center needs an app that can let members know what is going on and send out other information. 4. Present ideas: Present ideas to the class and share feedback of where their ideas could go. Frame the conversation by identifying the user and potential issues they could have and how the solution designed by the group would solve their issue and take into account other potential issues. 5. Discuss the design process: Discuss with students that in the challenges they were given a defined problem and needed to come up with ideas in a group to create their prototype. These are three phases within the design process. Let them know that the next stage would be to test and evaluate the design and continue to refine their prototype. Discuss that sometimes we might not start with a defined problem and instead need to decide what the specific problem is and who the user might be in order to begin developing ideas. 6. VIDEO: Watch “How might we…?” 7. Class feedback: Ask your students if they were to go back and complete the challenge now, would they do it differently or how they would adapt their design in order to move forward. 8. Next steps: Discuss how the students have just developed a quick prototype of a solution for some given challenges. Students will now identify a challenge that exists in their community and develop ideas of how it might be addressed. 9. Brainstorming as a class: • What issues could we solve within our school? • What issues could we solve within other communities we belong to? Brainstorm as many ideas as possible and list on the board. Students can then choose the issue they are most connected to or interested in and these will form their design groups. Some groups might be larger and could be split up if they are over 5 people. They need to come up with a “How might we…?” question. 10. Next lesson: Ask students to think about their topics until the next lesson as they will be continuing their work and moving through the design process. LESSON 2 1. Defining the problem: Students work in their groups to define a specific problem based on the issue they selected to work with. Who is the user in their problem that they want to worth? What is the desired outcome? Share questions with the class and help each other refine questions in order to move forward. 2. Getting ideas: Once students have their question they have 10 minutes to come up with as many ideas as possible to solve the problem. Their goal is 100, but at least 40 is desirable. Give them three categories that ideas could fall into – Practical, Darling and Wild. Practical ideas are those that could easily be completed, Darling are ideas that are unexpected or whimsical and Wild ideas are “out there” ideas that could lead down a daring path. VIDEO – D School Stanford – how not to/how to brainstorm. Students then have their 10 minutes to brainstorm. 3. Presenting ideas: Students present one idea from each of the three categories to the class and then choose one of the three ideas to continue working on. 4. Prototyping and making: Students develop their idea further and create a 5 minute presentation that demonstrates their idea or prototype to the class. They can use craft materials to create a representation of their product like they did last lesson, they might create a power point presentation, use chart paper, perform a skit, or choose another way of presenting their solution to the class. 5. Presenting product: Students present ideas to the class for assessment. 6. Debrief: How could you move forward? Are there any ideas or concepts that we could choose as a class to work on and implement in the community? DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: • What is a problem we/you experience in our/your school or wider community now? • Why have you chosen this issue to design a solution for? • Is your solution a physical product or an idea you are going to try? • Who is the user of your product? • Could we try this idea out today? Tomorrow? In a week? In a year? • What do you need in order to test your design? • What would make your design stronger?


Students will be able to demonstrate capacity in design thinking through feedback in class, class discussions and planning and prototyping their designs. Students present their ideas to the class. This can be done either as a skit, speech, power point presentation, video, poster, etc. You can differentiate through tailoring the work and level of difficulty for your students and how they choose to present their work.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Continue working with students through to the end of the prototyping as they enhance and adapt their ideas. This could then be presented to either the class or to the year level, or however it works for you in your school context. Students can complete the task in groups or as individual projects. Choose one or more ideas/concepts to implement as a class.

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