Get Behind the Wheel

By Curt Uebelhor, August 29, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts

Lesson Time

450 minutes of classroom activities


Most middle school students are anxiously awaiting the time when they will legally be able to get behind the wheel of an automobile. This lesson uses that interest and the design process to have the students design a dashboard for a new car that will be marketed to the sixteen- to twenty-three-year-old new car market.

National Standards

Visual Arts
Standard 1.  Understands and applies media, techniques, and processes related to the visual arts Standard 2.  Knows how to use structures (e.g., sensory qualities, organizational principles, expressive features) and functions of art Standard 3.  Knows a range of subject matter, symbols, and potential ideas in the visual arts Standard 5.  Understands the characteristics and merits of one's own artwork and the artwork of other      

Common Core State Standards

English Language Arts Standards Writing 

Grade 6-8

Production and Distribution of Writing:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
English Language Arts Standards: Speaking and Listening

Grade 6-8

Comprehension and Collaboration:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read or researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence on the topic, text, or issue to probe and reflect on ideas under discussion.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.2 Analyze the purpose of information presented in diverse media and formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively, orally) and evaluate the motives (e.g., social, commercial, political) behind its presentation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.8.3 Delineate a speaker's argument and specific claims, evaluating the soundness of the reasoning and relevance and sufficiency of the evidence and identifying when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6-8.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate. (See grade 8 Language standards 1 and 3 here for specific expectations.)


Students will:
  • learn to identify a client’s needs and how to fulfill those needs
  • understand the basic design process
  • translate verbal ideas into visual images
  • develop and refine dashboard designs
  • learn how to articulate their design to their client



  • sketchbooks
  • graphite pencils
  • 18” x 24” 90 lb. white drawing paper
  • colored pencil sets
  • 18” rulers
  • handout with assignment details
  • new car brochures from car dealers
  • examples of student work (if possible)
  • print outs of images used in slide presentation for display


  • dashboard: a panel extending across the interior of a vehicle (as an automobile) below the windshield and usually containing instruments and controls
  • speedometer: an instrument for indicating speed
  • odometer: an instrument for measuring distance traveled (as by a vehicle)
  • design process: the steps taken to develop a design solution
  • brainstorming: the mulling over of ideas by one or more individuals in an attempt to devise or find a solution to a problem


Session 1: Review the Challenge 1.  The teacher will introduce the project using the Research and Design Guide handout.  The students will be designing a dashboard for a new vehicle that will appeal to the market group of sixteen- to twenty-three-year-olds of moderate to high income.  Students will determine if vehicle is gender specific.  Students will come up with a name for the vehicle and draw the dashboard as seen from between the front seats. 2.  Teacher will present a slide show of cars and their dashboards from the 1910s to present and include future prototypes and examples from movies.  A list of features of the vehicle as displayed on the dashboard will be generated by each student for their vehicle. 3.  Grading rubric will be passed out and discussed.  Students will be instructed to contemplate the assignment for the next day’s class.  Examples of student work (if available) will be displayed. Session 2: Investigate the Problem 1.  Students will break up into pre-determined small groups to interview “clients” (fellow students) on their needs/wants in a vehicle. 2. If possible, students will listen to a short presentation by a former automobile designer and then interview the designer, if possible.  This will be videotaped for other classes to reference. 3.  If possible, students will listen to a short presentation by a local car dealer and then interview the dealer, if possible.  This will be videotaped for other classes to reference. Session 3: Generate Ideas & Edit and Develop Ideas 1.  Students will individually brainstorm ideas for names and features of their vehicle, focusing especially on items that can be featured in some way on its dashboard and list these ideas in their sketchbook. (Lists will be turned in.) Brainstorming ideas determined to have the most potential will be developed further.  A prototype will be developed through rough sketches of the dashboard and a description will be written. (This can be assigned as homework if necessary.) Session 4: Share and Evaluate Ideas (Two days) 1.  Students will present short one to two minute presentations to classmates followed by a timed suggestion and critique period (comments positively stated).   Participation in suggestion and critique period will be voluntary but ALL students will offer at least one comment during this time. Session 5: Finalize Solution (Three days) 1.  Students will use information gathered from suggestion/critique session to refine or reframe their ideas and will then draw their dashboard in pencil on the 18” x 24” paper provided.  Following completion of the pencil drawing, students will use colored pencils to finish their vehicles.  The drawing will be detailed and will include descriptions of specific features using arrows to indicate the corresponding areas of the drawing.  The view through the windshield should help the “client” understand what type of environment this vehicle is best suited to or designed for.  A typed list of the features will also be turned in.  (Done outside of class.) Session 6: Present Final Solutions (Two days) 1.  Students will present a one to two minute presentation to the class highlighting their vehicles’ features on their large drawing.  They will describe how and why these features will appeal to their client.  The teacher will sum up the assignment and allow students to secretly vote for the vehicles they feel best met the criteria for the assignment, had the best visual drawing, and which vehicle they would purchase from the class selections.  Winners will be announced at a later date and ALL work will be displayed with awards attached to individual winners.  


Assessment will be done using the attached rubric.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Cross-curricular activities could include: writing advertising copy for an ad campaign for the vehicles; using the drawings along with other materials to produce video ad campaigns (commercials).
  1. Great way of bringing design-based thinking and the automobile industry to the classroom. Bringing in a professional automobile designer seems like a valuable tool for the lesson. Think I’ll be using this one for my 8th grade Art students! Thanks

  2. This lesson plan would be a valuable resource for preparing students to actively participate in district art contests that present them an opportunity to develop designs to present verbal ideas about the city’s commitment to support the arts in a visual manner.

Leave a reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.