Sneakers, Telephones, Cups and Curls: The Power of Invention in Everyday Life

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, September 13, 2006

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

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.

National Standards

Standard 1. Level IV. Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process 1. Prewriting: Uses a variety of prewriting strategies (e.g., develops a focus, plans a sequence of ideas, uses structured overviews, uses speed writing, creates diagrams) 6. Uses strategies to adapt writing for different purposes (e.g., to explain, inform, analyze, entertain, reflect, persuade)
Standard 7. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand and interpret a variety of informational text 1. Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of informational texts (e.g., textbooks, biographical sketches, letters, diaries, directions, procedures, magazines, essays, primary source historical documents, editorials, news stories, periodicals, catalogs, job-related materials, schedules, speeches, memoranda, public documents, maps)
Working With Others
Standard 1. Contributes to the overall effort of a group
Thinking & Reasoning
Standard 5. Level IV. Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques Benchmark 7. Evaluates the effectiveness of problem-solving techniques
Family & Consumer Sciences
Standard 6. Level IV. Understand how knowledge and skills related to living environments affect the well-being of individuals, families, and society Benchmark 9. Understands the design principles and elements as they apply to living environments
Visual Arts
Standard 3. Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas

Common Core Standards

Anchors for Reading:

Key Ideas and Details:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.1 Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.2 Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.

Craft and Structure:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.4 Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.

Integration of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7 Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9 Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

Range of Reading and Level of Text Complexity:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10 Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.

Anchor Standards for Writing:

Text Types and Purposes:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.1 Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.3 Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

Production and Distribution of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.5 Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.6 Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and to interact and collaborate with others.

Research to Build and Present Knowledge:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.7 Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.8 Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Range of Writing:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.W.10 Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of tasks, purposes, and audiences.

Anchor standards for Speaking and Listening:

Comprehension and Collaboration:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1 Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2 Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.3 Evaluate a speaker's point of view, reasoning, and use of evidence and rhetoric.

Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.6 Adapt speech to a variety of contexts and communicative tasks, demonstrating command of formal English when indicated or appropriate.

Anchor standards for Language:

Conventions of Standard English:

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.2 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.



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 Cans

The 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. 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 Defend

The 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.



Create 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 the following videos and read the articles on Charles Harrison, an industrial product designer and artist who creates masterpieces out of everyday items. Discuss the students' reactions to the audio transcript and articles. Use the following questions to guide your discussion:
  • What kinds of things did Harrison design?
  • 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?

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