The Way of Water in the World

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, November 30, 2007

Grade Level

  • High School


  • Design for the Other 90%

Subject Area

  • Language Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


Of the world’s total population of 6.5 billion, 5.8 billion people, or 90%, have little or no access to most of the products and services many of us take for granted. In fact, nearly half do not have regular access to food, clean water, or shelter. The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s exhibition Design for the Other 90% explores a growing movement among designers to design low-cost solutions for this “other 90%.” In this lesson, students will explore problems and design solutions in relation to water issues.

National Standards

Common Core English Language Arts
College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards
Strand Reading
Language Arts - Reading
Language Arts - Writing
Historical Understanding


Students will:
  • investigate the Design for the Other 90% exhibition
  • explore global water issues
  • play an interactive game
  • design alternative solutions for an interactive game
  • explore varied aspects of the design process
  • conduct internet research
  • create a class presentation
  • work collaboratively in small groups



Computer with internet access


The “Pani Game”
The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an introduction to global water problems.
  1. Show your class where Africa and Ethiopia are located on a world map. You can use an atlas, a globe, or the National Geographic  website at The  website features a world map. Type in “Africa” and “Ethiopia” in the “Find a Place” prompt.
  2. With your students, visit the “World Water Day” website at Ask for student volunteers to read the information presented on the website aloud. Discuss this information with your students.
  3. Divide the class into four groups and tell the students that they are going to play an interactive game called “The Pani Game” that will help them learn about water issues. The game is set in a village in Ethiopia. If you do not have multiple computers, you may play the game as a class. The “Pani Game” may be found at
  4. After the students have completed the game, ask them to share with the class what they learned about water issues in other parts of the globe. Record their responses on the board.
  5. Introduce your students to Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s Design for the Other 90% exhibition Explore the website as a class and discuss the purpose of this exhibition.
Steps for Learning Water: It’s No Game
The purpose of this activity is to give students an opportunity to reflect on how design is a problem-solving process.
  1. Divide the class into small groups. Give each group a copy of the “Pani Game Design Part II” handout. Tell the students that they are going to create additional solutions for the water problem in Embet’s Ethiopian village as it was featured in the “Pani Game.”
  2. After each group has presented its work, lead a class discussion based on the following questions:
  • What did you learn from your classmates’ presentations?
  • What was the best part of each presentation?
  • How can design solve water problems?
  • What role can you play in raising awareness of water-related problems in the world?
  • Why is water such an essential component of our lives?
  • How are the consequences of human intentions influenced by the means of carrying them out? How is this evident in how we deal with water resources?
  • What is the economic impact of problem-solving designs?
  • Why are new designs an important part of economic growth?
  • How are economic decisions made in developing new design technologies?


Create a class rubric with your students that will help them understand the effectiveness of their work. Use the following guidelines to help create the rubric.
  • Rate the effectiveness of your research on water-related issues.
  • Rate the quality of your summary of water-related issues.
  • Rate your understanding of the Design for the Other 90% exhibition.
  • Rate the quality of your two design solutions for the “Pani Game.”
  • Rate the creativity of your presentation.
  • Rate how well your group was able to collaborate.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Differentiation for Elementary School:
  • Read the children’s picture book Bringing the Rain to Kapiti Plain by Verna Aardema, which is a tale from the Nandi people of Kenya. Discuss with your students the message of this book, and the connection between climate and culture.
  • In groups, students can design another game to teach others about global water issues. Invite another class to play the games produced by your students.
Differentiation for Middle School:
  • Students can research the different solutions presented in the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum’s Design for the Other 90% exhibition for water access and sanitation. They can then choose one of the water challenges addressed by the exhibition and design a new, innovative solution for it with their group.

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