Tour + Workshop: Health Challenge – What do I Need to Survive?

By Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, February 24, 2010

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Product Design

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Lesson Time

Two fifty-minute class periods


Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian exhibition National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? explores different design categories through the eyes of sustainable innovation. The featured projects in the health category allow previously unable groups of the population to take part in everyday activities. These sustainable designs also help create a cleaner environment, therefore increasing the value of daily life. In this lesson, students will gather information on health innovations presented in the exhibition and create a medical survival kit to respond to health challenges.

National Standards

Common Core English Language Arts Strand Reading for Informational Text Grade 3 RI.3.7. Use information gained from illustrations (e.g., maps, photographs) and the words in a text to demonstrate understanding of the text (e.g., where, when, why, and how key events occur). Strand Speaking and Listening Grade 3 SL.3.1. Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacherled) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly. SL.3.4. Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace. Thinking & Reasoning Standard 5.  Level II (Grade 3-5) Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving techniques Benchmark 1. Identifies issues and problems in the school or community that one might help solve Geography Standard 15. Level II (Grade 3-5) Understands how physical systems affect human systems Benchmark 3. Knows the ways in which human activities are constrained by the physical environment (e.g., effects of weather, climate and land forms on agriculture, recreational activities, availability of water, expansion of settlement) Benchmark 4. Knows natural hazards that occur in the physical environment (e.g., floods, wind storms, tornadoes, earthquakes) Standard 16. Level II (Grade 3-5) Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution and importance of resources Benchmark 1. Knows the characteristics, location, and use of renewable resources (e.g., timber), flow resources (e.g., running water or wind), and nonrenewable resources (e.g., fossil fuels, minerals) Benchmark 5. Knows advantages and disadvantages of recycling and reusing different types of materials Health Standard 1. Level II (Grade 3-5) Knows the availability and effective use of health services, products, and information Benchmark 1. Knows general characteristics of valid health information and health-promoting products and services (e.g., provided by qualified health-care workers; supported by research) Standard 2. Level II (Grade 3-5) Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health Benchmark 1. Knows how the physical environment can impact personal health (e.g., the effects of exposure to pollutants) Benchmark 3. Knows how personal health can be influenced by society (e.g., culture) and science (e.g., technology) Visual Arts Standard 2. Level II (Grade K-4). Knows how to use structures and functions of arts Benchmark 1. Knows the difference among visual characteristics (color, texture) and purposes of art (i.e., convey ideas) Benchmark  3. Uses visual structures and functions of art to communicate ideas


Students will: • explore the exhibition National Design Triennial: Why Design Now? to learn about sustainable health design • examine the inter-relationships among health, environment and society • analyze the benefits of new and productive innovations • conduct research to gather data • create a material kit that responds to given challenges


Examples from Cooper Hewitt's National Design Triennial: Why Design Now?
  • AdSpecs. Joshua Silver, Adaptive Eyecare Ltd. and Centre for Vision in the Developing World. United Kingdom.
  • Armadillo Body Armor and Facemask. Leif Steven Verdu Isachsen, KODE Design, manufactured by ROFI Industrier for Norwegian FORM Foundation through Design Without Borders, The Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and The Norwegian People’s Aid. Norway and Italy.
  • Modular Prosthetic-limb System. Stuart D. Harshbarger, Applied Physics Laboratory and Orthocare Innovations, Thomas Van Doren, HDT Engineering Services and Richard Weir, Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. U.S.
  • Zon Hearing Aid. Stuart Karten, Eric Olson, Paul Kirley and Dennis Schroeder, Stuart Karten Design for Starkey Laboratories, Inc. U.S


For this exercise, choose two materials from each category to distribute to each group inside a brown lunch bag. This allows the supplies to vary between groups.  
Tie Soft Stiff
Tin foil Sponge Q-tips
Pipe cleaners Cotton balls Popsicle sticks
Rubber bands Coffee filters Paper clips
String Balloons Newspaper
Raffia Tissue paper Straws
  • Brown paper lunch bag to hold materials
  • colored pencils, markers
  • mini poster board


  • environment: the area in which something exists or lives
  • sustainable design: the philosophy of designing physical objects, the built environment and services to comply with the principles of economic, social, and ecological sustainability
  • prototype: an original model on which something is patterned


The purpose of this activity is to provide students with an opportunity to analyze a problem and brainstorm ways to solve it.
  1. Review the designs in Why Design Now? and discuss with the class how these designs relate to health, survival and sustainability.
  2. Divide the class into three or four small groups.
  3. Deliver supplies for medical survival kits in brown lunch bags, but do not open the bags yet.
  4. Distribute a survival challenge card to each group (i.e. I’m at the beach, how do I protect myself from the sun?; I’m going hiking, what should I bring for safety?; I’m by a stream, what do I need to ensure safe water and protection?; I’ve come to the scene of an accident, how can I help the victims? )
  5. Groups can begin to brainstorm different solutions to their survival challenges that are also sustainable.
  6. Encourage students to be inventive, creative and wild with their ideas. It doesn’t actually have to be feasible, just innovative.
  7. Groups choose their best idea from their brainstorm session and build a prototype for their medical survival kit using the materials provided.
  8. Provide time for students to share their design inventions with the class.


Each team should be asked the following during their presentations:
  • What sustainable features does your medical survival kit include?
  • Does your bag contain appropriate supplies?
  • Would your health bag be applicable to other conditions?
  • Are there other sustainable ways to create similar medical supplies?

Enrichment Extension Activities

Differentiation for Middle and High School:
  • Students can research innovative designs used to benefit the environment and the medical well-being of people in their own community.
  • If possible, take a field trip to a local hospital or medical center to see some innovative designs up close.
  • Design groups can brainstorm and write survival challenge cards to trade with other design groups in the class.
  • The groups can share their prototypes with one another, then give each other feedback on their designs. Allow time for design groups to make adjustments to their designs in response to this feedback before presenting to the class.

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