Zen and the Design of Homework Desks

By Centennial Middle School, January 6, 2009

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Architecture

Subject Area

  • Arts
  • Social Studies
  • Technology

Lesson Time

420 minutes of classroom activities


Students will be introduced to design education by creating work spaces/desks for home use. Student work spaces at home are seldom optimal for doing homework. Students will use the design process to problem solve and create solutions for a home study area that may aid them in their school work as well as leading to efficency in completing their homework. The lesson is designed to introduce students to the design process.  The lesson will help students understand how work space may help or hinder homework completion. Before beginning this lesson please do the"A" warm-up activity found in “Getting to Know Your Client or Zen and the Design of Homework Desks the Precursor.”

National Standards


Students will:
  • gain an understanding of design education by designing and building a desk work station for home use
  • understand how work environment may affect homework completion


Photos of various desks from history and current designs. Many online resources for historic desks can be found.  The following will provide a starting point: www.artsmia.org http://www.si.edu/Museums Also a Google image search for "desk" will provide many interesting photos to use.


  • pencils
  • sketchpads
  • cardboard
  • masking tape
  • meter sticks
  • scrap lumber
  • lighting fixtures


  • design process: a systematic problem solving strategy, with criteria and constraints, used to develop many possible solutions to solve a problem or satisfy human needs and wants and to narrow down the possible solutions to one final choice
  • prototype: a standard or typical example
  • ergonomics: the science of the design of equipment, especially so as to reduce operator fatigue, discomfort, and injury
  • aesthetics: a philosophical theory as to what is beautiful


Class Period 1: 1. Send out requests for donated materials. 2. Create a display featuring photos of desks from history up to current time (see resources). 3. Facilitate a discussion with students on the following design process: Identify "needs" for a study area that might be included in the desk design.  Include problems of studying at home such as distractions, lighting, etc. Class period 2: 1. Put students into design teams of four or five. 2. Students will work in teams to do the following tasks: Gather and Analyze information:
  • Look at historic designs and discuss functions and aesthetics of those designs.
  • Look at current designs discussing functions and aesthetics.
Ask questions such as, how has the computer and keyboard affected design? 3. Students will interview other students to find out where they study at home and problems they have with the spaces.  Teams should discuss whether student home study spaces differ from adult home work areas?  Teams should also consider how do people deal with noise and distractions in a home environment? Class Period 3: 1. Design teams will discuss and list performance criteria.  Criteria should include: desk sizes and materials; strength of desk and cost to build; flexible designs, modular possibilities. 2. Teams begin sketching ideas. 3. Teams should post ideas and share with other groups. Class Periods 4 and 5: 1. Teams build prototypes and models of desks, from donated materials. 2. Teams share their prototypes in an all team discussion, discussing pluses and minuses of the designs, and combine ideas. 3. Students pick the best attribute from each prototype and combine into one or two final designs. Additional class time as needed: 1. Final desk(s) is/are constructed from final student designs as professionally as possible. 2. Evaluation of outcome: Desk should be tested in various settings including at students’ homes. 3. Discussion on final design and results of testing.    


Students will be involved in a group project that will involve peer critques.  The final desk(s) will have evolved from individual groups to one or two final project desks.  Success will be based on their participation in the design process and by the design of the final desk(s).    

Enrichment Extension Activities

Display desk(s) in a prominent area of the school with interpretive signage. Art Enrichment - Design for others:  What designs would work with special needs children? Students design the ideal wheelchair accessible work space. Language arts: Students write a one-page paper describing their current home study area and what their dream study area would look like. Social Studies: Students investigate how children in developing countries do school work at school and at home.    
  1. I appreciate how this design-based lesson connects school-life to the home-life. Gives students opportunities to understand the history of past and current work-space designs, reflect on the acquired knowledge, recognize the relevance, and how to apply design-based thinking to address the issue of solving for an adequate work space.

  2. Examining historic designs can be a great segue into another lesson. Maybe to compare and contrast approaches to past design challenges with current ones. Also, how aesthetics evolve.

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