At any given moment, students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade enter the iLab with boundless enthusiasm and curiosity to propose a project. Sometimes the ideas are topical, while others are motivated by a personal passion. We address all ideas with the same response, asking “What is the purpose?” “How does it work?” and “What is the problem you are trying to solve?”
THE DESIGN THINKING PROCESS:
- Empathy/Discovery/Interpretation (Research)
- Ideation (Brainstorm)
- Experimentation (Prototype)
- Evolution (Test and Reflect)
Most of the time, the reply to my questioning is a look of surprise and contemplation. The students are quick with ideas, but the meaning behind the ideas are not always as clear. Students think it is cool to 3D print a name tag for their locker or backpack. They want to make a working lightsaber or a piece of jewelry for a friend. It is my job to figure out the student’s level of commitment to the project without squashing their enthusiasm.
The time and effort it takes to design and create with the laser cutter, CNC machine, and 3D printer are prefaced with the need for students to defend, design, and prototype their creations. Here is what that looks like:
Students must explain the need or reasoning behind their project. They must answer the following questions:
- What purpose does it serve?
- How does it work?
- Why do you want to make it?
It is very rare that a project idea is denied, but there are steps the students have to take to prove they are committed to the entire process.
When students come to the iLab with an idea, they have a picture in their head that does not easily translate to 2D or 3D design. This is the step they dread: research. They have to step back, think about the design process, do the research, and apply what they found to the next step.
When I tell students to build their project in cardboard or chipboard prior to a fabrication machine, I usually get a blank stare sometimes followed by an argument. Not an argument out of anger, but more out of the desire to make their vision come to life as they imagine it and as quickly as possible.
Again, tasked with not discouraging the student, I have to convince them that a “rough draft” will allow them to fix any potential problems or roadblocks. As any language arts teacher will tell you, the first draft always needs work. The hard part is convincing my students that!
Recently, one of my fifth grade students came to me with an idea. Michelle is a bright, tech-savvy student who has found much success in previous iLab projects and activities. Michelle came to the iLab with her homeroom teacher who recently received a new docking station for her classroom desk. The teacher did not like how the cords were tangled and hanging over her desk. This was a problem that Michelle wanted to solve. She had an idea in mind and wanted to 3D print a box to contain the cords.
After proving that her project was valid and useful, Michelle designed a box using the TinkerCAD program (computer aided design software) which she has worked with previously. However, her measurements were incorrect. To remedy this, she built a physical prototype of the box out of cardboard. Once the prototype was made, Michelle quickly caught her own mistakes and made changes to improve her design. This essential step allowed Michelle to see her design flaws and correct them before she sent her project to the printer.
The final product was a success!
Vicki Spitalnick is an Innovation Specialist in the Mintz Family Innovation Lab (iLab) on Pine Crest School’s Boca Raton campus. Vicki has been a self-proclaimed “crafter” since her days in summer camp where she honed her skills with any and all materials available. Project based, hands-on learning has been integrated into her classroom curriculum for years. Prior to joining Pine Crest, Vicki was a first and third grade gifted classroom teacher at Poinciana STEM Magnet school where she integrated technology and maker projects into her regular curriculum.