6th graders Practice the Design Thinking Mindset

STEM School

Students in Mr. Fortes' iDesign class have been engaged in Design Thinking Projects all quarter. They quickly recall the five steps of the process when asked... Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. But do they really know what those titles mean?? 

The answer is a resounding "yes". The sixth graders have become fluent in design thinking through the projects Mr. Fortes has challenged them with. Their latest challenge: design a game which will getclasses of students up and moving to improve their levels of physical activity & health throughout the day. Users were defined (7 to 13 year old students), constraints were placed (the game must be simple, take few supplies, and anyone should be able to play), and needs were discussed (students need easy, engaging ways to increase their physical activity during the school day). After the logistics were in place, ideation began. 

Ideate is easily my favorite of the 5 steps. Students unleash their creativity and imagine games galore. Sitting games, standing games, balancing games, games where you hold hands, team games, individual games, games that keep you moving the entire time... the list is exhaustive. They write and sketch and think visually on post-it notes that then get placed on a large butcher-paper graphic organizer that Mr. Fortes designed to help them keep track of the stages. After pruning these ideas, combining some and scrapping others, students come up with a prototype. 

This is as far as some of the projects go. Making full scale models sometimes just doesn't make sense. But in the "Get up and Get Moving" challenge, the prototypes are fully functioning games that require different levels of construction. "Spinning Chambers" requires only a small bowling pin as a prize in the middle of rotating circles of people, up for grabs by the 'robber' who is sometimes thwarted by the 'protector'. To play "Four Soccer Balls" you need just one ball and four corners of players to square off against one another. For "Move it On", a beautifully-constructed game board, cards, and playing pieces are necessary. These games (and many more) typify the innovative thinking of 6th graders who, despite having played hundreds of games in their lifetimes, managed to come up with unique, playable, entertaining games that satisfy the need of the inactive user.

The presentation and feedback portion of the challenge are what we adults would consider 'nerve-wracking'. But for these students, who practice empathy on a daily basis, taking constructive criticism has become a part of their growth mindset, and they are not defeated but energized by getting critiques from fellow students. They listen attentively to the feedback provided after very professional presentations, and then it's back to the drawing board to, as one student puts it, "upgrade" their games.

As this quarter comes to an end, I can't help but be excited for the next group of iDesign-ers, who no doubt will become as well-versed in the process as their predecessors.

-Becky Peters, Trail Ridge STEM Coordinator-