Student Life
Graw Innovation Center

Middle Schoolers Use Design Thinking to Help Severn Kindergarten

Each quarter our Middle School Innovative Design Challenges students take on engineering projects to solve real-world problems. With no blueprint to follow and no examples to copy, they work through the entire design process from conception to completion, tackling projects of all shapes and sizes. Last quarter, starting with nothing more than a list of possible components, our design challengers built a mobile classroom cart for Severn’s kindergarten students. Building upon skills learned in the 6th-grade Introduction to Design Thinking course, our students scaled their ideas and employed new strategies to imagine, create, and iterate their way towards making a real product for a real audience.

Big Ideas, Big Compromise

The idea for this particular project came from a casual conversation between Middle School science teacher Ms. Carrie Ball and kindergarten teacher Ms. Emily Coogan. Ms. Coogan was looking for some type of mobile classroom that she and her students could take outside or to other parts of the school. Ms. Ball suggested that this would be a perfect fit for her design challenge class — a real challenge for a real audience and one that requires ingenuity and perseverance.

Using Severn’s design thinking methodology as their guide, our students asked questions to explore every possible feature that could work for the mobile classroom. With each idea they constantly revisited their goal and the needs of their audience. Every idea had to make sense for a class of five-year-old students. They had to consider size, weight, types of tools to include and even the environment in which it would be used.
  • Should it have wheels?
  • Should it be a cart? Or a wagon?
  • Does it need handles? Will it be pushed or pulled?
  • Who will be using it and where?
They drew their ideas on the whiteboard and as a class, critiqued each one for possible benefits and drawbacks. They narrowed the possibilities to the most essential and that which could be accomplished with available resources in the time allotted. At the end of this phase, the group decided to build a wooden cart with wheels that had built-in sections for tools like pencils and scissors. The front of the cart would be covered in whiteboard paint and the bottom would house custom clipboards for each kindergarten student — a large undertaking for any team!
Severn School teachers present at a conference holding artwork.
The finished product complete with built-in sections for scissors and pencils, microscopes, clipboards, and a whiteboard working space.

Room to Fail and Try Again

Once the group settled on an overall design, our middle schoolers drew plans for how to put it together. From choosing which materials to use to how to assemble them, our students took the lead in transforming their sketches into a real tangible product. They measured and cut the wood, used Tinkercad and the 3D printer to create the built-in elements, assembled the wheels, and painted. This part of the project took a lot of experimentation, patience, and advanced collaboration skills. Ms. Ball was careful to offer guidance when needed, while also giving our students the room to try ideas, fail, and try again.
Severn School middle school student measuring a piece of wood.
Measure twice, cut once!
“This always happens with the design process. You come up with these big ideas during the imagine phase, but then you have to think realistically about what you can actually do. One of the most important lessons here is perseverance. You just have to try something and see. It may not be exactly what you sketched so you have to modify and improve it. That’s what I want them to learn, that things can take a different direction and that’s ok.” — Ms. Carrie Ball

A Special Surprise for Our Kindergarteners

Ms. Coogan and Ms. Schubert’s kindergarten classes visited Teel Campus for the big reveal. Our budding engineers presented the features of the cart but also talked about the process of putting it together. You could see the excitement in our kindergarten students' eyes as they listened to their older peers’ experiences. As a final culminating activity, our middle schoolers surprised the kindergarteners with a special collaborative design project. Working in small groups, they showed them how to design personalized clipboards using iPads and the laser cutter.
Severn School students and teachers working together in the innovation lab.
It was a group effort to create the custom designs to cut into the clipboards in the Collaborate Space of the Graw Innovation Center.
Severn School elementary school student holds a clipboard with her name on it.
After creating their designs, our kindergarteners could see their ideas come to life!

Purpose Matters

A sense of purpose is critical to truly engage with the design process. When students create something for an authentic audience they have an intrinsic motivation to succeed and become very invested in their work. It’s no longer about getting a good grade, it’s about making something they can be proud of and that will benefit others. Throughout the entire process, our Innovative Design Challenges students stretched the bounds of their creative, technical and collaboration skills. We can’t wait to see what they do next.

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