One of my professional goals for this school year was to make design thinking a more integral part of the curriculum, but not as a stand-alone activity, rather purposefully integrated.  The whole “less is more concept,” especially since there never seems to be enough time.  What follows is reflections on the process I went through with my class.  A big shout out to Mr. @stevekatz for helping us along this journey (and for bringing along the awesome Maker Cart into class).

It all started with using the Design Thinking framework adapted by ISKL in the elementary school (for the lower grades), namely Ask, Design, Create, Review.  Our problem was that the class headphones were breaking consistently and through discussions with students we identified the problem as stemming from a less than ideal location to store the headphones (see pic below) – basically a plastic box where everyone threw in their headphones.

So … step 1 in the design cycle is

Ask (Can we design a better way to store headphones in our classroom?)


After asking the initial question we brainstormed various ideas from the weird and wonky Petronas Tower replicas to headphone castles complete with moats.  All ideas were honoured but then much class debate ensued to hone-in on one design to “prototype” out of cardboard and use as a “proof of concept” to see whether it would be feasible to create out of something more solid.

Create: Getting Ready

In collaboration with Steve Katz we used repurposed wood (old pallets) as our raw materials.  Mr. Katz brought in the Maker Cart and we started sanding away the planks. So therapeutic and calming.  So much so that I am thinking of always having some wood and sand paper handy for those that need a “calming moment.”

Create: Measure

This is where it got really interesting and the curriculum integration piece came into being.  Applying all our theoretical math skills in a practical real world setting (think of the plank as a solid piece of wood number line).  Some of the problems we needed to solve were how many headphones can we fit on one plank, how far does each hole have to be.  Lots of measuring, trial and error, but so engaging and collaborative for all.  Practically the way we set this up was by doing math rotation stations where one station was working with Mr. Katz on sanding and I would do the “applied math” with another group, while the last group would work on math games independently (3 groups x 6 students).  From experience 6 students is about as big a group as is manageable.

Create: More Measuring

A few weeks in we encountered our first challenged. The supplier of hooks was not delivering the hooks and kept delaying so … we thought creatively and decided to use wood rods as holders instead. But this required more cutting, which in turn required more measuring. Check out all the standards we were able to integrate organically.

Create: Painting

Measuring complete we proceed to paint the headphone holders “ISKL blue.”  They look awfully similar to coat hangers right?!  This seems like it should be a disaster waiting to happen, especially since it was real paint.  But no, all worked out just fine with the help of some surgical gloves to keep the worst of the paint off small hands.  It did take a few days as we needed the paint to dry in-between coats.


The last step was to install our awesome creations in the classroom and put them to the test.  2 planks with 5 pegs each.  Each peg holding 2 headphones.  Total carrying capacity of 20 headphones.  Pride and satisfaction as evidenced by smiles #priceless.

Lessons learned? Always.

  • Start with an authentic design challenge. Keep it real.
  • Link it to standards (otherwise it becomes just a cool activity).
  • Give it a try.  You might not have all the answers,  or a vision for how it will play out and that’s ok.
  • Sometimes it will get messy, roll with it.
  • Find a trusted colleague and work through it together.

At the end of the day being able to successfully navigate the design cycle independetly is a skill, and like all skills it requires repeated practice to get better.  So my next steps are to keep at it and see how else I can integrate design thinking naturally into the normal school day. Hopefully I’ll be back soon with another project to write about!