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Design Thinking in 6th Grade STEAM

In many of their classes, 6th Graders are generally asked to take a problem-solving approach: to solve for the variable in an equation, draw a subject to scale or write a persuasive essay. In STEAM class, however, students are asked to shift to design thinking, a process of human-centered innovation which asks them to empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test a given item. This week, students paired up and began a project in which they will use design thinking to design a backpack that is useful and meaningful for their partner - starting with a peer interview to gain empathy for the user.

Before conducting their interviews, 6th Graders discussed how to draw out useful information from their interviewee by asking why and inviting further elaboration, as well as the importance of taking detailed notes. Each pair of students then took turns asking their partner what they like and don’t like about their school backpack; the most frustrating thing that has ever happened when using their backpack; and how they like to organize things in their room. Through this process, interviewers gained greater empathy for their users and clarity about their specific needs.

Each student will use the information they collected during their interview to define their partner’s needs by writing a “Needs Statement” that will guide their work as they move into the ideation stage, in which they will brainstorm several ideas for different ways to create a backpack that meets those needs. Finally, it will be time to build a prototype of their solution and test it by sharing it with their partner and receiving feedback on its strengths and weaknesses. Stay tuned for more updates as 6th Graders use design thinking to begin building their backpacks.