Just before Spring Break, 6th and 8th grade students participated in Brimmer and May’s first-ever Middle School Design Challenge. Over the course of three days, students were asked to apply the design process to real-world problems to ultimately design and build original solutions.
Adult members of the community served as clients, providing firsthand dilemmas for groups of students to solve. These challenges ranged from birdhouses in our school garden not being accessible or able to be handled by our youngest students, to the seats of our dining room chairs flipping too easily when bags or small children are placed on them.
With clients and dilemmas in hand, the teams began the design process with an empathic lens. By interviewing their client to better understand the situation and specific needs, design teams were able to develop a real connection to their objective. This learned information and emotional connection helped drive the decision-making process throughout the project.
Design teams not only built prototypes using various materials and equipment in the Maker Space, but they also developed a brand. Marketing teams within each group gave their product names, taglines, and logos. These efforts culminated with the creation of a commercial featuring the finished product.
This experience was successful on many levels. Students were challenged to put themselves in someone else’s shoes by trying to address their clients’ dilemmas. Design teams were asked to organize themselves in a way that highlighted students’ individual strengths, while working towards a common goal. Students were exposed to the equipment in the Maker Space and to the design process itself, which includes finding success and – more importantly – knowing when to return to the drawing board when outcomes do not turn out as expected. Students demonstrated creative resourcefulness with tasks such as sewing and working with unexpected materials. Lastly, students and faculty alike had a great time!