A math teacher in Lompoc, CA, challenged her students to design new flooring for their classroom as a way to learn the concepts of perimeter and area. Students did extensive research, interviewed the school custodian, and made a trip to Home Depot to look at materials. At the end of the project the students took the standardized test that normally follows the unit. She was happy to report that her students “Blew the top off the test!” One student even said, “This is easy stuff!” Prior to using Design Thinking, teachers used lectures to teach perimeter and area and found it much more challenging to engage students.
Other teachers throughout the same district have had similar success using Design Thinking. Some teachers have even reported having difficulty getting students to go to recess because they are so excited about their projects. “Where has this been all of my years of teaching?” exclaimed a teacher after using Design Thinking to spice up a lesson.
Not Just Playing Around
Seventh graders saw just how relevant math and science can be when their teachers assigned a cross-disciplinary design challenge to create a better playground. Students went to the school playground to observe how it was used. They also interviewed kids about what they liked and didn’t like about the current playground. The teachers asked them to think about safety and notice where kids were bumping into one another. Based on their observations they designed a playground that was safe and easy for kids to use.
In their math class, the students built a scale model of the playground; putting their knowledge of fractions and percentages to use. In their science class, they applied what they were learning about simple machines by building a model of one of the structures that would be a part of the playground and were able to see the principals of machines in action!
The students were really excited to see how math and science worked in the real world and teachers reported that during the week of the design challenge they had 100% attendance.