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Educator-Designed Curriculum

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Need inspiration and ideas for how to incorporate design thinking into your classroom? Browse these curriculum units and lesson plans created by educators who have participated in workshops.

Designing a Habitat in the Classroom for Plants and Animals to Co-Exist

Designing Habitat Lesson Plans

by Kristin Burke and Gina Watkins
Grade Level: K

This design challenge will give children the opportunity to empathize and use their  knowledge and experience to design a classroom habitat where all their classroom  plants and animals can best coexist. After empathizing with the animals, plants and humans, students will have time to work independently and to collaborate in small teams to brainstorm and then prototype a co-existing habitat. During this process, students will practice listening and speaking skills. Teams will share their final prototype with the class (now resident animal/plant experts) for feedback. The class will vote on which habitat prototype to build for the classroom. Download Design Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 4 (pdf)

Developing a Caterpillar Habitat in the Classroom

by Caroline Grist
Grade Level: K-1

We raise caterpillars in our classroom every spring during our pollinator life cycle study. This project will give students the opportunity to empathize with the caterpillars and design an in-classroom habitat that emulates their natural habitat. It will highlight the importance of food, water, and shelter for survival, creating an empathic connection between the students and all living things. Students will also learn to work collaboratively while brainstorming and designing their prototypes. Their final prototypes will be presented to the class and a local butterfly expert for feedback. As a class, we will choose one of the habitat prototypes to implement in our classroom. Download Word document

CELLebration! Parts of Cells and Analogies to Human Society

Cellebration Lesson Plan

by Tiarra Knox
Grade Level: K-5

This design challenge will give students the opportunity to learn more about the structure and processes of the cell. In addition, students will come to see the analogous relationship between cell structure and their own communities. After learning about the cell, understanding analogies, and interviewing their classmates about their personal communities, students will create a model of a cell system that uses the structural components of an environment of their choice in order to define and classify the functions of a healthy cell. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf)

Plants and Conserving Water for Humans

Plants and Conserving Water for Humans

by Gilberto Parada
Grade Level: 1-3

Plants have ingenious ways of collecting and storing water. In Lesson 1, students will explore ways in which water is conserved, stored, and collected by plants. In Lesson 2, students will explore the ways and manners in which humans have conserved, stored, and collected water. They will connect this to their prior findings with plants to develop possible prototypes. In Lesson 3, students will synthesize their learning of plant conservation, storage, and collection techniques with those of humans to create prototypes. The emphasis will be placed on looking at some existing techniques and improving them. Download Design Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf)

"Try Not. Do or Do Not." -Yoda (Designing Using Balanced and Unbalanced Forces)

balanced and unbalanced forces lesson plan

by Ana Carrasco
Grade Level: 3

In a series of three lessons, students will learn about balanced and unbalanced forces. In lesson 1, students will use their bodies and a ball to explore the concepts of balanced and unbalanced forces. In lesson 2, students will begin to apply what they've learned by designing vertical marble mazes that move a marble into a bucket. In lesson 3, students will continue to explore these concepts in the context of passenger safety in cars. They will use pinewood derby kits to prototype vehicles that can move an egg down a ramp without breaking it. These lessons emphasize the design thinking process steps of prototyping and testing, with a focus on iterating to improve designs. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 Resource "Passenger Safety Survey Data" (doc)

Simple Machines Mini Museum Unit

by Kevin Quaderer
Grade Level: 3

In third grade, we learn about simple machines as part our science curriculum. The purpose of this lesson is to give students an authentic reason to become an expert on a selected simple machine: they will design a way to demonstrate how it works to an audience via a mini museum exhibit. We’ll create prototype displays, and refine these prototypes through feedback from peers and observation of focus groups. After a few iterations of design, students will present a final product for a larger audience to enjoy. Download Word document

Change Makers Designing for Change Makers

by Blythe Bulkin
Grade Level: 3

Students working in small groups will conduct research on a change maker of their choice, and then use their research to generate a short first-person bio and poster. The bio and poster will become the basis for creating an empathy map and POV statement, followed by prototype designs aimed at solving a challenge faced by the change maker. The curriculum unit begins with a whole-class demo, based on a first-person bio of J.K. Rowling. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Challenge Slides (ppt) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 Bio Resource (doc) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 4 (pdf)

Math Is a Language: Do You Speak Math?

do you speak math design challenge

by Teresa Benedict
Grade Levels: 3-5

In these lessons, students will be designing different ways for their user to understand, think about, and enjoy math. In Lesson 1, students will tackle the question, “Is math a language?” In Lesson 2, students will read, analyze, and come to understand a math standard, then teach the standard to the class. In Lesson 3, students will interview a user, create an empathy map, then craft a needs statement based on their insights. Then students will brainstorm multiple ways to meet the user’s needs, and fast prototype a solution to meet those needs. Finally, students will test their prototypes, receive feedback, then reflect on the design thinking process. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Supplementary Materials (doc)

Ancient Egyptian Museum Unit

by Melissa Mendenhall
Grade Levels: 3-8

Students will gain a deep understanding of the Ancient Egyptian Civilization by using critical Language Arts process skills while completing a worthwhile task with an authentic audience. Students research about an aspect of Ancient Egyptian Civilization. Then they design a museum exhibit for another student through utilizing the Design Thinking process. Download Word document

Multi-Genre Integrated English Language Arts/Science Book Writing Unit

by Melissa Mendenhall
Grade Levels: 3-8

Students will gain a deeper understanding of the Science standards and the English Language Arts standards by synthesizing information learned in both to create multi-genre literary non-fiction books for an authentic audience, to engage the audience in the science concepts and to immerse them in a literacy-rich experience. Students will research about a science concept. Then they will create a book that contains both informational and narrative text for a younger student by using the Design Thinking process. Download Word document

Designing a Class Constitution

Designing a class constitution lesson plan

by Evan Fortin and David Harris
Grade Level: 3 and up

The lesson provides an overview of the U.S. Constitution and the process the new country of the United States of America went through to create it. Then, students will develop classroom agreements “to create the best-running classroom we possibly can.” Students will develop (using the Empathize, Define, and Ideate processes) statements for the agreements, and then ratify the agreements. After a presentation on the three branches of the U.S. government, students will establish procedures and roles for testing, sustaining, and amending the agreements. Download PDF

Black Out! Seeing the Light

Designing a Light Source lesson plan

by Heidi Yamada
Grade Level: 4

How might we design a light source using common household materials for use during a black out? In this lesson students learn about electricity, build empathy and needfinding skills, brainstorm solutions, and build and test prototypes. The students will interview their families and find out about energy needs during a blackout. They will design and construct a working prototype to fulfill this need. Download PDF

Designing a Co-Habitable Space for Native Americans and Missionaries

Native Americans and Missionaries Design Thinking Lesson Plan

by Lela Ward and Heidi Yamada
Grade Level: 4

This lesson is an introduction to the California mission system. The students will have learned about California’s regions and geography and about the various tribes that inhabited these regions. This lesson will require another class and teacher that also need to learn about this time period. If that is not available, the students would have to be split into two groups. The lesson will kick off with the two teachers assuming the roles of Father Serra and Chief Chowig. The students will be asked to take notes during the debate in order to form questions for the characters later. The teachers will have a debate in front of the classes. After that, working in groups of two, they will come up with questions for the characters. They will then come up with a plan and prototype for how the two groups can cohabitate in California. Download Design Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 Supplementary Materials (doc) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 Supplementary Materials (doc)

Weather Stations: Teaching Observation and Data Interpretation

weather stations lesson plan

by Hannah Dolata
Grade Level: 4

In this unit, students will design an outdoor science station that can be used to measure and record weather data. Through engaging in this challenge, students will learn the skills and tools needed to measure, discuss, analyze, and communicate weather and weather patterns. In Section 1 of the unit, students are introduced to the vocabulary and tools of weather and weather investigation. Students will explore the concept of air as a substance and learn to identify common cloud types. This section is designed specifically to help build content vocabulary necessary for full participation in Sections 2 and 3. In Section 2 of the unit, students engage in the Design Thinking process as they work in teams to build a weather station that can be used to collect weather data at school. Their design challenge is to build a station that can be utilized by kindergarteners as well as by the fourth grade students. In Section 3, students will use the weather stations they created to conduct ongoing investigations into weather patterns. They will observe, record, and interpret weather data in science journals and conduct presentations on their analysis of the data collected. Download PDF

Improving One System Within a School

Improving One System Within a School Lesson

by Susan Sanchez
Grade Levels: 4-5

Students are introduced to the ideas of stewardship and how to become stewards within their school system. They will examine the California tribe, Ohlone, and how one tribal system (a "midden" for discarded shell waste) was successful and what broke down. Students will use the information to find out what is working within their school community. Through interviews and data collection, students will decide on one area that needs to be improved. They will build a prototype to support the new system. The lesson’s activities are designed for students to become engaged in problem solving, brainstorming, questioning, research, data collection, speaking/listening skills, writing and presentation. Download PDF

Designing and Building Bookshelves

Designing and Building Bookshelves Lesson Plan

by Evan Fortin and David Harris
Grade Levels: 4-6

Students will make and assess measurements of a space in their classroom and conduct an empathy interview. They will take these measurements and insights and develop a scale model bookshelf of appropriate size to fit the space. Students will explore and determine effective structural and strength elements of the shelf through building and testing models with various weights. They will work collaboratively to create scale blueprints and models of a shelf that they can then present to the class. The models will be voted on by the class and a final model will be chosen to be built. Each student will be able to play a small part in the construction of the shelf with teacher assistance, i.e. driving screws, sawing boards, gluing parts, or measuring. Download PDF

The Challenges of Disasters

The Challenges of Disasters Lesson Plans

by Caralyn Bingham
Grade Levels: 4-6

Students will design a new society after a natural disaster, taking into consideration social, political, economic, and other effects of the disaster. Students will learn to work in a collaborative environment, to study natural disasters and their impacts on humans, and to rebuild a society based on human needs. In Lesson 1, students will define types of disasters and research various disasters to understand their impacts on human society. In Lesson 2, students will read, annotate, and analyze documents or media about natural disasters. Then they will interview emergency responders in order to understand the impacts of natural disasters in society. In Lesson 3, students will take on the role of a character living in the aftermath of a disaster. They will use aspects of the design thinking process to understand individual and societal needs then design prototypes to meet those needs. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf)

Redesigning the Age of Exploration

age of exploration design challenge lesson plan

by Jonathan Coldoff
Grade Level: 5

This design challenge will give fifth grade students the opportunity to learn about famous explorers and explorations, then, using empathy, collaboration, and creativity, design a vessel that their end user (explorer) will use to travel from their home in Europe to places around the globe. In Lesson 1, teams of students will empathize with their user by reading a canned bio, creating an empathy map, and many POV statements. They will discuss these POV’s and ultimately choose one to form a needs statement that will guide them through the next two steps of this process. With their needs statement complete, students will now determine one or more destinations for their explorer to travel to in Lesson 2. They will then learn of the tidal and wind conditions in the world’s oceans, and view short videos of the conditions at sea level. In Lesson 3, teams will build a prototype of a vessel for their explorer. Vessels need to be autonomous and meet the needs of their explorer. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Supplementary Materials for Lesson 1 (doc) | Download Supplementary Materials for Lesson 2 (pdf)

Designing a Classification Tool Using SCRATCH Programming and Dichotomous Keys

classification tools and dichotomous keys using scratch programming design challenge lesson plan

by Tristan Green and Richard Masland
Grade Level: 6-8

Classification is important in understanding the natural world. Dichotomous keys help guide scientists toward identification so classifications can be shared and used mutually. A dichotomous key is a guide for classification and identification, somewhat like a map through a classification system that was developed previously. Many parts of the natural world that have been classified, categorized, and grouped can be identified using a dichotomous key. Dichotomous keys can be developed to identify anything in any sort of classification. In these lessons, students will learn to develop their own dichotomous key in SCRATCH programming in order to enrich their experience of a local community resource. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 Lecture Slides (ppt) | Download Lesson 1 Supplemental Materials (doc) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 Supplemental Materials (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 Supplemental Materials (doc)

Rethinking Recycling in Our City Unit

by Kim Irvine
Grade Levels: 6-12

These lessons are designed to help students authentically engage in problem solving, research, brainstorming, prototype design, speaking and listening skills, and presentation skills. Students will examine the problem of waste in their community and the effectiveness of the current recycling options. Students will interview people in their community to promote creative thinking to solve problems. The learning objectives will be centered around why waste is a problem and how the problems of waste management relate to their community and lives. Download PDF

6 Kingdom Vacation Plans

6 kingdoms lesson plan

by Jessica Cleeves Dwyer
Grade Level: 7

In this science unit, students will design the ideal vacation for the one of the six kingdoms of living organisms that they've been assigned: Plants, Animals, Protists, Fungi, Archaebacteria, or Eubacteria. In Lesson 1, students will generate interview questions, decide on a team approach to interviewing (who will do what), and practice proper interview techniques. In Lesson 2, students will conduct interviews with graduate students or scientists working with organisms in students’ respective focus kingdoms. In Lesson 3, each team will build a large, team-informed empathy map based on the information gleaned during research and interviews. In Lesson 4, teams will define needs statements for their kingdoms, ensuring that their needs statements are generative, open possibilities for design, and describe their kingdom uniquely. In Lessons 5 and 6, teams will brainstorm ideas for an ideal vacation and prototype their ideas using crafting materials. In Lesson 7, teams will welcome feedback from other teams and kingdom-specific scientists based on the vacation prototype they have designed. In Lesson 8, teams will reflect on feedback and adjust their prototypes, and individuals will reflect on the design process and what they have learned about their kingdom. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 4 (pdf) | Download Lesson 5 (pdf) | Download Lesson 6 (pdf) | Download Lesson 7 (pdf) | Download Lesson 8 (pdf) | Download Worksheet: Example Interview Analysis (doc)

I Will Survive! Design Thinking and Character Analysis

by Debra Drummond
Grade Level: 8

In these lessons, students design “school survival” kits for each other as a way to be introduced to Design Thinking. They will then read and annotate Jack London’s classic story “To Build a Fire,” then, in teams, design a survival experience for the protagonist. By creating an Empathy Map, a Needs Statement, and a Prototype, students will have, in essence, written a claim based on textual evidence and created a prototype that will “meet a character’s needs.” They will work in teams, interview a literary character, generate ideas, and design innovative user-centered solutions. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 Handout (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 Handout (pdf) | Download Design Thinking and Character Analysis slides (ppt)

Will Your Neighborhood Survive the Zombie Apocalypse?

zombie apocalypse design challenge lesson plan

by Kim Irvine
Grade Levels: 8-12

In this four-lesson unit, students will design a prototype that helps ensure the survival of their community in the event of a zombie pandemic apocalypse. This unit is designed to help students authentically engage in problem solving, research, brainstorming, prototype design, speaking and listening skills, writing, reading, and presentation skills. Students will examine and analyze the impact of a zombie apocalypse in their town. Students will interview people in their community to promote creative thinking to solve problems. The learning objectives will be centered on how to respond to a disaster by maximizing survival for the community. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 4 (pdf) | Download Press Release Form (doc)

Open Space for Everyone

open space design challenge lesson plan

by Richard Hoonakker
Grade Levels: 9-10

Recently an abandoned set of industrial buildings, in the vicinity of your school, has been torn down. Redesign the space that these buildings occupied so that it considers the needs of the city, its citizens and the environment. Students will be redesigning the open space to meet the needs of the city and its citizens while remaining ecofriendly. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 4 (pdf) | Download Handouts (pdf) | Download Slides (ppt)

Integrating the Little Rock Nine

little rock nine racial integration design challenge lesson plan

by Rebecca Richardson
Grade Levels: 9-12

In this design challenge, students will learn about emotional intelligence and then use it to develop empathy for historical figures involved in the integration of Little Rock High School by viewing a documentary film. They will use their new understandings to design school integration models that could have been used in 1957 to help bring the Little Rock Nine into the all-white high school. They will receive feedback from members of relevant community organizations and reflect on their experience. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Day 1 (pdf) | Download Day 2 (pdf) | Download Day 3 (pdf) | Download Appendix A: Empathy Map Graphic Organizer (doc) | Download Appendix B: Challenge Overview Handout (pdf) | Download Appendix C: POV Statement Handout (doc)

Relationship with Math Challenge

designing math lessons for younger students challenge lesson plans

by Vivian Shell
Grade Level: 12

In this six-lesson unit, students will design math activities for younger students. In Lesson 1, students will gain an understanding of the concept of equity in math education. In Lesson 2, they will gain an understanding of the choices possible in designing school experiences by observing a TED talk about place value and number. In Lesson 3, students will use an activity based on Mayan/Egyptian math to talk more concretely about place value and numeracy. In Lesson 4, students will conduct interviews and gain empathy with elementary school students in order to prepare to design for them. In Lessons 5 and 6, students will design a prototype of their activity, test it with learners, and reflect on its effectiveness. Download Challenge Overview (pdf) | Download Lesson 1 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 (pdf) | Download Lesson 2 Supplemental Materials (pdf) | Download Lesson 3 (pdf) | Download Lesson 4 (pdf) | Download Lesson 4 Supplemental Materials (pdf) | Download Lesson 5 (pdf) | Download Lesson 6 (pdf)

College Access: How Do We Support Student Access to Higher Education?

college access design challenge lesson plan

by Victoria Cabal
Grade Levels: Undergraduates

In these five lessons, college students will design components of a college access program for diverse younger students. They will gain empathy by interviewing current high school juniors and seniors to better understand the challenges they face in preparing for and applying to college. Then they will brainstorm and prototype potential solutions to some of the challenges they have identified. Download Design Challenge Lessons (pdf) | Download Slides (ppt)