For a number of years, Science Teacher Fred Estes has taught his popular catapult design unit. In addition to Fred's many physics goals for his students, I emphasized three stages of the Design Thinking process: Focus, Generate Ideas, and the Prototyping Cycle in this project.
Before coming to the I-Lab, the 5th graders completed a number of hands-on labs with Fred to learn about the behavior of catapults (Research/ Deep Dive). Based upon their earlier experimentation, the students' first task was quickly to do a team brainstorming of different goals they might have for their catapult design. We wanted them to focus on a particular challenge, rather than just making a catapult. Focusing is an important part of the Design Thinking process that helps students frame a problem so that is not too large, nor too small Each student then chose a goal from this list of possible goals for their catapult (Make Informed Decisions).
We went over the differences between idea sketching, art sketching, and
engineering drawing. Idea sketching is done very quickly to capture concepts. I suggested that they do thumbnails and not worry about making the drawings really neat. We then gave the students 10 minutes to draw 10 thumbnail idea sketches of possible catapult designs.
It was thrilling to see all the fifth graders confidently and fluidly drawing their designs. We suggested the use of an occasional label, "so you will remember the gist of your idea" (Generate Ideas). Students then built small scale, low-resolution prototypes, or models of their catapults, using plastic spoons, cardboard boxes, etc. (Create Prototypes). During testing, they identified problem spots (Seeking Feedback) and redesigned their prototypes (Incorporating Feedback). Most students used this iterative process three times to refine their designs (Prototyping Cycle).
Then it was off to our woodshop to begin building the final prototypes from higher resolution materials, such as wood and PVC. A field testing day was an enjoyable and exciting end to this extensive project (Share & Reflect).