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For Students by Students: First Graders Redesign Classroom Library
Rachel Freeman, communications & website manager

It started with a simple question: “If we—the first grade class of Clever Cheetah Cubs—were to redesign our classroom library, what would it look like?” 

To answer this question, students in Emily Mitchell and Alexandra Holterman’s class embarked on a design thinking project, which culminated in a fully redesigned classroom library.

A pillar of Nueva’s learning approach, design thinking is a creative problem-solving process that draws on the humanities for empathy, the arts and engineering for idea generation and invention, and the sciences for hypothesis creation, prototyping, testing, and reflection. 

“This practical, hands-on experiment was the Clever Cheetah Cubs’ first taste of design thinking in first grade, a process they will continue to use throughout the year as we tackle more abstract concepts and complex issues,” Emily said. 

The class began by brainstorming what they thought design thinking meant.  

“Creating a prototype, like in engineering,” one student replied. Another said, “Writing down a design or building a model.” 

Once students understood what the process entailed, they began by observing the problems with the current system in place. In this case, students watched their classmates use the then-current class library, jotting down thoughts on sticky notes. Some observations included:

  • A lot of books are falling apart
  • Some books don’t fit in their baskets
  • Baskets without labels are super unorganized
  • The librarian job (editor’s note: assigned to one student at a time) is stressful because there are a lot of books to put back and it’s hard to know where they go. 

“Clearly, we had our work cut out for us!” Emily said. “Undaunted by the sheer amount of issues we’d need to address in our redesign, our budding design thinkers charged ahead to the next step: interviewing.” 

Students worked as a class to brainstorm the difference between a yes/no question and an open-ended one, and tried to determine which type would best suit their needs. 

Emily added, “We all agreed that no matter the form of the question, the answer should supply us with information we couldn’t gather through observation alone.” 

Providing students some individual autonomy in this group project, each student was responsible for collecting data for a specific question by interviewing their classmates and teachers. The class then tallied the results. It was only then—after making observations, interviewing classmates, and collecting data that the students could craft a needs statement for the library: The Clever Cheetah Cubs need a user-friendly, amazing library so as to create joy and ease of use. 

Armed with all of the information needed to begin designing their library, students emphatically shared their “wild, out of this world ideas,” Emily said. 

“Flying books that go back to where they belong when you’re finished!” one student said. Another shared, “A pulley that picks up the books and puts them in the return bin.” A third said, “A trampoline so kids can jump up and grab books that are high up!”

“While we wish we could put each and every one into practice—a robot helper would be particularly useful!—it was time to take our fantastical ideas and chisel them down to their practical applications,” Emily said. 

The classroom began to look like organized chaos—with stacks and stacks of books everywhere—so students could organize and sift through the lot.

Emily added, “It’s hard to describe the beautiful messiness of this step: books strewn across the floor, tables, and chairs, children dashing from our library to their table seats with piles of books in hand, book baskets emptied and stacked high. It was a sight to behold!” 

Students agreed on a categorization system for the books and then organized books into bins based on color. After brainstorming a library system to help keep the books organized, the class considered the project complete.

“It felt like a mix of challenging and fun,” said first grader Laila v. G. “I had to face challenges when thinking about a need. In the end the solutions were better because we went through the steps.” 

Annelise B. added, “It felt good [to finish] and we felt so proud.” 

Gemma B. echoed Annalise. 

“I am really happy with the library,” she said. “We made it feel cozy and new again.”

“This project exemplifies the power of design thinking for both teachers and students,” Emily reflected. “My classroom library has not worked well for 10 years, and yet it is something we all see daily. Until we really looked at it closely through observations and interviews, we didn’t know the inherent issues. Now it is transformed because of empathy, considering user needs, and a little bit of love. Alexandra and I truly could not be more grateful for both their vision and immense help in finally giving our library the care and attention it deserves.”

Next on the horizon for the Clever Cheetah Cubs: their own lending library inspired by Little Free Library, where teachers and students can borrow or donate a book.

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For Students by Students: First Graders Redesign Classroom Library

It started with a simple question: “If we—the first grade class of Clever Cheetah Cubs—were to redesign our classroom library, what would it look like?” To answer this question, students in Emily Mitchell and Alexandra Holterman’s class embarked on a design thinking project, which culminated in a fully redesigned classroom library.

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