This blog post was written by our 7th-12th grade Media Specialist, Daniel O’Brien and originally posted on the GRACE IT Department Blog on May 3, 2016.
With the arrival of our new 3D printer here at GRACE, I have been ready to jump into teaching and using the printer for an actual class. This fits well with one of our English teacher’s projects to create a board game that represents the epic hero cycle where students use The Alchemist, a Biblical hero of their choice, and their own personal lives. We decided we could 3D print game pieces representing their Biblical hero and teach a bit about the design process as well.
After attending NCTIES this past spring, I have been excited about a session Joshua Marsh did on Design Thinking. Design Thinking is a process that focuses on a user, produces a lot of ideas quickly, settles on a prototype, and then tests and re-evaluates that prototype after it is made. I love the idea of this approach because it provides a framework for working with the 3D printer that takes kids through a process of designing and discovery instead of just dumping the design programs on them and saying, “Have at it!”
To design our Biblical hero design project, I used a template Joshua Marsh provided that focuses on 5 stages: empathy, discovery, ideate, prototype, and test/reflect.
The empathy and discovery components were perfect for discovering more about the Biblical hero they chose to create a game piece for. Learning more about their Biblical hero and asking upper-level Bloom questions was a great way to focus first on the person/user/hero before jumping into everything. Using Google Drawing to come up with designs before regrouping together seemed like a good way to get students to produce ideas quickly, and then they could share images with each other to discuss them and brainstorm a final prototype.
How has this all been working, realistically?
Okay. Students were able to answer the empathy questions quickly and fairly well: “Who is your Biblical Hero? What are they known for?What are their strengths? What are their weaknesses? How did they deal with those weaknesses?”
When we reached the Discovery phase and crafting our own questions, the process became more difficult. Students were able to come up with some questions (usually around 3), but nothing that had nearly as much depth as we were going for. I thought that maybe my process was the problem, that I didn’t approach design thinking correctly, but my co-teacher encouraged me that the students needed to learn to ask better questions and that this in itself is a learning experience for them. One of the largest takeaways I will brainstorm how to address in the future is — how do we get our kids to write better, deeper questions?
I returned today to see the drawings they had come up with in Google Drawing (Ideate phase) and was surprised. Some students did quick sketches — I told them they didn’t have to be Michaelangelo, that the sketches were design ideas, not art pieces — but some students took the time to color in armor, add pictures that they snagged off the internet, and flesh out the different ideas they had for their game piece.
Learning the 123D Design software was a little rocky for them, but as they experiment I know they will grow more confident with it; I know our students pick up new programs quickly, provided they play around in them a bit and don’t let themselves get too frustrated. One of the highlights from the Prototype part of the lesson has been seeing students share their Google Drawings with one another, encouraging each other with the designs they think are good and want to use, and then incorporating those together. To top that off, I then showed them you can download pre-made designs from Thingiverse and add your own twist to them to create the game piece representing their hero, and this took them in a whole different place for conversation and ideas.
In summation: I like Design Thinking as a concept and believe it can be a great framework for creating. The process of getting there so far has been rockier than I had anticipated. I’m left wondering, what do we do when kids have not thought of deep questions? What do we do when most of a group was absent during the first two days of the process? What do we do when students simply didn’t do their drawings in preparation for the next step, letting their group members and the collaborative process down? I feel like all those pieces have to come together for the process to be successful, and so far I don’t feel like I can confidently say that it has worked all that well. Would I have been better off merely showing students the software and saying, “Have at it?” Do I want to stick with this process in the future? The verdict is still out on it. While this first jump into design thinking has not been as smoothly as I anticipated, students have been producing some excellent drawings and interesting ideas — I think, with more time, I hope to be able to modify and tweak the process for students to have an engaging, exciting design experience.