Mrs. Garcia, one of our second grade teachers, approached me to ask if we could do a design thinking/STEM activity that related to fairy tales. We brainstormed a list of tales that she wanted to present to her children and decided on 2 or 3 that we would use for the design thinking activities.
We started with Goldilocks and the Three Bears since it’s such a familiar story. On TeachersPayTeachers, I found a fun STEM activity where students build a latch for the 3 bears. This, combined with the Design Thinking “Launch” cycle, made for a really fun and productive morning!
The challenge: Build a latch for the three bears’ house that will prevent anyone from breaking in.
We discussed how designers, architects, builders, etc. work from written designs or blueprints. What would happen if a builder decided he didn’t need to follow a design; that he could work with just the idea in his head? Of course, the students could picture all kinds of ways that this would be a lousy idea! Then, we talked about what a latch is – not a very common word these days!
Following the Launch acronym, I asked the students to think like one of the three bears (empathy). How would you feel if someone entered your house without permission? Working in pairs, the children were given two minutes to talk about how they envisioned the latch would work. The hardest part of this particular part was not drawing! Only words (and lots of hand motions) were allowed! When the timer went off, there were lots of “Wait! We haven’t finished talking!”
Next, the students drew designs. Again, a short time was given for sketching 2 or 3 ideas. Then, the hard part . . . deciding which design to use OR deciding how to incorporate elements from a few of the designs.
Only after all these steps were the students ready to construct! Supplies we used:
- craft sticks
- pipe cleaners
- masking tape
- water bottle caps
Before collecting supplies, the children were to make a list of what they thought they would need. We did let them come back for more if needed.
As they built, we walked around to listen to the conversations and to ask questions. Listening to the students was an eye-opener! We were floored by the depth of their discussions as they built! And, it was amazing to watch them revise when they discovered kinks in their planning.
When all prototypes were completed, we came back together to share – not just describe the latch they built and how it worked. More importantly, we wanted to hear how the children handled ideas that didn’t work. Were you frustrated? Did you feel like giving up? What would you change in your design if you did this again?
Here’s a video of the students creating their latch.
This was so much fun! The best part for me was observing – I was absolutely amazed at the conversations and the complexity of the language that was heard!
I know children learn best through exploration, but sometimes it’s easy to forget how much they really can do on their own when we give them a challenge with no right or wrong answer. That’s when students really shine!