Wanted: Tiny Rooms for Stuart Little

The second grade classes are reading Stuart Little this year. After attending the LLI Southwest conference in February, our teachers are eager to incorporate design thinking and makerspace activities into their curriculum. One of our teachers, Mrs. Shapard, came to me with the idea of having her students create a small room to better fit Stuart Little. We brainstormed materials that might be helpful for students to use and she asked parents to send in anything that might be useful for the project. Soon, her room was filled with boxes, empty paper towel/toilet paper rolls, fabric scraps, buttons, small plastic bottles, and much more.

I really like Launch Cycle by John Spencer and AJ Juliani to move the students through the design thinking process. “Launch” is an acronym that describes each step in the process. I also like the cycle image so that students have a great visual showing planning and creating as a continuous process.

Empathy is a critical part of the process and this is a challenge for any age, especially for younger children who like to create something based on their likes. The challenge was to think like Stuart Little. What would he like in his room? We started with a thinking time about a minute long. That seems like an eternity for students who are ready to build!

We talked about architects and builders; how they would never start to build something without having plans first. One of the parents in this class is a builder so the child knew exactly what I was talking about and eagerly explained it to her peers.

As we began, I first asked the students to get some ideas in their head. No drawing yet! After a long minute, we moved to the next step which was to sketch out their ideas for the room. Again, I just gave them a short time (a couple of minutes). There were lots of groans and comments that it was TOO short!

Before we moved on to the next part, we discussed how to disagree without hurting anyone’s feelings. This step involved telling about the ideas and then deciding which to use. We stressed that parts of each sketch could easily be incorporated into the chosen design. Then the chatter between each pair of students began. We loved hearing the respectful way that each child listened. They truly wanted to hear about their partner’s ideas.

The next step – building! The children were SO excited! As we walked around observing and asking questions, we learned more about the thinking processes of the children. And, that was fascinating! One boy told us that he couldn’t find the supplies that they wanted to use for their room so they “had to start from scratch.” No complaining about lack of supplies, he and his partner solved that roadblock and moved on!

Here’s a video to show the students in action.

After about 30 minutes, Mrs. Shapard had to send the students to Spanish. The students had additional time later that day and into the next. At that point, the students were told building would end that day. Later, I saw Mrs. Shapard who told me that the students were mad at her. When asked why, she reported that they weren’t at all ready to stop!

At our reflection meeting, I asked the students to tell me how they felt about the designing and building. Here are some responses:

  • It was hard getting an idea and then choosing which one to build.
  • We had trouble getting things to stick together so maybe the supplies weren’t the best.
  • It was easier to draw the design on the paper than it was to build it when you found out you didn’t have the right materials.
  • It’s going to be hard to decide who keeps what we built.
  • We couldn’t find one of the supplies that we’d used earlier so we had to find something else and make it work.
  • My partner did a lot of compromising with me.
  • It was hard agreeing where to place things.

As for the teacher reflection, we decided that perhaps the challenge was too open-ended and really couldn’t be completed in a reasonable amount of time. Next time we’ll narrow the focus. Regardless, the planning, designing, communicating, and compromising that occurred was well worth it!