Design Thinking

LEAF STEM Challenge

The end of the year, (usually after testing), is a time that I am able to have a bit of freedom teaching my students. This is a great time to to take what we have learned throughout the year and apply it to a project using design thinking.

What is Design Thinking?

Design thinking is a mindset and approach to learning, collaboration, and creative problem solving. (Teaching and Learning Lab, It is a way to get students engaged in the learning process. Below is a video created by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani that explains how they took the concept of design thinking and put it into student friendly framework in what they call the Launch Cycle.

Using the LAUNCH CYCLE in my class

Although design thinking is not meant to be a culminating project (Spencer, Juliani p. 219), I find that it is a great way to integrate concepts that we have learned throughout the year.

A project that I use to get students excited about design thinking is The Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Challenge (LEAF STEM Challenge). It is an inquiry-based project that challenges students to design, build, and fly an electric tethered airplane that carries the most cargo. The project takes a month to complete.

Phase 1: Look, Listen, and Learn

In the beginning, students are introduced to basic aviation principles such as parts of a plane, forces of flight, and Bernoulli’s Principle. Students visit the Museum of Flight to participate in the Aviation Learning Center. (here is a link to the curriculum and extension activities associated with this field trip.) At the Museum, students are introduced to different types of planes, attend ground school, participate in a specialized lab learning about the science of flight, and fly in a simulator.

Phase 2: Ask Lots of Questions

It is during this phase that students will begin to ask questions about the problem that they are trying to solve. How do airplanes achieve lift? What is an airfoil? What is high and low pressure? What kind of wingspan will be best for my plane? These questions will help them focus on what they need to research.

Phase 3: Understand the Process or Problem

In the research phase students will study how the shape of airfoils, wingspans, and wing shapes will impact the success of their tethered flight. This phase will help them gather valuable information that will inform how they design the wings. They will research real-life aircraft and consider how it’s design might translate to theirs.

Phase 4: Navigate Ideas

Phase 5: Create

Phase 6: Highlight and Revise

Phase 7: It’s Launch Time

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