Thirdgradia Design with Brown Engineering Students

This year, the Design Lab has a small corner carved out with bean bags and pillows. It has become affectionately know as the “Recharging Station” and is meant to be used for students to relax for a few short minutes during their busy days to unwind and recharge.

The citizens of Thirdgradia noticed that the Recharging Station was being used during class in a distracting and unhelpful way. Students were getting too comfortable and spending too long there. The third grade class decided to focus on this ‘problem’ and to find a solution for it through the design thinking process. Luckily, two Brown Engineering students, Katie and Sara, were also working on a similar design problem.  They were looking to create furniture for children that was designed with children’s input. We invited them to the third grade Design Lab class every Friday to be a part of this process.

img_4357-1The first step the third graders took was to be empathetic in order to understand the users (tired students). They compiled a list of questions and interviewed students from all grades during their recess and free time for two weeks. 

The second step of Design Thinking required that third graders study and understand the data and information they collected and then defined their problem in a ‘How might we…’ statement.

Here is their statement: How might Thirdgradia fix/ change/ redesign the Recharging Station so it will be a small, private, less comfortable, calming and less attractive spot?




The third step of their Design Thinking process was to brainstorm and think of as many wild solutions as they possibly could. This process was facilitated by our friends Sara and Katie, from Brown. Students noticed that the Recharging Station was too open and its boundaries undefined.  Students’ ideas included adding a privacy screen, developing a system that shows who is in the station, adding windows, and adding an escape route in the event of a fire. Students also wanted to reduce comfort (remember, one of their problems was that kids were spending too much time in the station!) by rearranging the pillows, building a plain cardboard structure, using a plain color and reminding users about appropriate use of the station.

The fourth step in the process was prototyping, at which time students were able to create and build. They worked with the Brown students to build small models of what they hoped to create.  The students had a short initial prototyping experience, where the groups of students were asked to draw or build some aspect of the ideas generated earlier.

This prototype represents a new way to arrange the cushions in the station
This prototype is part of a ticket system
a special phone system that teachers can use to communicate with students in the station












Last week, Sara and Katie brought to class their final prototype that incorporated many of the students’ solutions and perspectives. They call it the Quiet Pod. The class put the pieces together to create the final product in half an hour. The students had lots of fun, and were given ample opportunities for collaborative work and cooperative learning. They also gave the designers thoughtful and useful critique.



We are grateful for our school’s partnership with these talented students and the engineering department at Brown.

Our work is not done yet, but it is incredibly exciting to see our design process coming to life!

To be continued…