Why We Need Design Lab

IMG_7610 (1)Here’s a challenge for you: quickly sketch a scientist. Easy, right? You might be thinking lab coat, eyeglasses, crazy hair, test tubes everywhere, computers, and oh… male.

While I may be making an assumption here, research has proven that this isIMG_7612 (1) how many people envision scientists. Here is an article explaining these findings. 

In design lab this week, students in preK, kindergarten and first grade were given the same challenge I gave to you: draw a scientist. Some drawings were consistent with what researchers have found.


Others were not so consistent.

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The article above suggests that “students who visit real scientists or engage in hands-on inquiry activities tend to draw less stereotypical images of scientists.” This is  why all schools need programs like our Design Lab and design thinking curriculum; so that we can change our stereotypes and create a brighter future. At each grade level, students are engaged in projects that involve hands-on inquiry inside and outside of Design Lab time. Students at JCDSRI aim to solve real world problems while learning that we can all make a difference in the world, whether you’re a girl, a boy, have crazy hair, wear a lab coat, or none of the above.

Boating in First Grade

FullSizeRender (1)What makes a boat float? First graders learned that the amount of weight a boat can hold is dependent on the shape of its bottom. They created boats out of tin foil, cardboard, duct tape and some other interesting materials. They are really good at utilizing the materials in the design lab!

Many people created flat-bottom boats and some created V-bottom boats. For example, Gev created a flat-bottom boat out of a cylinder and lots of duct tape. The next step was to add some weight to the boat, so we added pennies! One by one, we counted each penny that was put into the boat together. Can you guess how much money Gev’s boat held?


It held $1.02!

Sink or Float

As we get closer and closer to the end of the school year, we can’t help but be excited about warm weather activities. One of our favorites is swimming! It got us thinking about pool and Copy of IMG_7370water safety. In PreK, kindergarten and first grade, we learned that designers often create prototypes in the name of safety. “I learned to swim with floaties,” mentioned Asher in PreK.

First, we looked at some action figures in the water and realized that they probably don’t know how to swim, because they sank to the bottom of the “pool.” To help them, we created prototypes of life vests for them. The goal of the design challenge was to keep the action figure’s head above water, because we don’t breathe through our toes, we breathe through our noses.


Second Grade Toy Store

Congratulations to the children and families of our second graders. They’ve been hired! They received this notification from the Design Lab today:

Congratulations! You have been hired to design and build a new toy! Your product will be marketed and sold across the nation (after many ITERATIONS, of course).

  • Step 1: Frame the problemIMG_7290

“How might we design a game, toy, or activity so that children will enjoy it, learn from it, and learn how to cooperate with others?”

  • Step 2: Empathize/Immerse

 We learn about the user of the toy we are designing and conduct focus group interviews.

  • Step 3: Ideate & Prototype!

Build it!

  • Step 4: Test

Try to sell your product. You will need an advertisement! Think about commercials, magazine & newspaper ads….


JCDSRI Featured by YU School Partnership!

Screen Shot 2016-04-18 at 10.45.47 AMWe are very pleased that our Head of School, Adam Tilove, was featured in a conversation about innovation in schools in the YUSP Spring 2016 Quarterly. While it was our billboard that caught their attention initially, JCDSRI’s reputation as a leader in STEAM and design preceded us: in fact, Mr. Tilove was mentioned in the YUSP Fall 2015 Quarterly, as well. Our commitment isn’t just to STEAM, though; we want our graduates to be good citizens, in both their local and global communities. That’s why we also have an ongoing partnership with the Islamic School of RI. We encourage our students to consider ideas from multiple viewpoints and to be respectful of different backgrounds and beliefs.

As the only school in southeastern New England with a Design Lab dedicated exclusively to elementary students, we believe strongly in a progressive curriculum that gives children plenty of opportunities to engage in authentic problem-solving. Our students, from Pre-Kindergarten through 5th grade, speak the language of Design Thinking: they employ empathy, they create prototypes, and they “fail fast” so that they can address the needs of a specific audience. Want to see our students in action? Call or email us and come for a visit!

Welcome to the Shark Tank

For students in grades 3-5, the design lab has been transformed into a Shark Tank. The TV show Shark Tank, regularly aired on ABC, inspired me to challenge students to create something worth selling and that would convince sharks to invest in. While many students created prototypes, others, like Ezra, were billionaire investors (aka “sharks”). Ezra took it upon himself to interview the designers in his class in order to get an idea of their products, past sales, current locations, offers, and valuations prior to their pitches.

The following video is brought to you by students in the fourth and fifth grade. Cooper is pitching his product, Your Home Security. Welcome to the Shark Tank!

Maybe we don’t need bridges anymore…

As it turns out, bridges are tough to build. Especially with constraints. Students were only allowed to use 100 popsicle sticks and white glue to build their bridges! Constraints drive creativity. Third graders persevered and learned to ‘fail forward fast’ and have a ‘bias toward action.’ Fail forward fast inspires designers to go with their instinct, build fast, and evaluate effectiveness of a prototype soIMG_6672 that they can move quickly onto making a better prototype. Similarly, bias toward action inspires designers to, again, go with their instincts rather than pondering the potential effectiveness of a prototype. In design lab, we do more and ponder less.

As of now, the bridges have been built, but not with complete success. In design lab, however, children know that they learn from failure and that it will only help them with the next prototype they build.

The innovative nature of the students in this classroom is evident. While monitoring the prototyping process, I overheard a small group of students whose building wasn’t going so well talking to one another: “If we were bridge builders, we would teach cars how to swim.”


Meet Paul the Ping Pong Ball!

When you’re a kindergartner in the design lab, there’s something very important to keep in mind: teamwork. As young engineers, we know that by working together, we can accomplish more.

Students were introduced to my good friend, Paul the ping pong ball. There’s just one problem with Paul; he has TOO much energy! In order for Paul to release some energy, he needs to use his body and his mind at the same time. The children were challenged to create a maze for Paul to go through so that he is ready to focus on learning in school.

Using Legos, connecting Legos, and Keva blocks, students began designing their mazes… after some quick discoveries: “I made a Hebrew letter!” Malcolm exclaimed.

They also discovered that there are many different components that mazes can have. Nathan explained, “I’m putting in a trap.” Aeden noticed that his part of the maze was getting close to Malcolm’s. “How about if we connect them?” he asked.

Next came the testing phase, where they set Paul free in the maze. “Let’s test this baby out,” said Zemer, excitedly. The maze snaked through the design lab.

“We should be in the world records!” Ben said.


Design Lab Update

In PreK, we designed an umbrella for Itsy, our spider friend. He was SO sick of getting wet every time it rains! We picked the materials we thought would work best. We had the choice of using plastic, tin foil, felt, or paper. Once we finished our umbrellas, we tested them to see if they could stand up to the rain. We also learned that if a prototype doesn’t work the first time, we can always build it again to make it better. Like Eli said, “It’s okay if it doesn’t work.”

Similarly to PreK, kindergarteners also designed an umbrella to keep Itsy dry. A few kindergarteners took a different approach and made our spider friend his own shelter! We learned that the plastic works best to protect Itsy from the rain.

First graders also worked together to come up with a way to keep Itsy dry. Working collaboratively helps us get lots of ideas from each other. We can accomplish so much more together! It can be so exciting when you come up with a solution as a team. “I think ours is going to work great, Moshe!” said Eliya.

Second graders are working on coming up with a solution to the design challenge, “How might we prevent habitat destruction and water scarcity in the Chihuahuan Desert so that we can protect animals?” Children in the second grade class love to build off of each other’s ideas.

In third grade, students learned about the 6 simple machines and how they help us do work. Students built structures that include at least two simple machines. Many children noticed that, interestingly, all of the structures incorporated an inclined plane.

Fourth and fifth graders began designing a Thanksgiving table made only out of 8 sheets of newspaper, an 8.5″ x 11″ piece of cardboard, and masking tape. Of course, our tables need to be able to hold a LOT of food, so we will be testing our tables’ strength by putting books on top. We can’t wait to see how much our tables can hold!

For an up-to-date explanation of what each grade is up to, come into the Design Lab and see our Bulletin Blog Board!

Avian Architecture Workshop by RISD STEAMmates

This past fall, students from the Brown/RISD STEAM club came to JCDSRI to give interdisciplinary lessons to tie together what the students were learning in different classes. Anthony Peer (RISD Industrial Design ’16) and assistant Soo Hyun Shin (RISD MFA Graphic Design ’15) led Avian Architecture, a workshop that gave the 3rd and 4th grade students a hands-on look into the construction of a bird’s nest. Below are some thoughts from Anthony.

 Gathering Materials at Blackstone Park

A very important aspect of the lesson was to allow the students to get outside and experience what it is like to collect nesting materials. For this we took our first day of the workshop and went to Blackstone Park in Providence to collect some nesting materials and receive their field guide notebooks as guidelines for collection. To emphasize the difference between reading about the materials used and actually knowing what the proper size, flexibility, and type of twig necessary to make the structure of a nest we looked at good and bad examples I collected. Being able to pick up a twig and recognize whether or not the twig they are picking up has the proper qualities for the making of a nest was vital to understanding the selection process that a bird goes through.

The students in the class were able to have a learning experience, which was centered on creating something for the purpose of learning more about a topic in science rather then making for a standard arts and crafts based lessons. A biologist or an archaeologist wouldn’t be able to learn about a topic from sitting in the library of a university their whole career, so in many cases they go out into the field to experience the subject they are trying to learn more about up close and personal. Being able to learn in the field rather then a classroom was vital to showing the students the complexity in the development of a nest, as well as view the effects that our waste has on the environment through material collection.

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Making Their Bird’s Nest

Each of the students was given the materials that they had collected on our outing to Blackstone Park and were asked to make a nest using these materials. Before we began the making portion of the workshop we went over some of the materials we gathered, and using real birds nests borrowed from the RISD Nature Lab observed the individual construction process of multiple bird species.

Interestingly enough the children that decided to not use the wireframe structures provided for them made very convincing looking nests using the techniques shown in cup and woven nests. Students that had a little bit more difficulty in the development of their nests that choose to utilize the wireframe were then able to quickly put together a nest in the same amount of time as those who did not use a wireframe. Being able to cater the learning experience to all of the students involved allowed for a pleasant and constructive time of making. Ultimately each student had an interesting approach to the making of their individual nests, and although not perfect representations of how a bird makes its’ nest, they were very intuitive responses to what they learned about nest construction.

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What the Students Learned

In completion of the workshop the students were able to evaluate their own nests in relation to the actual nests that were shown prior to the making portion of the lesson. Having time for reflecting on the lesson and observing the work that they did during the workshop allowed the students to see how difficult it was to replicate a nest, as well as have a more in depth look into the different materials they used in making their nests. The students were asked to do a simple sketch of their nest as well as answer some questions as to the setting in which their nest could be found, and to describe the type of bird that lives in it. Being able to sketch the nest and observe it from a different viewpoint allowed them to see the materials used differently. Many of the students had pieces of trash and plastic in their nest, which they hadn’t noticed prior to the completion of the nest. Enabling the students to take a step back from what they had made and sketch the product of the work they had done during the workshop allows for a more broad understanding of the lesson as a whole.

In asking the students what was the most difficult part of the making their birds nest many responded with not being able to keep the nest together or not being able to start their nest because they didn’t know where the starting point was. In closing the lesson I wanted to try and get this across to the students that our inability to replicate these pieces of avian architecture gives us that much more of a responsibility to protect the environment in which they are created. Besides trying to replicate a bird’s nest the students hopefully went home with greater appreciation for the environment and their ability to make positive change for the protection of the wonderful structures that nature displays.

How can this be used in other facets of teaching? 

Developing a learning experience that involves being able to have hands-on interaction with the materials used in nature is vital to a more practical understanding of structures found in nature. Being able to fully understand the process by which structures in nature are constructed there needs to be an experiential aspect to the study of those structures. The ability to not only observe what is in nature from a far, but to put the student in a position to have a tactile relationship with the materials that are used encourages a broader understanding of the subject. Encouraging learning through making should be a necessary component to any teaching structure and this nest-building workshop is but one way to get students out into the field to experience the wonders of our natural world.