Teaching the Design Process in Makerspaces

Teaching the Design Process in Makerspaces | The Engineering Design Process is a series of steps that engineers (and other designers) take when creating a product or idea.  The steps of this process fit in perfectly with makerspaces.  In this post, I talk about collaborating with one of our science teachers on a lesson on the design process.

Stewart Middle Magnet is a STEM magnet school, and part of our curriculum comes from Project Lead the Way, including classes in engineering, robotics and aerospace.  The Design Process is an important part of that curriculum.  It also ties in beautifully with what we do in our makerspace.  So it made sense for me to partner up with one of our Project Lead the Way classes to teach our students about the basics of the design process.  While this was a lesson with a specific class, it could easily work with small groups, after-school clubs, or any group that you bring into your makerspace.

Activating Prior Knowledge

I started out by surveying my students to see who had already heard of the design process.  If they had, I had them explain it from their point of view.  We talked about our experiences creating and building things (projects in the makerspace, building with our toys as kids) and what kind of processes we tend to experience when that happens.

Comparing the Design Process and the Scientific Method | RenovatedLearning.com

Comparing the Design Process and the Scientific Method

Design Process vs. Scientific Method

While many students will have never seen the design process, most have been exposed to the scientific method.  Students usually learn this process when they go through science fair.  To help introduce the class to the design process, I had them create Venn diagrams comparing the two different methods.  I used diagrams from Science Buddies to help my students see the different elements of each process (Engineering Process here,  Scientific Method here).  Each table had a piece of chart paper with the circles on it (otherwise it takes them five minutes just to get them drawn).  I gave them about ten minutes to put their Venn diagrams together, then called on students randomly to review what they wrote.  We talked a lot about how there isn’t necessarily a perfect right or wrong answer, and how some aspects of the two processes use different vocabulary but mean similar things.

Brainstorming a phone holder design | RenovatedLearning.com

Brainstorming a phone holder design

Rapid Prototyping Session

To help my students learn how the design process works, I gave them a chance to put it into practice by going through a rapid prototyping session.  I intentionally kept the time limit on this short because I wanted my students to focus more on going through the design process and less in getting caught up on specific design features.  Each group was given a worksheet with an overview of the design process and then picked one or two people who documented their process using the sheet.

(Note: I realize that there are multiple versions and multiple vocabularies for teaching the design process.  I choose to adjust the wording and steps to what worked best for my students.)

Click here to download a copy of the worksheet!

Click here to download a copy of the worksheet!

I started by introducing them to the design problem they had to solve:

We want to make a stop motion video and need something to hold our phone steady.  What’s the best design?

Each group had a bin of K’nex or LEGOS, and they got 20 minutes to come up with their design and prepare a “pitch” about their product.  As students worked on their designs, I circulated around the room and helped each group to identify where they’re at in the design process.  Sometimes it took a little prompting, but it usually doesn’t take long for the lightbulb to go off as students begin to see where they’re brainstorming, designing, testing and redesigning.

Student using the design process worksheet to document her group's learning. | RenovatedLearning.com

Student using the design process worksheet to document her group’s learning.

Practicing the Pitch

To wrap up the lesson, each group had to come up in front of the class and pitch their design.  They had to explain how they came up with the idea, how it works, and why it’s awesome.  If they weren’t able to complete their design the way they wanted, then they explained what their design would have looked like with more time to complete it.  This was a great chance for them to practice their communication skills and to reflect on the learning experience.

Student phone holder designs | RenovatedLearning.com

Student phone holder designs

Is the design process a part of your school’s curriculum?  Is there a way that you could incorporate it into a class collaboration?

More design resources to check out:


Diana Rendina, MLIS, is the media specialist at Tampa Preparatory School, an independent 6-12 in Tampa, FL. Previously, she was the media specialist at Stewart Middle Magnet School for seven years, where she founded their library makerspace. She is the creator of the blog RenovatedLearning.com & is also a monthly contributor to AASL Knowledge Quest. Diana is the winner of the 2016 ISTE Outstanding Young Educator Award, the 2015 ISTE Librarians Network Secondary Award, the 2015 AASL Frances Henne Award & the 2015 SLJ Build Something Bold Award. She is an international speaker on the Maker Movement and has presented at conferences including AASL, FETC & ISTE. Diana co-authored Challenge-Based Learning in the School Library Makerspace with Colleen and Aaron Graves and is also the author Reimagining Library Spaces: Transform Your Space on Any Budget.

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