Tag Archives: design thinking

The MARS Challenge – Week 1

Two elementary classes embarked on a new challenge this week – design and build a school for people who will colonize MARS.  What will it look like?  How will you keep students safe?  What subjects will they learn?  What will be the same as school on Earth and what will be completely different?

Here’s the overview of the challenge:

This project introduces students to design thinking through the student-friendly LAUNCH process.  What we love about this process is it highlights the fact that students will make “Glorious Mistakes.” From those mistakes, they will adjust and learn, until they reach success.

So far, students have gone through the first 3 stages of the design thinking LAUNCH Cycle – Look, Listen, and Learn, Ask Lots of Questions, and Understand the Problem (Research).  Next they will Navigate Ideas with a brainstorming map and sketches of their proposed school.  Then they will Create the prototype of the school using basic materials such as cardboard, duct tape, and straws.  During that process, they will Highlight what is working and fix any problems with the design.

Above, students work with their LAUNCH teams to brainstorm questions and list them on large chart paper.  Teams then rotated among the other posters to learn from the other groups and make note of any questions they missed.  What did they come up with?

  • How will we breathe?
  • What is the terrain like on Mars?
  • What will we need to be able to withstand?
  • Is Mars hot or cold?
  • What technology will we use on Mars?
  • What subjects should we learn?
  • How will we get food?
  • And many more…

Students then researched and put together a notes document with answers and reference pictures to help them build their schools.

What did we observe as students worked?

Students were engaged and excited about the process.  They sometimes needed guidance to be sure all ideas were being heard in a group and that they didn’t get stuck on just one idea, but they were working mostly independently with basic guidance from the teachers.  Great research-based ideas were emerging, such as:

  • Maybe we should build part of our school underground to protect from the cold and dust storms on MARS.
  • We will have an astronomy course since we will be learning from a completely different perspective.
  • We could use a greenhouse to grow food.
  • There should definitely be a slushie machine  🙂

We look forward to seeing what the students build and will share more with you next week!


LAUNCH – Using Design Thinking

lauch-bookI’ve had this book for a couple weeks now, and I am excited to dive in!  Design Thinking is all about allowing kids to be makers, designers, artists, and engineers.  It allows them to unleash their creative potential and be empowered to control their learning.  Design thinking is a framework for creative work that is used in a variety of industries and with the LAUNCH cycle, John Spencer has created a student-friendly way for kids to approach design thinking.

Follow his blog for more information and ideas.  His recent post about what happens when kids become design thinkers highlights the benefits of working in this way.


Created by John Spencer and licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

What is Design Thinking?

In the book, Spencer describes design thinking as “a way of solving problems that encourages positive risk-taking and creativity.”  The process helps to create a framework for an otherwise messy creative process. It helps students move step by step through the creative journey, during which they have to research, learn, ask questions, design, reflect, rethink, and share.

I find this process so exciting because it gets at many of the Seven Thriving Dispositions that we are working toward in the district – Accessing & Analyzing Information, Critical Thinking & Problem Solving, Communication, and Curiosity, for example.

As I learn more about the process and how it can be used in Makerspaces, Genius Hour, and other classroom activities, I will have more to share.  Stay tuned!