How might you design an educational toy for a fourth grader?
That is the design prompt we posed to a group of students who were part of a recent middle school elective, "Makers' Studio: Toys!" Developed in collaboration with our art and design teacher Helen Shanks, this elective was a way for students to experience the steps of the design thinking process in the context of a fun design challenge.
To kickstart the elective, we first asked each student to talk with each other about their favorite toys and interview adults on campus about the toys they remember from their childhood. In addition, they had to think back to when they were younger and ask their younger siblings about what they're studying in elementary school, in order to figure out how their educational toys can be help fourth graders learn. (For the next version, we think it would be even better to partner with an elementary school teacher so that our students can have authentic fourth-grade "clients" for their project.)
Then, it was off to a local toy store for field research! And lest you think dispatching a group of middle schoolers is a bad idea, our girls were 100% focused on their objective and walked through the aisles meticulously jotting down notes and talking with each other about why certain toys hold appeal.
After all this research, they were ready to get back to the lab to start brainstorming and prototyping . By the end of the elective, we had everything from a game that teaches kids about fishes and fish facts to a board game about the Gold Rush to a jigsaw puzzle that doubled as a multiplication exercise to a handmade ukelele.
It turns out toys are always fun, even if you are designing them instead of playing them!