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6th Grade Design Tech Combines Creativity and Innovation

6th Grade Design Tech Combines Creativity and Innovation
  • Lower School

The 6th grade Design Technology Studio (Design Tech or DTS), while always evolving, has remained true to teaching students to approach any problem or challenge by incorporating the Plan, Build, Test, and Modify design process.  When considering how to solve a problem, students must first make a plan, then build a prototype or replica of that plan. Next, they test their plan in front of a target audience so they can receive feedback. Based on the feedback, they modify the plan as needed. If necessary, students can repeat the cycle until they are satisfied with their design. The Design Tech teaching team, Troy Gordon, Academic Technology Coordinator, Lucia Hassel, Director of Technology Innovation, Lindsey McKan, Computer Science and Design Technology Teacher, and Melissa Novak, Lower School Music Teacher and Chorus Teacher, encourage students to transfer this design process to all content classes. Whether it is a challenge in science, language arts, or math, students can always apply the design process to solve problems. 

This year, the goal of the Design Tech teaching team was to find a way for the students’ projects to connect and build upon one another, rather than being isolated projects. Troy Gordon further explained, “We wanted to find ways to integrate other subjects into the projects so that students understood how skills and tools were transferable and applicable outside of the design technology space. We are really excited about our progress with this year's Design Tech curriculum.”

To start the year, Microsoft Micro Bits were introduced to the students. These are simple computers that provide students the opportunity to understand input and output, as well as block coding as they can program the Micro Bits to illuminate icons and words on the LED diodes. They also can be programmed to play sounds and be responsive when buttons are pressed.

After teaching the students how to use and care for the Micro Bits, the design process was reviewed and students were challenged to design a Micro- Pet. The Micro-Pet had to be built using only cardstock and tape and had to incorporate a Micro Bit which was coded to add personality to the pet. Some students used the LED lights to create smiles and hearts, while others used sounds and interactions. An example was a butterfly made by a student which when dropped would play a light fluttering song. Another made a puppy that flashed a heart icon when you pressed a button, and yet another created a bumble bee that buzzed when you tilted it. 

Students were next presented with a new and completely different challenge. The teaching team showed the students a video of the northern lights and asked them to compose a soundtrack for the video. Mrs. Novak created a video tutorial which taught students in all DTS sections how to compose music using Flat io. The students followed the plan, build, test, and modify process while composing their songs. When the song was complete, they programmed the song into the Micro Bit. Unknown to the students, this project would be integrated into the next project. 

The Design Tech teaching team then moved on to a cross-curricular project with the 6th grade Science Teacher, Heather Offen. Students had a unit on constellations and on circuitry. They were challenged to apply their knowledge of both in DTS. Each student was assigned a constellation; they then had to plot out the star’s formation on a piece of foam board and poke holes to add lights. Next, they wired the lights to create parallel circuits. Finally, they integrated the Micro Bit, by programming the simple computer to turn on the lights and play the song they had composed when a button was pressed.  

As our culminating project, students learned about support animals. They were then challenged to brainstorm a support creature for either themself or for a friend that could be created using the 3d printer. The parameters were that the creature could provide support using the Micro Bit, hand-designed cards, or soft or fluffy fabric. The students were taught how to design in Tinkercad and then utilized the design process once again to design their support creature. They submitted their designs to be printed and worked on the support mechanisms. The students are now in the midst of adding color and painting their final creatures.

There was tremendous growth this year in the Grade 6 DTS. While developing the new DTS curriculum, the teachers, just like the students, were active participants in the design process as they regularly planned, built,  tested, and modified each project to meet the students where they were in their learning, yet challenge them with new skills. Students in return displayed their willingness and ability to learn, code, and build with Micro Bits. They also demonstrated a great ability to transfer skills to meet new challenges.

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