Using elements of Design Thinking in Teaching Grade 3 Science


It has been nice being more deeply embedded in teaching and learning environments again. This school year, I’ve worked at getting back to where the work happens – in schools. Its always been a part of my work as a consultant, but I’ve wanted to do more than surface learning. One of the schools I have spent lots of time in this fall is Buchanan School on Centre St N in Calgary.

In teaching grade 3 science, I have worked at using some design thinking ideas. Here is what I did with a recent lesson focused on units of measure for loudness and how protect our hearing with hearing protection devices.

Using some direct instruction, we started out with a review of the anatomy of a human ear –
Hattie’s Visible Learning research points out that direct instruction is significant influence on achievement.

Next I shared a visual of how sound travels in sound waves –
explaining, and answering questions, and asking students about new questions that this information brings up – e.g. what about when sound hits a window, can sound waves travel through a window? etc.

I then introduced the idea of units of measure for sound loudness – decibels. We talked about how sound that is more than 85 decibels can hurt our hearing – kids asked what part of your ear could get damaged? we generated a list of questions that students wondered about. Then we played a game as a class that asked kids to predict whether a sound was above or below 85 decibels.

After these direct learning and inquiry based experiences, I introduced design thinking as a concept. We talked about what design is, what a designer does, what kinds of designers we find in the adult work world. We talked about steps in designing, how a designer thinks about possibilites, shares and collaborates with others, plans out their ideas, seeks feedback for improvements, gathers materials, creates a prototype, tests the prototype, share the prototype with peers, seeks feedback for things that work well, and design improvements, then modifies their design to make improvements.

The learning task was focused on creating a hearing protection device. The task included building in prediction, hypothesis, and experimentation with design. ‘Create a hearing device that uses different materials for each ear, then test which prototype works best. Then compare with another students prototypes and offer and give feedback for improving the design.’

How did I think about the instructional core in this learning task? Elmore’s instructional core model asks teachers to work with students to design the learning task and assessment strategies while considering their expertise with curriculum. Considering the intended learning outcomes, and framing the learning as experimentation and design work, and student interest in their own anatomy and autonomy in decision making made it easy to engage students in the relevance of the topic and task to their interests. Students could be creative in design, test their prototypes and modify their design with input from teachers and peers along the way.

I have to say, it has been a thrill to work with Liz Laberge, the grade 2/3 teacher at Buchanan on this unit. And of course some of the best professional learning comes from looking at the artifacts of learning to determine how successful our teaching has been in terms of helping students to learn the intended outcomes.

I’m loving my time at Buchanan School.

Roy Strum
Consultant, Env and Outdoor Education
Calgary Board of Education


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