Discovering and Designing in IDE Specials

Discovering and Designing in IDE Specials
  • Makers
Janice Lewine

Lower Schoolers in Innovation, Design and Engineering practice design thinking through collaboration with Upper School engineering students.

At the heart of all great inventions is design thinking, a problem-solving technique that identifies people’s needs and combines logic, intuition and systematic reasoning to test ideas and deliver workable solutions. Countless achievements — including ancient hieroglyphics, fast-food restaurants, the electric toothbrush and even Netflix — resulted from design thinking.

Teaching young children an abstract and seemingly advanced concept such as design thinking might seem daunting, even impossible, but Ravenscroft’s Upper School Honors Engineering students embraced the challenge last fall through a unique collaboration with Lower School students in their IDE (Innovation, Design and Engineering) special classes.

Kathleen Patterson’s second-grade students, including Gabrielle Mark, work on Brendan Marcy ’21’s design-thinking challenge, Build-A-Structure.

“A Broader Audience”

Upper School Honors Engineering teacher Michael D’Argenio said his idea for the collaboration stemmed from a classroom assignment in which he asked each of his 14 students to create and test an activity that used common household objects (so students joining classes remotely could complete the projects at home) to introduce design thinking or scientific/engineering concepts to a younger audience. He then offered the lesson plans to Lower School teachers.

“It’s important for students to be able to successfully convey technical information to a broader audience. It’s one of the most widely sought traits for an engineer or anyone in the STEM field, particularly when you need public buy-in or funding for grants and research,” D’Argenio said.

In their lesson plans, D’Argenio’s students incorporated the main precepts of the Ravenscroft design process: discover, imagine, plan, develop, evaluate, deliver and reflect. These principles not only echo the human-centric process of design thinking and its five steps — empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test — but also Ravenscroft’s signature Lead From Here framework, which teaches essential skills in communication, collaboration, accountability, resiliency — and the ability to turn ideas into action.

Eli Strick looks on as classmate Jude Cafaro celebrates how many books his house of cards can hold up during an IDE class in Gabe Clark’s third-grade class.

Emma Grace Stansell, a third-grader in Gabe Clark’s class, successfully tests the strength of her build for the House of Cards project.

“Our Students Are Makers”

Lower School IDE teacher Laura Higginson ’10 chose three student projects to execute in her classes:

  • Build-A-StructureBrendan Marcy ’21’s project challenged students to create a structure using only toothpicks and marshmallows that was strong enough to stand up on its own.
  • House of CardsDavid Gring ’21 tasked students with building a two-story fort using no more than 25 index cards that could withstand weight and external forces.
  • Engineering a Superhero: This project, created by Paige Bastek ’21, inspired students to invent a superhero using characteristics of an animal found in nature.

“One of the great things about Ravenscroft is the opportunity to collaborate among the different divisions, especially in a year where we all feel very separated because of COVID-19,” Higginson said. “In the Lower School IDE classes, we’re focused on designing and encouraging an innovative thought process. Our students are makers, and they’re all so engaged and encourage each other to try new things.”

Sarah Wike, Director of Educational Technology and chair of the IDE Department, explained that these kinds of cross-divisional curricular experiences offer Ravens a huge benefit.

“When first- or second-graders are doing a project around design thinking, computational thinking or robotics, they think it’s a fun project. That’s why early exposure is so important, so they’ll be encouraged to take STEM+ classes in Middle School,” she said. “For Upper School students, it’s empowering to know the work they’re doing is being used. It’s not just work they’re doing for a class, it’s real-world experience — and one that inspires and impacts younger kids.”

Second-grader Kate Stone, joining Kathleen Patterson’s class remotely, shares her strategy for building a strong and stable structure.

Fifth-grader Shivan Chhabra and his classmates in Michelle Schulze’s class begin their projects.

House of Cards

Designed by David Gring ’21

For his project, David challenged students in third through fifth grades to construct an “Army man-sized” fort at least two stories tall out of index cards. The structure had to endure flying cap erasers and cascading small objects to simulate “anything from a heavy hailstorm to an enemy attack on the base.” Students would ultimately build a structure that could support the weight of a cell phone or a book, as well as withstand the removal of one or more index cards before the structure collapsed. 

In a Zoom meeting, David proudly watched young engineers attempt his challenge. “Seeing the kids do it themselves and have fun with it, that was really cool,” he said.

View David’s full lesson plan.

David Gring’s lesson plans include samples of how to construct a strong house of cards.

Engineering a Superhero

Designed by Paige Bastek ’21

Paige showed Ravens in kindergarten through second grades how engineers often use nature and preexisting designs to inspire innovation, while also working efficiently as a team. As part of her lesson, she had students work in small groups to create a superhero using the characteristics of an animal and to describe any of the superhero’s strengths and weaknesses that mirrored those of the animal.

“I wanted my project to be the best that it could be, and I really enjoyed the process of creating it,” she said. “I’m glad the students appreciated it.”

View Paige’s full lesson plan.

Paige Bastek’s sample superhero, “Sly Stingerhead” (at left), provides inspiration for Karrah Lewis’s first-graders, including Ellie Prugh (at right), to create their own.

Above, fifth-grader Mary Evans Baccus tests the strength of her house of cards, part of an IDE lesson developed by Upper School Honors Engineering student David Gring 21.