Technology and Design Thinking
Design thinking is an integral framework for engineering practitioners and learners. In this issue you will find ideas about using technology to support design thinking in ways that make engineering an equitable space for student learning and also inform intentional choices about integrating technology into your own lessons.
Whether you are just starting out with engineering education or interested in stepping up your game, you can empower students and work toward decolonizing your classroom by situating your learners as creators through engineering. With careful planning, engineering experiences have the potential to dismantle barriers for students and create equitable and powerful learning opportunities. Here are a few strategies for fostering an equitable approach to engineering instruction:
Design thinking has long been connected to the work of teachers (Harvard Grad School 2021). We engage in design thinking when we design instructional solutions for our students. This starts as we gather information about our students, identify the objectives set before us, and learn about resources available. We organize, refine, differentiate, and implement the learning experiences we designed to meet our students’ needs. We collect data on the effectiveness of our instructional solutions through myriad assessment methods, formal and informal, and use the data to inform future instructional choices.
The “SAMR” framework (Puentadura 2014) is a handy tool for integrating technology into your design thinking approach to your existing lessons. Puentedura’s (2014) SAMR framework distinguishes four ways to bring in technology: Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, Redefinition. Note that pencils/paper are types of technology but for the sake of this discussion, “technology” will reference computer-based resources. SAMR will help you target the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards for Educators 2.1 Learner, 2.5 Designer, and 2.6 Facilitator for your own professional goals (see Online Resources).
Here is an example of each SAMR strategy in the context of an existing lesson.
Existing lesson: In a class, each small group has chosen one variable from a list they generated together to investigate ideal plant growing conditions. Students grow plants and write their daily observations in a paper science notebook. The teacher collects notebooks every few days to monitor students’ work. Students use their observations for reflective writing assignments throughout the project.
The “S” of SAMR is for substitution. This involves replacing an existing non-tech process or resource with technology but offers no functional improvement to users. Example: Students use digital notebooks on Chromebooks to record their written observations. The teacher monitors student work through individual submissions with check-ins every few days. Students use their observations for reflective writing assignments throughout the project. The digital notebooks substitute for the paper journal.
The “A” of SAMR is augmentation. Technology provides a direct tool replacement, but the function is enhanced. Example: Students use Chromebooks to record written observations and to take photos of their plants each day. They then upload both to their digital science notebooks. The teacher monitors student work through individual LMS submissions. Students use their digital products for reflective writing assignments throughout the project. The addition of photographs augments the assignment.
The “M” of SAMR is modification, resulting in major changes in the task because of technology. Students use Chromebooks to record written and photographic observation data in a shared class digital science notebook. This gives students access to the observations of their peers collecting data on different plant conditions. Students use all written observations and photographs from the class for reflective writing assignments throughout the project. Students work in small groups to interpret and analyze class data to formulate claims about how each variable influenced plant growth and identify optimal plant growing conditions using evidence from the class data. Access to shared class data via the cloud platform allows students to engage in controlled and secure small-scale crowdsourcing, significantly modifying this assignment.
The “R” of SAMR is redefinition. This involves a change to the task so dramatic, it would be inconceivable without the technology. Example: Students complete the study of plant conditions as described above in the “modification” stage. They also analyze their school campus using Google Earth to evaluate each of the study parameters as they pertain to campus (path of the Sun and shadows cast by the school building, presence of, proximity to fertilized grassy sports fields, and so on). They do this to determine the best spot to plant a class garden. They then present their findings using screen-casting software to create a short (unlisted) YouTube video for the PTA who offered to fund the garden, families interested in helping with the garden, and the school board whose approval is needed to plant the garden. The integration of Google Earth, screen-casting software, and YouTube allow for the full redesign of this activity.
No one type of SAMR technology integration is better than another; they are simply different and enable educators to make informed decisions about bringing technology into existing lessons.
Padlet is a web-based digital bulletin board technology that lends itself to any subject and allows both teachers and students to share, interact with, and create content. This is a great tool to facilitate collaborative learning.
Padlet has a free basic version offering users three padlets that can be remade again and again. Content is shared through “posts.” Posts offer options such as links, words, drawings, and images, supporting multimodal content representations and student responses. Posts are easy to move around a padlet for sorting/organizing activities. Because posts are created by teachers and students, language can be tailored to users’ needs. Settings allow teachers to control access to content and monitor student work and virtual interactions.
An investigation of different kinds of pedestrian traffic signals is a great way to bring important everyday communications using light and sound into the first-grade classroom. Here are ideas for engaging learners in Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) practices.
Constructing explanations and designing solutions: In grades K–2, students compare multiple solutions to a problem. An engaging experience for first graders is to analyze the different ways existing pedestrian traffic signals communicate when it is safe/not safe to cross the street, comparing their strengths and weaknesses (K-2-ETS1-3). You can use videos/images of different kinds of pedestrian traffic signals that use lights and/or sounds to communicate with pedestrians. Build relevance and equity into the lesson by having children identify characteristics of specific people in their lives/community who would benefit from a well-designed and well-placed pedestrian traffic signal; including people of different ages/life stages (e.g., young children, grown-ups, elderly people), differing native languages and literacies, and people with the wide range of abilities/disabilities to help establish the expectation that public resources need to be inclusive. Rather than using a static whiteboard, take an augmentation approach from the SAMR model to record students’ ideas about people in their community on Padlet with a computer/projector. With your support, students can work as a whole group to analyze and compare the effectiveness of two types of pedestrian traffic solutions for signaling different community members about when it is safe to cross the street. Together, populate your premade two-column chart for the two traffic signals in Padlet with posts for the different community members.
Students can then engage in the design thinking process to engineer their own pedestrian traffic signal prototype that serves the people they identified earlier in the lesson. Their signal must use light and/or sound to tell people when it’s safe/not safe to cross the street (1-PS4-4). The functional improvement of augmentation using Padlet instead of the white board comes with the on-demand virtual access students have to this Padlet through a link you share via your LMS. Students can reference the class Padlet data to inform their own design thinking process as they engineer their own pedestrian traffic solution that meet the needs of their community members. Include links to the images/videos you use in the Padlet. Students can also contribute to the class Padlet through small-group/independent work on different devices, as appropriate.
Tinker Ball is an engaging interactive simulation app from Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation. Users interact with an array of digitized real-world items to design a solution for getting a falling tennis ball to reach a target. The premise is simple and students from a wide age range will find the app challenging and fun.
Tinker Ball is free and web-based so it works across devices. It has a simple interface and on-screen items are easy to manipulate with a mouse, trackpad, or touch screen. Users can dive right into designing and testing solutions without wading through scenario setting. True to the design-thinking approach, failure is built in without penalty; solutions can be revised and tested infinitely. Tinker Ball is a great tool for modifying (see SAMR above) your existing engineering learning arc. Instruction is modified when students use the low-stakes and durable virtual environment of Tinker Ball to work through early design thinking experiences. This pre-training in design thinking prepares them for subsequent traditional hands-on engineering lessons.
Though Tinker Ball’s arbitrary premise of getting a falling tennis ball into a target does not reflect best practices for equitable instruction, there are features in the app that make it a solid tech choice for keeping equity at the forefront of instruction. Below are ideas for engaging learners in NGSS science and engineering practices.
Planning and carrying out investigations: Students come to us with different background knowledge and experiences around science and engineering concepts. With Tinker Ball, you can introduce engineering and design-thinking concepts, build students’ background knowledge of basic physics concepts, and engage them in engineering practices. They can plan and carry out their own design solutions in-app and make observations about how the tennis ball responds to various items to inform predictions about how the ball will move (3-PS2-2). You can task students with defining the problem along with describing the criteria and constraints you set for them (3-5 ETS1-1). Without the need for managing physical real-world resources, Tinker Ball’s virtual design features give young learners more time with hands-on experiences to explore the characteristics of individual variables and experiment with their impacts on the behavior of a moving object. In small or whole-group, have students compare their solutions in the context of the criteria and constraints (3-5 ETS1-2). They can also share how they controlled variables and identified failure points to lead to improvements (3-5 ETS1-3).
Try Tinker Ball at the start of the year as a ramp-up to your third graders’ first hands-on engineering design challenge with magnets or weather-related hazards. Be sure to give students the opportunity to explore the app on their own for a few minutes prior to instruction. Then set forth the challenge with any constraints you would like to apply (e.g., create and compare the effectiveness of three different solutions; limited to two items, etc.). Help students navigate the design process and prepare for sharing their ideas with a scaffolded design thinking packet (paper/pencil or digital) to identify the challenge/criteria/constraints, show their adherence to criteria, identify failure points in their various solutions, and describe improvements. Using the app on devices 1:1 with students in groups of two to four will help children practice with language for objects (e.g., spring, funnel, gear), motions (e.g., rotate, ricochet) and engineering concepts (e.g., criteria, constraints, failure points).
Have students upload screenshots of their Tinker Ball creations to your LMS and/or share paper and pencil sketches of their design solutions to provide support for talking about their thinking and findings when it comes time to share their designs with each other. You can foster a culture in which creativity and different ideas are sought after!
|Tech Overview: Padlet|
|Tech Overview: Tinker Ball|
Heather Pacheco-Guffrey (HPACHECOGUFFREY@bridgew.edu) is an associate professor and researcher of science / engineering methods and technology applications in STEM for elementary and early childhood teachers at Bridgewater State University in Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
ISTE Standards for Educators: https://www.iste.org/standards/for-educators
Smithsonian Institution Tinker Ball: https://invention.si.edu/tinker-ball
Harvard Graduate School of Education Teaching and Learning Lab. 2021. Design Thinking in Education. https://tll.gse.harvard.edu/design-thinking
Puentedura, R. 2014. Building transformation: An introduction to the SAMR model [Blog post]. TechTrends 60: 433–441. http://www.hippasus.com/rrpweblog/archives/2014/08/22/BuildingTransformation_ AnIntroductionToSAMR.pdf
Performance expectations for science and engineering practices from NGSS@NSTA
Constructing explanations and designing solutions https://ngss.nsta.org/Practices.aspx?id=6
Developing and using modelshttps://ngss.nsta.org/Practices.aspx?id=2