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Lower Campus Students Build Empathy, Test Design Thinking Skills in Cardboard Challenge

Nov 17, 2021 | All School, Blog, Lower School News, Maker

Each year, Lower Campus students put their knowledge of design thinking to use in the annual Cardboard Challenge. This year’s theme was “how might we design a helpful and thoughtful backpack for our partner?”

Most students carry a backpack with them to school, containing all of their supplies for the day. We bring things we need, but also things that help us have a successful day at school and after school. At Mount Vernon, we use design thinking to make things better. With that in mind, students worked together with a partner to help design a better backpack – all out of cardboard.

The first step in any design thinking challenge is to build empathy. In order to gain empathy, students interviewed their partners, learning what they like and dislike about their current backpack. When interviewing to gain empathy, students were encouraged to ask questions that would help them learn more about their partner and their specific needs.

“What do you like about your current backpack?”
“What would you like to change about your current backpack?”
“How do you like to organize your things?”
“What do you like to do at school? What do you like to do after school?”
“What is the most frustrating thing that ever happened when you were using your backpack?”

Once students had gotten to know their partners, it was time to define the need. To do this, designers created a needs statement, or a sentence or two thoughtfully explaining where they think there are gaps in their partner’s current backpack experience.

Before students were ready to design, they first needed to ideate and collect feedback on their product. Ideating is a form of brainstorming involving students to let as many ideas come to their minds as possible. No idea is too big or too small.

“In the design thinking process at Mount Vernon, all designers are encouraged to think of big ideas, even ideas that might not feel ‘possible’,” shared Director of Lower School Molly Hudson.

After brainstorming, students shared their ideas with their partner to collect their thoughtful feedback. Then it was finally time to prototype and build!

This is one of the most exciting steps in the design thinking process. In the Maker Lab, this step is referred to as creating a blueprint. Students drew a detailed sketch of their product with labels for what each aspect was. With their sketch complete, students were ready to build their first prototype.

Prototypes in hand, the designers then presented their product to the rest of their class and then passed it off to their partner to take home with them.

Building empathy, failing up, thinking big, and always striving to be better by accepting thoughtful feedback are all part of the design thinking process, and each year Mount Vernon students can’t wait to put those skills to the test at the Cardboard Challenge.