Unit Title

Toymaker Challenge: Teaching Design Thinking to Elementary Students


Science: Motion and Matter

Genius Hour

Designed by

Michelle Beard

(Framework for this unit is from John Spencer and AJ Juliani’s LAUNCH)

Time Frame

9 weeks

Stage 1- Desired Results

Establish Goals:


  • 3-5-ETS1-1: Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • 3-5-ETS1-2: Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • 3-5-ETS1-3: Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Common Core ELA:

  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.7: Conduct short research projects that build knowledge about a topic.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.3.10: Write routinely over extended time frames (time for research, reflection, and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline-specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.1: Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade 3 topics and texts, building on others' ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.3.4: Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.


  • 4a: Students know and use a deliberate design process for generating ideas, testing theories, creating innovative artifacts or solving authentic problems.
  • 4c: Students develop, test and refine prototypes as part of a cyclical design process.
  • 7b: Students use collaborative technologies to work with others, including peers, experts or community members, to examine issues and problems from multiple viewpoints.
  • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication.


Learners will be able to....

What kinds of long-term independent accomplishments are desired?

  • Use design thinking and the design process to identify and solve authentic problems or create a product
  • Use collaborative technologies to work with others
  • Plan and employ research strategies to locate resources
  • Use appropriate tools and platforms to share their solutions or creations.



Learners will understand that...

  • Design thinking provides a framework for creative work
  • Design thinking can be used to create solutions to problems in our world
  • We must work within time and resource constraints in the design process
  • The design process is often (though not always) a collaborative process.

Essential Questions

Learners will keep considering...

  • What is the design process?
  • How can I use the design process to create or solve problems?
  • How can I use technology to gather information, collaborate, improve and share my ideas?


Learners  will know…

  • The purpose of using design thinking
  • The steps in the design process
  • What digital tools are useful for research
  • What digital tools are useful for collaboration
  • What digital tools are useful for documenting/sharing their product

Learners will be skilled at...

  • Generating inquiry questions
  • Engaging in research
  • Brainstorming ideas
  • Organizing, analyzing and choosing the best idea
  • Creating a prototype of their idea
  • Testing and revising their prototype
  • Persuading others that their creation is useful and important
  • Documenting their process

Stage 2- Evidence


Learners will show that they understand by evidence of…

GRASPS Task written in student-friendly language:


In groups of 2-3, students will cycle through the design process to create a prototype of a product that provides enjoyment and entertainment for children.


Toy/Game Designer


Other children (in our school and around the world)


With limited time and materials, students must create, test, and redesign a product that can be used by other children for the purpose of enjoyment and entertainment.


A presentation of their product to peers and parents


Learners  will show they have achieved Stage 1 goals by demonstrating their understanding through the Six Facets of Understanding...


Students will explain the value of their product and communicate their design process to a wide audience.


Students will brainstorm, evaluate, and select an idea for their product.


Students will design, test and redesign their product.

Have perspective

Students will put themselves “in the shoes” of another child and design a product that is eco friendly, inexpensive and good for children.


Students will research and learn about what children need for enjoyment and entertainment.

Have self-knowledge

Students will reflect on their process.

Stage 3- Learning Plan

Time Frame

Learning Events

Progress Monitoring

Week 1

(5-60 minute lessons)

Week 1: Introduce/Explore the Design Process

Students will be introduced to the design process “LAUNCH” with a  short 5 day design challenge created by John Spencer and AJ Juliani called “Design a City for Superheros.”

They will go through the design process to create a city for a superhero. They will share their superhero and city with their classmates and classmates will choose their favorite.

Students will reflect in their LAUNCH notebook.

Week 2

(4 days)

Week 2: Look, Listen and Learn

Learning Goals:

  • Students will identify their audience
  • Students will research the needs of their audience

Day 1 (30 min): Digital Tool Focus: Taking photos and saving them to their drive.

Day 2 (30 min): Digital Citizenship Focus:

Day 3  Take a trip to visit community play spaces

  • Visit Play Cafe and Panasonic Risupia and play “I SPY.” Students take notes on toys that catch their attention. They are looking for FUN, INTERESTING and GOOD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT toys.

Day 4

  • What types of toys and games do you enjoy? Why?
  • What game or toy doesn’t exist but should?
  • I would like to create a _________________that can_______________ because___________________.
  • As a whole group, we will design questions and create a  survey to find out what types of toys other children wish they had.
  • Sketch four toy ideas. Choose two ideas and sketch them in a different what. What could they change or improve about those two toys?

Answer questions in design thinking notebook and sketch potential toy designs.

Week 3

(3 days)

Week 3: Ask Tons of Questions

Learning goals:

  • Students will generate inquiry questions
  • Students will begin to research answers to their questions.

Day 1 (30 min.) Digital Tool Focus: Create a Seesaw Account

Day 2 (30 min) Digital Citizenship Focus: Going Places Safely

Day 3 (60 min)

  • Generate questions about potential toy designs
  • In their Genius Hour Notebook students will generate questions in the four broad categories: the client (kids), the toy, the materials, and the process.
  • Students share their questions with a partner and record more questions together.

Students generate questions in four broad categories and record in their notebook.

Week 4

(3 days)

Week 4: Understand the Problem

Learning Goals:

  • Students will use appropriate tools to conduct research to find answers to their questions.

Day 1 (30 min.) Digital Tool Focus: Creating a survey using google forms

Day 2 (30 min.) Digital Citizenship Focus: Using kid friendly search engines, websites and search terms. (Ask librarian to teach students online research skills during library time)

Whole Class:

  • Go to kidzsearch.com
  • Discuss what happens when we enter a search term. Model how to enter a search term, skip ADs and look for articles that fit what we are looking for.
  • What happens when we enter too many words?
  • What happens when our search term doesn’t fit our research?
  • What is a good search term?
  • Enter 1 or 2 good search terms you can use to find answers to your questions.
  • Now try the search terms “diy toys”


  • Take turns entering search terms and discussing which articles would be the best to read.
  • Look for answers to questions.

Day 3 Research Options(60 minutes)

  • Research answers to questions, write notes and draw sketches in notebook.

  • Create surveys on google docs or google forms
  • Talk to experts (skype or in person)

Students will take a photo of their research notes and reflect on what they learned in their Seesaw blog.

Week 5

(3 days)

Week 5: Navigate Ideas/Submit Project Proposal

Learning Goals:

  • Generate ideas for potential products
  • Analyze and combine ideas for potential product
  • Choose idea and submit project proposal

Day 1 (30 min) Digital Tool Focus: Collaborating on a Google Doc

Day 2 (30 min) Digital Citizenship Focus:

Day 3 (60 min) Read the book The Most Magnificent Thing

  • Students will create a web/mind map of all their ideas
  • They will analyze, combine and and choose their idea
  • They will submit project proposal

Students to submit project proposal

Take photo and add to blog. Voice or written reflection.

Week 6-8

3- 60 minute sessions (for prototyping)

6- 30 minute sessions for instruction in digital tools and digital citizenship

Weeks 6-8: Create Prototype

Learning Goals:

  • Work with a team or individually to create a prototype
  • Create an annotated visual of the prototype
  • Test and revise prototype. Highlight what’s working and what’s not

Digital Tool Focus: TBA

Digital Citizenship Focus: TBA

Creating Prototype: This is the phase when students will actually be creating their product

Complete Weekly Reflections in Seesaw Blog

Each week students add Photos, videos and reflections to their Seesaw account.

Week 9

Week 9: Create Annotated Visual of Product to Present

Learning Goals:

  • Students will create a presentation
  • Students will rehearse their presentation

Week 10

Students will present their idea to parents and community at a public community play space.

Product and presentation

Student end of unit reflections on project

Video tape students sharing their reflections

Resources / Materials: