Introducing: Design Build Challenge!


This year I’ve scripted the curriculum for NOVA Lab a bit more tightly during the first marking period. In the past, things were more open, exploratory, and…well…chaotic (see map below). There was a beauty to that. We discovered opportunities, lunged at hunches, and explored numerous though tangential paths of thought.

But also a lot of wasted time.

This year we’re focused:

  • Community building and culture setting
  • Innovator’s Mindset, Innovator’s DNA, Adaptable Minds
  • Design Thinking
  • Entrepreneurial Mindset.

The linchpin in this more streamlined (though still exploratory and flexible) curriculum is Design Thinking (DT). I’ve taught DT for years, stretching all the way back to 2008, and for me, it has become the actionable methodology through which we exert our creative minds on the world.

As NOVA Lab’s pedagogical foundation is, generally, experiential learning, I do not teach DT through lecture or handouts. Instead, We use a series of design sprints and games to engage in the method at different levels. From Snake Oil to Mockups to The Extraordinaires Design Studio, students move from simple mashups and ideation activities, to more criterion based tasks, to empathy driven “extraordinary” user-centered” methods.

This year, I’ve decided we would engage in a final design sprint using the national challenge at What follows here and in several succeeding posts is the story of our work through this challenge as told by the students. Please read on… Design Build Challenge 2021

InNOVAtor’s Insights

Eli, Senior:
Two days ago I walked into class and Mr. Heidt had a large question projected onto the whiteboard (see image above). I wasn’t exactly sure what to make of this as the question had many answers, and as I contemplated an idea in my head, Mr. Heidt started to explain what the question was and why it was the main idea of class for that day. The question was part of a worldwide challenge posed to students across the world. A design challenge to be specific. The goal was to design something, anything, that could solve the problem posed in that question. Of course, with a question that has many moving parts and multiple questions within itself, this was not a one-day task. Turns out, in reality, we would be spending 2 weeks working this design challenge.

Extraordinaire–The Giant

A few days prior the class had participated in something similar to this, a game called the Extraordinaires Design Studio. Through this game, we were able to get a working familiarity with the Design Thinking process and really engage with what it meant to design based on empathy for the user. While the Extraordinaires was “just a game,” it had built our DT muscles, especially our ability to develop empathy for the user.

The first day of our design journey had us looking at images that helped us derive key themes and concepts related to the challenge. The goal of this activity was to work on and improve our observation skills–a key aspect of our innovator’s DNA. To really be able to examine something, you need to be able to observe it from many levels. Observation skills paired with empathy are really important in design because that is how designers create a connection between a problem and what they can do about it, and it’s why we always start our design challenges with observations and empathy. This got the ball rowling on our design process.

On the second day of class, we began analyzing and parsing the challenge itself. Although this doesn’t seem complicated, it was. The challenge has multiple parts to it, and each part can be interpreted in a different way. We didn’t even want to start thinking about actually answering the question, we just wanted to understand what it meant in the first place. The images below show a lot of the work that teams in our class came up with. In all honesty, after we were done with our almost twenty-minute brainstorming session, I still don’t know if we fully understood the depth of what the question was encompassing, but we got closer to figuring it out.

Overall, I am feeling ambitious about this challenge. I am excited to, hopefully, sometime next week, get working on an actual design for what I think could be a product that impacts the world. But I am not at that point yet. I am just at the beginning. And even though all I have done so far is analyze a question, I can see the parallels in this design challenge to others that I have done in this class. Take, for example, the challenge where we had to create products for our made-up characters. That was basically a different version of what is asking people to do, except what is asking has real-world implications and real-world responses to what I do. I will say, that is what I am most excited about in doing this challenge–the real-world changes that I might actually be a part of.

But I am also excited about how this challenge will help me in starting the biggest part of inNOVAtion Lab, which would be a real project that each person comes up with themselves. That will be the true design challenge–an all-year thing about something that I truly take interest in and have passion about. This is where everything in the class is leading us, and once again, I can’t wait to be able to take what I love and have a positive impact on the community around me with it. 

Published by Garreth Heidt

Designerly Minded High School Humanities and Liberal Studies Teacher Faculty Mentor FIRST Robotics Team #7414--PV Retrobotics. Constantly learning, trying to be more a maker and less a consumer of culture. I believe in the infinite value of a liberal education and the power of design thinking to help make the world a better place.

4 thoughts on “Introducing: Design Build Challenge!

  1. A couple of comments about the Stanford model. Obviously, a great foundation. But I substitute Discovery for Empathize because I feel it represents a more complete reflection of what is occurring at the start of design. You are engaging in discovery about the people and community you are designing with and you do so with an empathetic approach. I think empathize represents the behavior and the way in which you engage, while Discovery provides a more accurate picture of what you are trying to accomplish. Also, I add Impact as an additional step beyond Test. After all, why develop a solution or product unless it gets implemented and has an impact.

    Thanks for all the great work you do with kids!

    Liked by 2 people

Leave a Reply to David Jakes Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: