We can put up posters and charts and show YouTube videos of the design process, but I have had the most success at guiding third and fourth graders through it with this original "EduProtocol".
The EduProtocol Field Guide: 16 Student-Centered Lesson Frames for Infinite Learning Possibilities.
Whether you are teaching kids how to form complex sentences or how to properly compare and contrast, protocols work. Having been inspired by Jon and Marlena's work, I have developed this road map for students to navigate the design process steps in terms that make sense to them and requires them to think critically along the way.
Our elementary STEM program focuses on the Next Generation Engineering standards and this protocol drives student attention to the these three standards.
Students who demonstrate understanding can:
•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.
Students must start with a driving question, consider available materials as well as constraints and limitations. From there a prototype is sketched and a test is planned. Once the actual object is built it is tested and results are analyzed with students looking for points of failure. The process repeats itself as students get to work on correcting the points of failure, redesigning their prototypes and testing all over again.
So far with my third and fourth graders, I am seeing a whole new level of focus. In the past, despite all of my best efforts to make it serious and scientific, a project like building gliders from straws and grocery bags felt more like crafting than engineering. That has definitely changed with the protocol as time must be deliberately spent on reflection and analysis. With the gliders, utilizing the elements of flight became more important than how rad your glider looked.
Additional attention beyond the protocol is given to learning about variables and testing, as well as evaluating multiple design options. Protocols are in the works for those as well as I am struggling to really develop understanding of those aspects in my students. (Update: just launched a protocol for understanding and using variables)
Here is the design protocol. The first page is the starter and then multiple copies of the second page are used for each additional generation of the design. This allows our young engineers to track their adjustments over time, but also forces them to really consider why adjustments are being made and how they will know those changes made a difference.
A Google Slides version is available here for you to view, download as PDF, or make a copy and tweak as you would like. If you share it, great! A mention is appreciated but please don't sell it.
Design Process Student Protocol by Andy Losik is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at mrlosik.com.