Design Detectives: A Lesson/Activity for Promoting Design Assessment Skills

By Brusic, Sharon A. | Technology and Children, September 2001 | Go to article overview

Design Detectives: A Lesson/Activity for Promoting Design Assessment Skills


Brusic, Sharon A., Technology and Children


Do you find it difficult to get children to critically assess solutions to design problems? Do they struggle to find weaknesses in their solutions and praise aspects of their peers' designs that probably don't merit it? How often have you found yourself wishing that your students would develop more attractive and functional solutions to problems? You can help these students hone their design assessment skills so that they can improve their designs and develop more effective, efficient, and/or aesthetically pleasing solutions to technological problems. Try Design Detectives with your students and repeat the activity often to keep their minds focused on improving designs.

The Challenge

Design Detectives is more of an assessment activity than a design activity. Students are asked to choose two commercially produced products made by different companies that serve the same function (e.g., pencil sharpeners, vegetable peelers.) Students test the products and then evaluate them on several criteria. By using a commercially produced product, the teacher doesn't have to worry about hurting students' feelings when the design is critiqued. Moreover, it is much easier to get young students to be critical when they are not assessing their own work or that of their peers.

Students are asked to evaluate the products based on several design criteria. See the web map and sample Design Detective report. Once they evaluate the products, they present their findings to the class and elaborate on what aspects of the design they particularly liked and disliked. They can go beyond a simple summary by modeling and drawing suggestions for how the designs could be improved, too.

It is expected that students will refine their design appraisal skills as they gain experience with product assessment. Hopefully, these skills will influence their own solutions to design problems, thereby improving their technological design skills over time.

Implementation Hints

Consider some of these ideas as you plan and implement this activity in your classroom.

1. Tailor the activity to your students' grade levels. All elementary children, even as young as kindergarten, can be taught to assess designs. Children in grades K-1 will learn a lot about design simply by participating in circle discussions about products. Older students can complete more complex assessments.

2. Teachers interested in obtaining this Design Detectives design challenge or Design Detective Report in electronic form (Microsoft Word[R] 2000) are encouraged to contact the author via e-mail (brusic@vt.edu) to request the attachments and edit them to suit their own classroom needs.

3. The products you use for this activity are important. For example, key chains are not good products because they have too much variety, and students would clearly choose one design over another based solely on their personal preference for certain characters, patterns, or trademarks (Tweety Bird[TM], flowers, etc.). Products need to be something that: 1) will vary by brand, 2) can be tested in some way, 3) will not be gender specific, and 4) will not be distracting because of their decorations.

4. Small (handheld) pencil sharpeners available in office supply and discount stores for $0.50 to $3.00 are great objects to use. Keep a record of the price for each product so that students can make cost comparisons.

5. Get students to look beyond superficial aesthetic features such as color or decorations. Ask them to think about specific design principles such as the product's form, texture, materials, size, and proportion. …

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