Teaching Design Research to 8th Grade Students in dig-8 [Session 1.0]

May 22, 2013

The dig-8 program is a collaboration between Beyond Design Inc. and Northwestern University, in partnership with the Science & Entrepreneurship Exchange (SEE), an Illinois not-for-profit corporation. SEE’s approach incorporates unique real-world startup engineering and design projects into existing curriculum in grades 1-8, engaging students with expert mentors and collaborators from universities (Northwestern University is a founding partner) and businesses. Within SEE are eight grade-by-grade programs and those are the dig programs, which include dig-1 through dig-8. The dig name was created by our team at Beyond Design and stands for Discover, Innovate, and Grow.

As a product design firm, our team has always wanted to get involved with educating youth about new product development and the many careers it entails. A number of designers that we know in the industry happened upon the field by chance, or realized it was a profession too late in their careers. We designed dig-8 to teach K-12 students about new product development and entrepreneurship in a relevant, engaging, and unique way. Our goal is to increase Chicago-area (and, secondarily, national desire) among private companies, parents and educators to actively improve product development/manufacturing education in the primary/secondary school space.

Being that SEE is in its second pilot year at Nettelhorst School (a Chicago Public School), we incorporated dig-8 at Nettelhorst in January of this year. As the first session in dig-8, students were given a complete overview of the program and the problem they would be asked to solve: How can we better organize our belongings? They were introduced to design research, including desk and field research, and NU students presented a skit that demonstrated good and bad interview tactics.

We split the class of 40+ students into eight different groups, with each group having a mentor (or two) from Beyond Design and/or Northwestern University that would work with them throughout the program. The mentors further discussed the design research process with their team and showed them first-hand what to look for, who to ask questions to, how to ask the questions, and why they document what they do by walking them around to different areas of the school and pointing out problem areas.

At the end of this session, students were given some basic questions to use for conducting field research on their own time. They were asked to interview someone of their choice – a parent, friend, teacher, sibling, etc. – and try and gain a deeper understanding of their needs and motivations. Their findings will be presented to their group at the next session and will help them to choose and develop a persona as a team.

We left on that first day feeling good about the session, but never realized how far each team would come and how much we would learn about ourselves and our profession throughout this program. Some photos from the session are shown below.

Principal Wulbert Introduces dig-8 to the 8th Grade Students at Nettelhorst School in Chicago.

TJ Kim, a mentor and designer from Beyond Design, gives an overview of the dig-8 program.

Patrick Nally, a mentor and designer from Beyond Design, explains the problem the students are asked to solve.

Two mentors from Northwestern University present a short skit on good and bad interview tactics.

The Magic Innovators, a dig-8 team, writes down questions they can ask when interviewing the person of their choice.

The class of 40+ students was split into eight different groups, with each group having a mentor (or two) from Beyond Design and/or Northwestern University that would work with them throughout the program.

The goal of this session was for students to understand how to gain information from users and decision makers to help with new ideas for product solutions.

We will be posting details about each session of dig-8 in the coming weeks, so please keep checking back! For more information on the overall story (and to watch an amazing video overview), please check out our blog post here.

Update: You can check out the final product the students designed on our recently launched Kickstarter site Your donation can get you one of the Elephant Hooks for your home! We appreciate your support!

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