Introduction: Make It Green: Middle School "Make It Real" Design Slam

About: Tinkercad is a free and easy, browser-based 3D design and modeling tool for all. Tinkercad allows anyone to imagine anything and then design it in minutes.

This has been written by Autodesk Tinkercad as a teacher-led resource to support New England educators in entering the "Autodesk Make It Real" contest with their students; however, anyone may use this resource to kickstart design thinking in their classroom through this fun, technical challenge that encourages young people to identify problems of importance to them and to work together to create solutions.

Recommended grades: 6-8 (Elementary school challenge | High school challenge)

Skills taught:

  • Apply design thinking methods to a real-world problem.
  • Practice design and technical skills in a fun and nurturing environment.
  • Develop an entrepreneurial mindset in communicating ideas.

Lesson overview: Design Slams are a challenge of creativity, skill, and presentation. They introduce the design thinking process by creating a fun environment for participants to look at problems differently and pursue solutions based on quick decision-making. Regardless of their skill level, participants have the opportunity to apply their design- and critical- thinking skills and pitch their ideas in a visible gathering that promotes youth leadership, industry and community involvement, and innovation. In this Design Slam, students will compete to create the best design that addresses the negative impact of climate change for people most affected.

Estimated instructional time: 5-10 hours


Step 1: Pose the Challenge

Young people are increasingly passionate about political inaction on climate change. Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg sparked a global movement in rallying her peers to engage in a "school strike for the climate," which now involves millions of people around the world calling for climate action. Many teachers are responding by bringing climate change back into the classroom. By engaging your class in this Design Slam, you can show students that adults and children can work together to promote the greater good.

Build 'Climate Literacy' and personal connection

No one is too small to make a difference. "The environment” is not some faraway place, but our immediate surroundings—we are all connected whether we live in big cities, rural or suburban areas, or rainforests.

To help students develop a personal perspective, prior to the launch of this design challenge you might have your students interview a grandparent or older neighbor or other elder in their community about changes they have observed in their lifetimes that may be related to climate.

(On page 6 of this educator guide from the Rainforest Alliance, you can find some great interview questions that students can use to begin this discussion.)

You might also ask students: Where does your water come from, and where does it go after you use it? Where does your food come from? Your air?

For more information about this topic, here is a great resource from the Rainforest Alliance.

You might also allow students some time to research the topic in a more self-directed way. Here are some resources for building your students' climate literacy that are rich with various types of media that are perfect for deeper exploration:

National Geographic: Causes and Effects of Climate Change

NASA: Climate Change and Global Warming

Introduce the design prompt

Here is a slideshow you may use to introduce the prompt:

"How might we use design to address climate change? Create a model that illustrates your design. Develop a pitch that tells the story of how your design solves a problem for a user group in a new way."

Brainstorm a list of challenges and opportunities

What are some aspects of our daily lives that could be redesigned to promote sustainability? Here are some ideas:

  • water
  • waste
  • food
  • energy
  • transportation
  • air
  • public spaces

Provide some additional context and inspiration

Introduce your students to football star, James Develin, through showing students the film at the top of this step. James got his degree in mechanical engineering and is passionate about getting more students involved in design and making. His story includes how he overcame challenges to find inspiration to make anything.

Other potential sparks include:

  • Climate Ready Boston: an initiative to get the City ready for the long-term impacts of climate change
  • Martin Richard Park: near the Boston Children’s Museum in the Seaport District, this new playground will double as a water barrier to protect the area from climate-change-induced flooding
  • Good Design for a Bad World: in celebration of Dutch Design Week, architecture and design magazine Dezeen highlighted eight ideas that can help to solve climate change
  • AI SpaceFactory: a robot-made habitat for Mars could bring sustainable building down to earth
  • Container farming in the city: radio clip about urban farmers who are thinking outside the box by bringing their farms inside the box in the form of shipping containers
  • By 2050, urban buildings that breathe and adapt: What will a skyscraper built in 2050 look like? How will it function?
  • EcoRise: inspires a new generation of leaders to design a sustainable future for all with curriculum and school-based programs that empower youth to tackle real-world challenges in their schools and communities by teaching sustainability, design innovation, and social entrepreneurship. You may be eligible for a free subscription. Learn more about this here.

    WorldBeing wristband by Layer: Benjamin Hubert's studio wants people to take control of their carbon footprint with this wearable device, developed in partnership with environmental consultancy the Carbon Trust.

    Be sure to remind students that design is an iterative process! Once they begin to formulate ideas for what they would like to make or what their design would "look like," encourage them to go back to researching, so that they can better explain how their design would work. Here is another great resource with links to readings about understanding climate change through a more "systematic treatment to some aspect of the problem."

    Begin with empathy

    You will likely have to spend time teaching about empathy - its meaning and how to consider “Empathy” as part of the design process. Start with having students create a user profile - a "persona" of someone who may currently (or in the future) be negatively impacted by climate change, whom they will refer to during the rest of the design process. They should make this persona as concrete as possible. Give the persona a name, an age, a family, friends, hobbies, etc. The more real the persona seems, the more empathy the students can project when moving on to the other aspects of the project. There are lots of approaches to teaching about empathy, such as these suggestions from Edutopia.

    Here is a great article from the Design Museum Foundation that includes a graphic organizer for creating an empathy map with the next generation of design thinkers. Or download the latest version of the map here.

    Consider the learning outcomes

    This challenge is designed so that it can be adapted by you (the expert educator!) to meet the needs of your students, as well as the expectations for the subject area you teach. With this in mind, you may enhance this challenge by emphasizing certain relevant concepts or skills. For example:

    • Science: Energy; Ecosystems; Earth's Systems; Earth and Human Activity; Engineering Design
    • Math: Ratios and proportional relationships; Geometry
    • English/Literacy: Presentation of knowledge and ideas; communication, teamwork, problem solving, critical thinking, and research skills
    • History/Civics: Build knowledge about the Environmental Movement
    • Art: Use of shapes and forms, such as organic, geometric, positive, negative, and varieties of symmetry; Critical response (during student presentations)

    Step 2: Provide Some Training and Get Hands-on

    While students may begin building their model in paper, recyclables, and other craft materials, ultimately they should also create a digital design as part of the Design Slam.

    Here is information about some free design tools that your students may use to solve problems in designing for a better world.

    Students may work individually or in pairs or teams. Because one of the objectives is for learners to gain technical skills, you should try to keep teams small enough, so that everyone has a chance to get hands on with the technology.

    Tinkercad (for all ages)

    Tinkercad is a valuable resource for students to bring their ideas from mind to design in minutes. It is also a FREE, easy-to-use, browser-based creativity tool for teaching 3D design and more! (Did we mention FREE?!)

    After you have provided a brief overview of Tinkercad for your students, (including a quick demo, such as the one provided in the slideshow,) let your students try out some moves through these short starter lessons. Completing all seven should take no more than 30 minutes, and once they have mastered the basics, they should be ready to begin their own creations.

    If you are interested in building a stronger background in Tinkercad and its use in the classroom BEFORE facilitating this design slam yourself, here are some resources:

    For future reference, you may also provide students with this handy guide, created by educator John Umekubo.

    Fusion 360 for teaching product design and manufacturing with students 13 and older

    Even if your students are Tinkercad pros who are 13 or older and ready to move on to a more powerful design tool, it's still a fine idea for them to use Tinkercad first as a quick way of prototyping.

    If your students are 13 or older and not quite ready to move from Tinkercad during this Design Slam, no worries! There are plenty of possibilities within Tinkercad for "older" learners to create sophisticated 3D designs with electronics, both through direct manipulation or using code.

    If students need some encouragement around the cool things you can design with Tinkercad beyond the familiar, have them check out the winning designs for the European Space Agency's Moon Camp Challenge.

    For those students who desire to make the transition from Tinkercad into pursuing career paths at the convergence of design and manufacturing, Fusion 360 is the right tool. Using the Tinkercad-To-Fusion workflow is a great way to kickstart this process.

    Autodesk Design Academy's free Introduction to 3D Modeling course also provides young innovators with self-paced instruction on how to explore and iterate using computer aided design.

    The 'living' building: Rather than being static as they are today, in the future, buildings will produce food, energy and resources, according to a report by engineering firm Arup.

    Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) tools for teaching how to design for the built environment with students 13 and older

    Today, manufacturing and construction are coming together as one. This is being spurred by advances in technologies like 3D printing, machine learning, robotics, connected devices, generative design, mixed reality, simulation, drones, and more.

    The use of these technologies is converging and evolving - changing how we see the world, and how we can build it differently.

    By 2050 almost 70% of the world’s population will live in cities, with the middle-class growing faster than ever before. For our planet, this means more demand for buildings and infrastructure and even greater demands on our natural resources.

    Today the built environment consumes 40% of the world’s global energy, 40% of the planet’s natural resources, 25% of the water, and emits approximately 1/3 of greenhouse gas emissions.

    By growing your students' skills and knowledge in the AEC fields, they will be able to build a life and career that is focused on making a better world.

    Autodesk Design Academy offers free introductory courses for young innovators with self-paced instruction on how to use the same tools as AEC industry professionals such as:

    • FormIt 360: Learn to sketch, collaborate, analyze, and iterate early-stage design concepts on your tablet or web browser.
    • AutoCAD: Learn the computer-aided drafting software program used for creating blueprints for buildings, bridges, and computer chips.
    • Revit: Learn to design, simulate, visualize, and collaborate in order to leverage the advantages of the interconnected data within a BIM model.

    The opportunity to reimagine the THINGS we make, and how we MAKE them is now.

    Are you anxious about embarking on this design journey with your students? Here are some words of encouragement from English teacher Cathy O'Flaherty who answered a similar call to adventure.

    Step 3: Introduce a Design Thinking Framework

    In the world of design, problem = opportunity.

    There are many different frameworks that are called "design thinking" with mostly subtle variations; the most important constant is that it has a human-centered core - meaning that the first and most critical step in the process involves empathizing with the end user of whatever it is you are designing.

    After students have had a chance to generate some ideas and explore them using prototyping materials and design tools, it is now a great time to remind them about the end user and to prompt them to develop a more detailed plan for solving a problem that is relevant to the theme of this Design Slam: Make It Green.

    The Innovator's Compass, a framework created by Ela Ben-Ur, is a highly learnable, uncomplicated approach that helps people find better ways to move forward that are grounded in the principles that matter most.

    If you are interested in learning more about the principles of design thinking and its application in a school setting, this Instructable provides a deep dive.

    Step 4: Imagine, Design, Make

    Move it. Size it. Scale it. Group it. This is a chance for your students to demonstrate 3D design literacy and show off their skills. For more information on this, here is a great resource for getting your students acting and talking like real design professionals.

    In addition to technical skills, this design challenge is also meant to empower your students as innovators. Encourage them to use their imagination to challenge the status quo - to show creativity, cleverness, and simplicity in exploring form and function.

    Remind them that their end product should also make an impact: Design can be a super power in addressing real-world problems. They should continuously stay grounded in the needs and goals of the end user.

    When they have completed their designs, they will also be expected to tell their design story. While they are immersed in the design process, you may pause them periodically to stop and reflect: What did you learn? Why should others care? Why does your design matter? How could it make the world better?

    If you are looking for ideas on how to offer constructive feedback to students on their designs, here are some great talking points for helping students think through ways of making their designs even more "green"; (while this guide originates in the field of architecture, it could be applied to other types of designs.)

    Step 5: Infuse an Entrepreneurial Mindset

    Kids are natural innovators.

    Did you know that the popsicle, ear muffs AND the trampoline were invented by kids?

    Similar to design thinking, thinking like an entrepreneur means looking at the world through the lens of opportunity. It also means failing fast and learning from mistakes, finding new ways to create value, and turning ideas into action.

    As your students are wrapping up the first iteration of their designs, you should start getting them ready to share their ideas with a wider audience. Most good entrepreneurial pitches include a value proposition.

    A value proposition* should aim to:

    • Acknowledge the problem and pains felt by your target audience
    • Show an understanding of their needs and hopes
    • Quantify the benefits of your product
    • Highlight the difference between your solution and the status quo

    Depending on the ages or ability levels of your students, you might have your students create a poster or prepare a slideshow that expresses the value of their design and tells the story of their process. This should also include calling out specific features of the design.

    3D modeling software like Tinkercad and Fusion 360 can also be a powerful entrepreneurial storytelling tool. Read more about this in the Tinkercad blog.

    Have you ever wanted to “wow” an audience with your Tinkercad design in a Microsoft PowerPoint presentation? Tinkercad has recently added the ability to download your design as a GLTF 3D file format that you can drag into your presentation deck.

    Step 6: Set the Stage for the Pitch

    Once your students are done composing their design stories, there should be time for each team to present to the larger group for feedback and validation. If possible, it would be beneficial to also invite other stakeholders, such as students, industry and community partners, or school leaders to hear the teams' ideas and offer feedback.

    If you haven't yet already, be sure to review the scoring rubric with students before they present.

    Step 7: Celebrate Innovative Thinking and Real-world Application

    Yay! They did it! You did too. Here are some great ideas for saluting students' success.

    Another way to recognize how your students have grown as a result of this design experience is to share your collective learning with others. You can even do this by adding a note to this Instructable! Teacher Notes can be added to any Instructable to show how it was used in the classroom. Educators can upload photos, lesson plans, and other resources to demonstrate their favorite ways to bring hands-on learning to their students.