Design Thinking for Elementary Students: Toymaker’s Challenge

Introducing the Toymaker’s Challenge! What kid doesn’t love toys? What better way to teach design thinking to third graders than to engage them in the challenge to create a toy using everyday materials. The challenge? The toy must be fun, innovative, environmentally friendly and shared with the world. This design thinking project is inspired by the book LAUNCH by AJ Juliani and John Spencer..

The goals of my project are:

  • Teach third graders about design thinking and the steps in the design process
  • Collaborate with other classes in my school to inspire a culture of design thinking across grade levels and curricular areas
  • Collaborate with other schools, our community and share our product with the world

I prepared the following presentation to guide the students through our unit:

What have we done so far?

Design Thinking in 5 Days

The first week of school was the perfect opportunity to walk the students through the design thinking steps to Design a Superhero City (course and unit plan available through

 Check out our Grade 3 website to see a video (courtesy of my teaching partner Anne Stuart Gunay)  and more photos (courtesy of Lia Garcia Harpin). I wanted my students to experience all the steps of the design process in a short time and pique their curiosity for our Toy Challenge.

Partners in the community: Play! Cafe

The first few steps in the design process are all about students gathering as many ideas as possible and researching potential product ideas. For inspiration and to consider our client (ie other children who might play with our toys) we visited Play! Cafe, which is a special place for parents and children to play and learn together. The director of Play! Cafe shared with us their process for designing the space and the choices they made in toy designs. It was very cool! Play! Cafe has offered to host our final toy exhibition when the students will share their toys with the community and donate their toys to the cafe.

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Authentic Audience

Designers create products for a real audience. When they share their ideas and process with a wider audience, there is opportunity for collaboration and feedback. Throughout the design challenge, the students will be documenting and sharing their process in our class blog in Seesaw.

What needs to happen now

  • We want to find a few other classes outside of our school who would like to try this challenge and share their results with us.
  • I am trying to connect with other toy designers who might be willing to Skype with my class. I have contacted Arvind Gupta an educator in India who started a STEM program in over 8,000 schools in India. Check out his video below to see how he turns simple everyday materials into toys. His website has been a great starting point for students to research how to make toys from simple materials.




My hope is that in the end my students will embrace the design process as a way of life. They will understand that to create any type of product or solve any problem requires A LOT of time, iteration, and willingness to make mistakes. They will also experience first hand how technology and digital tools can help us connect with people and ideas beyond the walls of our small classroom here in Hanoi.

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