Toymaker’s Challenge: Course 5 Final Project

Here I am at the end of an amazing journey. One year ago when I made the commitment to join Cohort 7, I had the sense that this endeavor was way beyond my capabilities but that is exactly why I knew I had to commit. If I believe and teach my students about growth mindset then I need to model that in my own life. I am so glad that I accepted the challenge.

As a result of this course I have learned to:

  • Use technology for connected and global learning
  • Use the SAMR model to redefine learning tasks and enable students to learn in ways previously inconceivable
  • Blog
  • Empower students through technology agreements
  • Use zen principles for communicating my message clearly
  • Resource and educate parents
  • Connect with a learning community

For my final project I created a unit called “Toymaker’s Challenge” to teach a design thinking framework to my students and give them an opportunity to share their designs with the world.

My three main goals for this project were:

  1. Teach design thinking (purpose, process) to elementary students
  2. Collaborate with other teachers in our 3-5 team
  3. Collaborate with other classes outside of our school

Here is my final video:

If you are a part of Cohort 7, I would appreciate your feedback here

I learned many things but one thing I want to highlight is that it is totally worth taking the time to explicitly teach design thinking to elementary students. I learned how important it is to balance the chaos of letting kids figure things out and do their own thing with structure and framework. My hope is that now my students will use this way of thinking to come up with solutions to the challenges they see around them and that they will see the value of sharing their ideas with the world
If you would like to try this design thinking challenge, I recommend that you first get a copy of the book LAUNCH by AJ Juliani and John Spencer and then connect with me on twitter (@michellehanoi) and I’ll share all my resources with you.

I would like to acknowledge and thank the following individuals who encouraged me along the way:

My husband, Mike, for encouraging me to join COETAIL and always being a great conversationalist as I processed the new information I was learning.

My partner teacher, Anne Stuart-Gunay, for being willing to pilot the unit at the beginning of the school year even though it was crazy at times. I am thankful for her enthusiasm and encouragement.

My colleague, Alexis Snider, for jumping back into COETAIL and finishing her final project with our cohort. I always had someone right next door to process with.

My principal, Kristin Kappelmann for allowing me to make adjustments to my schedule and for seeing the value in teaching design thinking to our students.

AJ Juliani and John Spencer, for their book LAUNCH.

Joy Kirr,, for sharing out my tweets with her genius hour community

If you’re interested in teaching this unit, here is the plan and resources I used:


Taking Stock and Getting Back on Track

This week seems like a good time to pause, breathe and take stock of where things are at with our design thinking unit. It’s a good time to remind myself of my goals for my Course 5 final project: Design Thinking for Elementary Students

The goals of my project are:

  • Teach elementary students 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 also want to remind myself of the WHY of what I am doing. It’s always good to step back and think about the big picture and ask WHY am I doing what I am doing. I started thinking more this way after watching this TED talk by Simon Sinek. Every great endeavor has a clear WHY behind it’s existence.

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WHY do I care about teaching design thinking to elementary students? Simply put:

I want my students to understand that life is full of challenges and obstacles. We can either be defeated by these challenges or we can see them as opportunities to grow. Design thinking is a mindset for all of life. The design process is a tangible plan for creating solutions.

That’s the WHY. It’s important and worthy work.

We have been working on our project for one hour each Friday for the past 10 weeks. Each week until now we focused on one step in the design process as the students made their plan for their toy. Currently they are in the creation phase. We will be spending two more sessions creating and iterating and one session creating our presentation. We plan to launch our designs on Nov. 14 at Play! Cafe.

What has been going well? 

  • The students have engaged well in each step of the design process and demonstrated understanding.
  • There has been fantastic collaboration between my class and another third grade class.
  • The students are creating some cool toy designs.
  • Some parents have gotten involved in the process.
  • The director of Play! Cafe is enthusiastic to support our toy exhibition.

What are some current challenges and what can I do to address these?

Challenge 1: The students’ enthusiasm for their toy creation is waning.

When we started this challenge 10 weeks ago, the students were full of excitement but unfortunately just as we got to the creation phase, we had two Fridays in a row off and when the students came back, it was like they had forgotten what they were working on.

What can I do? I need to rally the students to see the vision again. I just confirmed the date and time at the venue for our toy exhibition so I can share that with the students and explain more in detail what they can expect as they display their products and talk about their toy with our audience (parents and community members). Hopefully envisioning themselves on that day with a real audience will motivate them to make their best creation. I can also take some time this week and have students reflect and document some of their work to this point. I plan to share this and encourage my students to add their own reflections/photos of different phases in their design journey.

Made with Padlet

Challenge 2: Global collaboration is not happening at this point. 

Even though I’ve made a few serious attempts to find others beyond our school/city to collaborate with on this project, I have not been successful. I shared the opportunity several times on twitter using various hashtags, pitched it to our Hanoi Ed Tech group, shared it on Google +, and even wrote an email to Mr. Arvind Gupta, an inventor/scientist/educator who teaches design thinking to 8,000 schools in India using recycled items. I just haven’t had any success.

What can I do? Last week at our Hanoi Ed Tech monthly meeting I got two pieces of great advice from my ed tech guru, Michelle Mathias. She suggested creating a padlet for easy collaborative sharing. she also mentioned that sometimes it’s better to message certain key people personally and ask them to participate or share with others who might be interested. So that is my plan. I created the padlet above and I plan to share it with a few educators I know who are either using the LAUNCH design framework or enthusiastic about genius hour. Hopefully their students can also add their own photos and reflections about their design process.

If you know any elementary educators who might be interested in having their students post their design thinking reflections on our padlet, please share this link with them:

Only a month to go! Here’s to hoping it all comes together.




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.