Empathy Design. Sounds easy right? The idea is really simple. Take a project that involves engineering design and add the element of putting yourself in somebody else's shoes as the focal point of the actual design itself. Design something that is not only meaningful to you, as the designer, but that takes someone else, and their needs into consideration. To design something for somebody else due to their set of circumstances or limitations or whatever. Its all the rage at Stanford.
The problem was, I didn't know how to marry the two. Engineering design and empathy.
Last year the 2nd grade team at Beaver Acres and I came up with an engineering design project that exposed our kids to engineering design (check off NGSS targets) coding (check off ISTE student standards) and making (check off Maker Space opportunity). But I wanted to also include empathy within the design process. I just did not know how. To be fair, I sometimes over think things to the point that I believe I am responsible to think up the silver bullet to end all injustices in the world with my single piece of a lesson plan.
Yeah, I know. I need to reel it in.
What I really want is to make the entire lesson meaningful on different levels. But this empathy thing has my wheels spinning. Enter Brad.
Brad, is not a person, but rather a thing. Brads. Like as in the things that we use for office type projects. I don't actually know what a brad does as I have never used one for its intended purpose, but the supply cabinet had a TON of them. So, I grabbed them by the handful while restocking our 2nd grade Maker Box for each class to design their project. But it did not hit me until last week at a presentation I gave at the Northwest Council for Computer Education's conference that Brad could help solve a problem I had been experiencing with kids and how they were "solving" one of the design challenges.
Our engineering design project is titled The Great Sphero Chariot Race. Teams of students are given the challenge to build a chariot that will be pulled by a Sphero. It is a 4 or 5 day project where kids have to think, draw, design, test, redesign, test again and then race against each other. And their goal is to make sure their chariot can carry something from the starting gate to the finish line.
That something that the chariot carried was never really all that important to me. A key from a keyboard. An eraser. Whatever. But then it dawned on me while I was setting up in a stuffy Washington State Convention Center conference room, Brad could be the center of our empathy focus. And he could help me solve the problem of students simply taping that key, eraser or brad to the chariot so it wouldn't fall out.
Enter my first attempt at empathy design.
This was a very easy way to build in a way for our 2nd grade students to think about Brad as they built their chariots. These needs that Brad has will allow me to circle back and have discussions about each team's chariot design to make sure our designers are not only designing for themselves, but for Brad as well.
I don't think I am ready to file this lesson under Social Emotional Learning quite yet, but I am happy with how you can begin to connect empathy to a project that could very easily gone without it. If you are interested in seeing the make up of this lesson please visit Sphero EDU's website of resources. To find Brad, go visit your school's supply cabinet and let him out. After all, Brad likes to see what is happening and to move around freely.
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