The Spark of Learning with 'Design Challenges'
Posted on 02/22/2021
Student works on 'Design Challenge'Harrison Elementary School is utilizing Design Challenges to cultivate learning in new and inventive ways. Design challenges are a simple, yet effective approach to help boost student engagement and get the spark of learning going. Solutions do not have to be overly sophisticated or complex in design or materials. Since there are ‘no wrong answers,’ students freely explore their creativity and produce interesting solutions and prototypes. Teachers have also shared that students' communication skills improve significantly when they have to explain their design to others and receive feedback from their peers.

Design Challenges were implemented by the Harrison Elementary STEAM Cadre in 2018-2019. The STEAM Cadre is a group of educators who have driven the work for the STEAM programming at the school under the leadership of Principal Wendy Jung.

On Design Challenge day, each student is tasked with tackling a real world problem. At that point, they utilize the design process to tackle the issue: ask, imagine, plan, create, improve. Ask the right questions, Imagine how to solve them, Plan out each move, Create a solution to the problem, see what works, and then Improve your design.

These challenges were collaboratively inspired by community partners and the Tennessee Academic Science Standards. During the application process for Tennessee STEM Designation, Harrison Elementary teachers researched STEM careers and interviewed industry professionals. These teachers found a common thread in what STEM careers required. Individuals must have the ability to communicate, collaborate, think critically, and creatively. Community partners who work in STEM fields repeatedly shared the importance of utilizing the design process to problem solve. Because of the alignment with Tennessee standards, design challenges became an important curriculum component resulting in Harrison receiving Tennessee STEM Designation in May of 2020.

“It has been amazing to see how students who may struggle with traditional lessons in reading, math, and science excel during design challenges. They use real-world, problem-solving skills that incorporate academic learning in exciting new ways. They invest energy into the process in ways that often produce those A-ha moments every teacher hopes to see from every learner” said Jennifer Brownlee, Interim Principal of Harrison Elementary.