Design Thinking Lesson 4 of 7: Prototype

Length of Project:
Project theme:
Suitable for grades:
Tools & Materials
Material List
  • Design Thinking Template and notes from Lessons 1-3
  • Scrap paper for drawing
  • Prototyping materials

  • eg, cardboard, card stock, doorskin, plywood, white glue, etc.
Tool list
  • Pencil
  • Optional

  • Computer or tablet with word processor and sketching app
  • Ruler and/or measuring tape
  • Prototyping tools

  • eg, scissors, hole punch, utility knife, hot glue gun, etc.

    Before you begin

  1. Rewrite the following six steps on the board if necessary: Step 1 Empathize, Step 2 Define, Step 3 Ideate, Step 4 Prototype, Step 5 Test, Step 6 Make, Step 7 Share and Reflect.
  2. Opening activity for prototyping

  3. Host a class brainstorm: make a list on the board of the different materials they can think of to build with (eg, plywood, lumber, rebar, pipe, sheet metal, etc.). For each material, brainstorm a few suggestions of materials that could be used to MODEL the project with. Ask students “why might you want to make a model of your idea before you make the good copy?” Get students thinking about how prototyping can save in both materials and money: making a model with a cheaper material can help people work out the details of their projects (like dimensions, fastenings, etc.) before they cut into their final materials.
  4. If needed, discuss with students the different materials and tools options you have available for them to complete their design challenge. Read through the parameters list with them again. Have students decide what material they want to prototype their idea in, and what material they are considering building their final project out of. Note: if you haven’t already done “how to” and “safety” lessons on the available tools, do so now before students start using them later in this lesson.
  5. Have students look back on their chosen idea drawing from lesson 3. Give them time to re-sketch their idea, completing an isometric sketch, as well as three orthographic sketches (top, front, and side views as necessary) to give a detailed idea of their plan. Tell them to label it with “1.0 sketch” or similar.
  6. Ask students to label their sketches with the following: dimensions (length, width, height, thickness, as needed), prototyping materials, as well as any details such as fasteners, adhesives, embellishments, etc. If the project they are making has any moving parts, indicate the movement direction(s), or do a separate drawing for pre-and post-movement.
  7. Scale drawings

  8. Show students how to make a scale bar (easy) or ratio (more advanced) for their sketch. For example, if the actual birdhouse width will be 30cm, they can sketch their birdhouse and include a scale bar across the front width labelled “30cm”. To use a ratio instead, they might draw a picture of the birdhouse that is half the actual size (15cm across the width), so they will write “1:2” on their sketch. This ratio of sketch:real is like saying “one cm on the drawing represents two cm on the real birdhouse”, or “15cm on the drawing represents 30cm on the real birdhouse”.
  9. Plan the steps

  10. Have the students note down a prototype plan including: a list of all materials needed (including amounts/dimensions), a list of tools needed, and a basic step-by step procedure for how they plan to build the prototype. Share with them how important this step is, as they might need reminders to themselves if they have to put their project down and come back to making it later (eg, how long did I let that glue dry? What kind of glue did I use, anyway? How many wraps of wire did I make? Etc.)
  11. Once you have approved their plans, have them build their prototype.
  12. Let them know that as they build, they should be taking notes to record any changes they make to their prototype plan. Plans always change, and the designs evolve, and they will need to refer to their notes to make an updated project plan later.
Extension Challenges
  1. Invite a local tradesperson, Indigenous artist or elder, or craftsperson into your classroom to speak about their design process. Have students write “interview” questions for them in advance to help them find similarities between their guest’s design process and the design thinking steps they are learning.
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