Developing Empathy and Research Skills through Toy Design

Mr. Droke's sixth grade boys have been "hired" by the Grade One class to design a toy that specifically meets their needs and wants. The sixth graders must create a shared knowledge of toys to be used as they use research, develop, produce and market an original toy. This toy will be designed on Tinkercad, a browser-based 3D design platform, and made on 3D printers or the laser cutter in our technology lab. The first two assignments of the project helped the students reflect on their own toy experience and develop empathy for the current first grade boys. The boys created Padlet walls that represent what their life was like as a first grader. This process allowed them to reflect on the types of toys they played with and talk about why they liked them. Then the design teams developed surveys on Google Forms for each of the first graders to complete. We spent a class discussing how these results could be used to impact their work. The next step in the design process was to research classic toys like Tonka Trucks, Lincoln Logs, the Yo-Yo, G.I. Joe, the Teddy Bear, Rock'em Sock'em Robots and LEGOs. Each design team was assigned a toy and had to state its purpose, define its demographic, talk about how it makes them feel, and research its history. The teams presented their findings to the entire class. They boys quickly realized that these toys shared certain characteristics, such as their ability to be intuitively played with without reading a set of instructions. This allowed us to have a conversation about how simple toys are sometimes more effective, better designed and more well-loved than complicated toys. This impacted the design teams' initial ideas about their toys by making them think more realistically and practically about their design. The next phase of the process is to begin ideation and focus on the toy that each team is going to develop and design. 

Click here to see some pictures of the boys presenting their research.