Native American Culture Design Challenge


This lesson plan was submitted by Lela Ward, a 4th grade teacher at Encinal School, in Menlo Park City School District.

I started to look at our CA Native American unit and the culminating project that we had always done with it. To me, it seemed like fact regurgitation and it also never seemed to meet my hopes for their learning outcomes. The design challenge that I came up with involves these steps, however, each year I end up changing things a little bit.

Empathy: Students will live in the shoes of their tribe by researching from different sources and maps. These resources come from me because I have omitted any information that has to do with what their tribe's shelter looked like. They then need to take notes and figure out everything that they can about this tribe in order to understand their needs. The tribe is the user. The students look at the region, the weather, the resources etc. to find clues into the needs of their tribe.

Define: This is an instance when I define for them. They need to design a shelter that would suit the needs of members of their tribe.

Ideate: As designers, I encourage them to go wild with sketches at this time - they can narrow down later. I remind them about encouraging each other’s ideas.

Prototype 1: Pick one or two designs to carefully draw and detail (I give them special paper). They must be labeled with the resources that would have been used by their tribe.

Test 1: We came up with helpful interview questions as a class. Then I paired groups with groups from other regions. They then needed to assist each other by interviewing each other about their design decisions. After that they may go to other groups and finally adjust their designs.

Prototype 2: The build. I provide all kinds of materials (raffia, popsicle sticks, glue, paint) and they bring in all kings of material (often found materials) and we build, build, build. This is obviously their favorite part. The room is a MESS! But it is a great mess with so much fabulous energy.

Test 2: The reveal. I then give them back resource materials but now these include the housing pictures and information. (The kids are really good about not looking into this beforehand.)

Reflection: I emphasize that I care more about their learning in their design experience and in their reflection than I do about how close they got to the actual shelter. In the reflection they need to analyze the differences in their designs to the real thing - also the resources and to think of why these differences exist.



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