Empathy Meets Design-Thinking In The Maker Space

Riverdale Country School fifth graders became product designers this spring, making cardboard reading easels to meet the needs of their first-grade clients.

The project was inspired by the Adaptive Design Association, a non-profit organization that builds custom furniture, equipment, toys, and other items for infants and children with special needs. Many of the items are made out of thick corrugated cardboard, which is durable, inexpensive, and recyclable. In 2015, Alex Truesdell, Adaptive Design’s founder and executive director, won a MacArthur “genius” award for her work.

The work with Adaptive Design was a natural fit for Riverdale. The school’s approach to character education emphasizes empathy, kindness, and respect, and a vibrant “maker” culture encourages innovation and design thinking.

In February, five teachers attended a workshop at the organization in which they learned how to measure, cut, assemble, and decorate objects out of corrugated cardboard. The teachers included Stacey Cummings, Lee Pearson and John Mueser, who teach fifth grade; Rachel Beane, the Lower School technology integrator, and Laurie Bartels, the Lower School STEAM integrator and environmental education facilitator.

Groups of fifth graders then were tasked with making a cardboard reading easel/book carrier for a first grade “client.” The group interviewed each client and assessed the client’s needs and preferences for size, decoration, and comfort.

After learning proper safety measures, the students made measurements and cuts to cardboard according to their custom design. They glued the pieces together and once the easels were dry, decorated them with paint, sparkles, and stickers. The project culminated with each group presenting the finished, personalized easel to their first-grade client.

Does your school do something similar?

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