DIAMOND BAR, CA—Chaparral Middle School students were given a design challenge that took some imagination during the second week of school. Seventh graders in the Design-Based Learning (DBL) core were tasked with building a wall perch for a two-inch pompom named Harry. The innovative designs needed to have good visibility (so the tiny ball of fluff could see every face in the class), be safe so he wouldn’t fall off, and feature creative architecture. After learning about the engineering process, scientific method, and DBL process, students compared and contrasted the systems using Venn diagram circles. “They realized there are a lot of similarities,” said science teacher Jennifer Najera. The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) integrates the engineering design process as an important element in science. “I think the engineering process helps people think creatively about problems and is a great way to tackle just about any project!” she said. With just two class periods to complete the assignment, the small groups quickly got busy planning, building, testing, and improving their designs. Teams needed to make creations come alive using limited resources of cardstock, construction paper, tape, glue, plastic cup, rubber band, plastic spoon, and paper clip.
On Monday, groups presented the crafty projects in front of classmates who would later be voting for the design that best met the criteria. One group created a hot air balloon that gave Harry a 360-degree view of the class. Another showed off a three-tier hideaway featuring a rubber band swing, windows, and throne. “We kept him safe by adding walls and made sure he could see, but not fall off,” said Nathan Chang. Another team added a hammock to Harry’s cozy home. “We really liked the idea of having a hammock for Harry,” said Clarissa Lee Baladejo. “We thought it would be cool and didn’t think anyone else would make one out of a spoon, rubber band, and paper!” “And there’s a slide on the back so Harry can roll down from his throne into his home!” added Mikaya Griego. She shared that the final project had noticeably changed from the original plan. “It had a cage on top to hang the swing from – but that didn’t work!” “It wasn’t easy, but in the end, it came together!” Lee Baladejo added. “The winner of the Good Design Award will be on display all year so that Harry can watch over my students!” Najera said. The innovative DBL program launched at the Diamond Bar school nearly 20 years ago has been recognized with a prestigious Golden Bell Award by the California School Boards Association.“A lot of times people think all we do is build in DBL,” said Najera who emphasized that students make connections to their designs using standards across multiple curricular areas.“Attaching content to each project allows students to create deeper meaning and retain information longer,” she added. The inaugural class assignment this year, called Never Before Seen, in which students created pintsize art objects to subtly illustrate their unique personality and interests. The 35 projects ranged from colorful designs with spiral shapes to dark geometric models. “This is the core of DBL,” Najera said standing at the display. “If you were just to look at it, you wouldn’t know the meaning.”The Chaparral students said they prefer the collaborative style of learning.“It’s really cool how we have a lot of hands-on projects and it’s really good for different types of learners,” said Aslin Choi. “I’m a picture-smart person and I love working with people!” “We have a lot of group projects in DBL,” said Ryan Wallace, a second-year student in the specialized core. “Last year we used green screens, made films, and did a news broadcast,” he added. “It’s better than doing it by the book. It makes the learning fun and not boring!”