When I think about connecting making and literacy, it is easy for me to see how making and reading go together: we make to read and read to make all the time. Writing is a little trickier. The most obvious connection is to How To writing; students can write directions for how to make something. I felt, though, that there had to be a way to make a deeper connection. This summer I read a book by an educator making that connection: Angela Stockman. Her book Make Writing covers how to approach writing as a maker. In this terrific book she provides guidance in making writing a hands on, physical, iterative process. I highly recommend it.

cover of make writing

This book came to me via a colleague, Shea Cupit, with whom I love to collaborate. She was using this book to work on an SLO around writing and asked if there was a way to have an actual making or design experience that went along with the writing. As she described her model for the narrative writing — hook, describe the problem, describe the solution, describe the outcome — I thought about how naturally this fit in with the design process. What if, I wondered, we used a design challenge as a jumping off point for writing a narrative? Students could participate in a design challenge, then, as a group, write a narrative about that challenge that could serve as a model for personal narrative writing.

So, last week we got started. My goal for the day was for kids to identify a problem in our school that they wanted to solve. This challenge was inspired by the Stanford D. School’s Redesign the School Lunch Experience challenge. We began by watching a PBS Design Squad clip about students who identified daily problems — small desks and earbud cords getting hooked — and the clever solutions they designed. I showed this so that kids would have a sense of what kind of problems that they could try to solve. I really like this video because it is so relatable to kids.

Then each kid needed to identify three small problems they faced in their daily lives at school. They wrote their ideas on sticky notes.

Design Challenge: Hack Your School What is one thing you wish worked better at school? Step 1: On your own, think of THREE things that just kind of bug you or you feel could work/run better.
The challenge

Then Mrs. Cupit and I put the kids into groups. Together they looked at what they had that was the same and what was different. Then they settled on one problem for which they will design a solution.


Handout asking kids to identify what was the same in their ideas.


They decided on things like: wishing they could rock their chairs, marker caps getting lost, and the lines on the basketball court being faded. Now that they have a problem, I will ask them to come up with a problem statement. This comes directly from the Stanford D. School and is intended to help them clarify their thinking.

Our class  needs a way to  _______________________________________________________________________________________  because ________________________________________________________________________________________________________,  but _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________  Example: The teachers need a way to keep the staff room refrigerator clean because there is not enough room for everyone’s lunch,  but people never remember to bring home their old food.

Once they have crafter their problem statements, we will start designing our solutions. I can’t wait to see what they come up with!

What I learned and what I would change: We put the kids into groups based on where they were sitting. Some groups did a great job of either settling on one problem or combining ideas into a larger problem. Other groups had more trouble. I think if I were going to do it again I would ask kids to try to find other people who had the same problem(s) that they did so that they would all be on board from the start. Compromise is important, too, and the other option would be to build in more time for instruction in how to work together to come to consensus.


Narrative Problem Solving
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