Sharla Krell
Architecture and Design, Environmental Science, Graphic Arts, Visual Arts, World Cultures, Environmental Studies, Educational Technology, Cultural Geography
Material Type:
Activity/Lab, Lesson Plan
Upper Primary, Middle School
  • Design Process
  • STEM
  • License:
    Creative Commons Attribution

    Creatively Navigating the Design Process With Disaster Islands

    Creatively Navigating the Design Process With Disaster Islands


    Used as an introductory activity in an Exploratory Makerspace and STEAM class, this project is designed to be an introduction to using all steps of the Design Process. Students will work through these steps to identify the problem, imagine a solution, create a plan, build (an island), test and evaluate their solutions.

    After we talk about these six steps, students are encouraged to solve the simple problem of building an island.  As an instructor, I emphasize that this can be any type of island using any materials we have available, encouraging strong personal choice.  

    Solve the Initial Problem

    Working in pairs, build an island using a box lid for a base. 

    What is an "Island?"  Each group gets to choose... (We've had naval bases, farms, vacation paradises, haunted houses, etc.  If you can imagine it, you can build it.)

    You'll have 1-2 class periods to explore all our supplies and create your perfect island.

    Reimagining the Problem

    I make two copies of the challenge cards, cut them out and laminate them.  During class, I leave them face down on a table in front of the classroom for students to draw from whenever they feel ready.  I'm also really flexible with their choosing... if they draw the volcano card, but a volcano is already part of the island, they can choose another.  Same if they draw the tourism card, but have created a tourist paradise already.  I also encourage drawing multiple challenge cards if there is time.

    After you feel like your island is complete, draw one or more challenge cards.  Each card poses a situation that must be addressed on the island by adding additional features.

    For example..."A volcano is erupting; build shelter."  or  "Pirates are invading; build something to scare them off."

    Look at your islands in a new way and add to your islands by creating solutions to the challenge card problems.  Once you complete one challenge, you can continue to choose and complete more challenges with time leftover.

    You have one class period to complete these challenges.


    We save our Flipgrid videos and generally watch them together so they can see all the creative island options.  If we have time constraints, then I encourage them to watch videos outside of class.

    We've also presented the islands orally and written reflections as an email... which is another good option to use to teach email format and etiquette.

    Islands also spend a couple weeks on display in the library so the rest of the building can enjoy them.

    At the end of the project, take some time to reflect on how things went.  Did you solve your problem?  Did you build an island?  Did you solve your challenge(s) by adding to your island?

    Using Flipgrid, create a short video to answer these questions...

    First, introduce yourselves and explain the plans for your original island.   Point out unique features and show off the completed project.

    Second, share the challenge card(s) and explain how you reimagined the island to address the challenges.