Design thinking challenge

Are your students ready to tackle a food system issue at home or in their school? The following guide will help you facilitate a structured design challenge in your classroom related to food at home, at school, or in the community.

About This Lesson

This is the final activity in the Flipside Science: Our Hungry Planet unit. Before implementing this design challenge in your classroom, it is recommended you start with the preceding activities in the unit.

If you are using this design challenge independently of the unit, your students can become more familiar with issues surrounding our global food system and some proposed solutions by watching the Our Hungry Planet videos.

Using This Design Thinking Guide

‘Design thinking’ is a structured method that can be used to create a product, or to develop and implement solutions to a problem. Through the design thinking process, students can “learn to sharpen the focus of problems by precisely specifying criteria and constraints of successful solutions, taking into account not only what needs the problem is intended to meet, but also the larger context within which the problem is defined, including limits to possible solutions” (Engineering Design in the NGSS for Middle School).

The goal of this design challenge is for students to practice design thinking and how to structure a design process. Honing one’s skills in the design thinking process takes a lot of practice!

The Design Challenge Levels outlined below are adapted from Design for Change’s design thinking toolkit. Each level can be printed off and given to students as a handout as they work through the challenge. Encourage students to keep track of their ideas and progress in a design notebook or on a blog.

How to Choose a Food Topic for your Design Challenge

Encourage your students to brainstorm together food system issues that they would feel empowered to tackle either at home, at school, or in their broader community. You can make this a whole class discussion, small group brainstorm, or individual homework. Check out examples of design challenge food topics on the Food Topic Design Challenge Spectrum that vary from one day challenges to week-long challenges.

Students should work through the challenge in groups. Choosing a challenge that incorporates the whole class can not only help your students build teamwork skills, but can bring comradery to your classroom as your students empower not only each other, but youth outside of their own communities through the sharing of their designs.

Guide for Students

Print out the following design thinking levels as individual worksheets for your students:

Design Challenge Level 1: What do you want to change?

Think about the different groups that you are a part of: your family, your school, your city, your extracurricular clubs or sports teams, etc. Think about the food system issues that might be present in one of these groups. How healthy are the snack options in your school vending machine? Is there a lot of uneaten food that gets thrown away after dinner at home? How many vegetarian options are there for lunch in your school cafeteria?

How do you get a feel for the situation? Discuss the following issues with your group, and keep track of your progress in your design notebooks or on your design challenge blog.

  • Choose an issue to focus on. Consider how much time you have to complete this design challenge.
  • Observe what’s going on and who is involved.
  • Reflect on what you notice and what concerns you.
  • What do you already know about the issue? What do you need to find out?
  • Interview those affected by the issue. Ask them questions to better understand what inspires and motivates them, what they value, and what their constraints are.


Design Challenge Level 2: How can you make a change?

Imagining change means brainstorming the possibilities. And the possibilities multiply when you can brainstorm without constraints. Thinking outside of the box and sharing your ideas can lead to highly successful and perhaps unforeseen solutions.

How do you decide on a design? Discuss the following issues with your group, and keep track of your progress in your design notebooks or on your design challenge blog.

  • Set yourself a time limit and brainstorm as many ideas as you can. Really go for it! Set a goal- 10, 20, 100 ideas? Make a list or draw pictures of anything that comes to mind, no matter how silly or impossible it might seem.
  • Share your ideas with others. Can any of your ideas be combined with someone else’s? Are there common themes or categories that your ideas can be organized into?
  • Vote on a subset of solutions. Draw out the pros and cons of each solution.
  • Vote on the best solution.


Design Challenge Level 3: Make the change!

Put your hard hats on! Now is the time to get to work. Remind yourself why you have accepted this challenge! What is motivating you to design a solution? Who is going to benefit or be impacted by your solution?

What do you need to take action? Discuss the following points with your group, and keep track of your progress in your design notebooks or on your design challenge blog.

  • Make a list of what resources you will need (supplies AND people) and where/how you will get them.
  • Draw up a plan for the steps that you will take to achieve your goal.
  • Divide up the work.
  • Draw up a timeline for your plan and set goals for completion.
  • Make it happen! Implement your plan.
  • Reflect on what happened. What worked? What didn’t work? What could you change? What did you learn?
Design Challenge Level 4: Share your experience

Congratulations on completing your design! You should be proud of your accomplishment and want to share it with others. Think about a time when someone else’s inspiring story has motivated you to take action. Inspire others to make changes and design solutions by sharing your own experience! How will you empower others? Discuss the following points with your group, and keep track of your progress in your design notebooks or on your design challenge blog.

  • Share your story at a school assembly.
  • Publish a blog that other youth can read.
  • Create a Facebook page to showcase your project.
  • Share your experience on Twitter. Encourage others to use the same hash tag to share their stories.
  • Post a short video onto Youtube about your solution.
  • Present your solution to the Principal or at a local community meeting.
  • Send your findings to your local newspaper, or invite a journalist in to your classroom.


For Teachers: Need some inspiration?

Watch stories of successful design thinking challenges in the classroom (from the Teaching Channel):

Or, read these stories:


Connections to the Next Generation Science Standards

NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas (Grades 6-8)

  • MS-ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth System

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices (Grades 6-8)

  • Defining and Delimiting Engineering Problems
  • Developing Possible Solutions
  • Optimizing the Design Solution
Our Hungry Planet: About This Unit

To feed our growing world, we need innovative solutions. In this unit, we'll explore environmental issues related to the food we grow and eat. We'll review topics from food waste to urban farming, and learn how simple choices we make impact our planet.

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Appropriate for: 6th Grade - 10th Grade
Standards for: 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Activity Time: 60 minutes
Subjects: Constructing Explanations, Earth & Space Science, Engineering & Technology, Flipside Science