Back to School with a Design Challenge Sprint

What would happen if your students or teachers created games or other experiences around character elements during a design sprint?

Photo of Jessica Lura
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Update or slight pivot (August 12, 2016)-- original posting was about running a design challenge & this update is an actual design challenge 

How might we design a fun and age-appropriate game that teaches our students character education? A Design Challenge

Running a design challenge around the character elements that your school and/or you use in your classroom. I actually ran this challenge with teachers but feel it would be just as beneficial running with students. I will indicate how I would modify it for students.

Before the Design Challenge:

1. Figure out amount of time needed/available

2. Have materials on hand for the prototyping part of the challenge

3. Think about your room set-up & how groups will be organized

4. Divide up participants into manageable group sizes. Each group will be creating a game.

With teachers, I divided up by grade level so that they were designing a game for a specific age of students. If doing with students, I would have them indicate the age of user they wanted to design for and then make groups around that information. Ideally, you also have students/classes at that age with whom your students could test their game.

During the Design Challenge

1. Empathy/Think about the users (about 10 minutes)

With teachers, they each identified a student to focus on when designing the game and shared the story of that student with the other group members. If doing with students, I would either 1. have the students observe students at that grade level (probably at recess) or talk to students at the grade level. If appropriate aged students are not available, I would find a sibling or have them brainstorm what it meant to be "____" age and create a list of attributes.

2. Define: (about 5 minutes)

The teachers defined a specific issue/pain point that they wanted to design the game around. 

3. Ideate/Brainstorm and Prototyping (about 30 minutes)

They spent 30 minutes brainstorming & creating paper prototypes (where they drew out ideas on paper). They had a bunch of materials they could use and we created constraints to push their thinking. We were actually at a store so they had a spending limit but also had to use some of the items from the store.

4. Build/Prototype (about 50 minutes)

They had about an hour to build out their ideas, keeping their student in mind as they do so.

5. Test & Feedback 

Groups were matched up (so two groups together) and completed the peer critique protocol about their games. For students, I would do both the protocol (middle schoolers with middle schoolers but would also test the games with users).

6. Redesign, Reiterate, Continue to Prototype (about 15 minutes)

7. Share Out and Reflection

Everyone set up their game and time was spent sharing playing each other's games. Then we reflected on what we learned about teaching our students our character elements and how to use the games in our classrooms (which most teachers said they were going do to)

Teachers also wrote letters to their future self as if it was June 2017, reflecting on the students and the impact playing the game and focusing on character made in their classrooms.

Slide deck I used with the teachers and then below are photos of the games

5th Grade


4th Grade
6th Grade


3rd Grade


Middle School
First Grade


Older Posting

As mentioned in some of the other brainstorms, students need opportunities to practice their character skills in authentic problem-solving situations. I can talk to students about showing respect but until a student is in a situation where he or she needs to show respect to someone he or she doesn't agree with, students may not know how they will actually react. And ideally, these situations can happen in a classroom so that it becomes a learning opportunity-- a space for conversation, reflection, and what I would do differently next time brainstorm/ideate. These situations are the "test"/the application of the skills learned (or not). 

So what if you started the school year off with a design challenge where students were asked to step up to the plate and show off what character skills they were coming into the grade level with (a pre-assessment if you will)? It would be an opportunity for them to show you and their classmates if they have the social-emotional skills to communicate and collaborate well; do they give up easily or show grit and a growth mindset? Are they curious? Full of zest for the project or do they just want you to tell them what to do? Can they work well with others or do they have no self-control?

As students are working on the design challenge, you can set norms and expectations around character skills you see they struggle with, either teaching in the moment or making notes about which character skills to come back to later.

You can draw attention to character strengths you want more students to emulate/practice/use-- "Joey shows curiosity around ___________--which is such an important character strength. Learning for fun and learning because you are interested in something is a skill that a lot of successful students process. Being able to identify what you are interested in can be a challenge for a lot of students. I hope that this year you will also be curious about different topics and that you will learn new topics and areas that interest you. We will have opportunities this year to explore our interests and learn how curiosity can help you in school and in your life."

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Photo of Valerie Lewis
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You mentioned that students would share what strengths or traits they are entering the school year with. What might we design to help them figure that out if they are uncertain themselves?