How might a Design Challenge prepare students for real-life By Mrs. Leipelt’s 1st grade


How might a Design Challenge prepare students for real-life projects where skills such as collaboration, persistence and problem solving are critical?  Katherine Smith 1st graders were up for the challenge as they participated in our first ever Design Day. The Design Day challenge began with the book “Cat Up A Tree.”   First graders had a clearly defined problem, but the challenge became designing a well-made parachute that would safely get their gummy cat down to the ground.  The two requirements were:

  1. the parachute had to descend slowly so their “clients” would land safely and
  2. their clients also needed a place to sit so they could enjoy the view on the way down.

Phase 1

Once the materials were examined, teams of 3 began designing a plan.  Working together, they had to visualize how the items they had could be put together and they sketched out their designs.  Henry called this the “blueprint.”


Phase 2

Construction of the parachute.  As team members negotiated about what would work and what wouldn’t, designs were constantly being modified.  One group used playing cards to design a basket to hold the cat.  Another group used the bag the materials came in as their basket.  A third team used string as a seatbelt on a single flat playing card and then decided the cat may still fall out and so they designed a basket.

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Phase 3

Finally, it was time to test the prototypes.  We went out to the playground where teams watched the descent of each parachute.  Once on the ground, they eagerly checked to see if their clients were still safe inside.

Watch this parachute make it safely to the ground:

Student Reflections

The following is a reflection by students of how Design Day went, not just in terms of their project design, but how they worked together as a team.

I liked the part of Design Day when we went outside and we got our parachute and tested to see if the kitty would fall out. — Geselle

I liked how we all worked together in a team because we all got to have fun making our parachute. –-Kelenna

I liked that we made the parachute because it was fun for the whole class.-Kimberly

I like how it landed carefully and we all worked hard on it. — Roneil

I liked how we got to build the bottom and the top of the parachute. – Leilani

I learned we can make things by ourselves.  — Henry

I learned trying to make something and being persistent can be good and if we make a mistake, it’s o.k. — Kassandra

Well said, Kassandra.  Persistence, innovation and collaboration were at the heart of this project and these are the skills we know every student will need.  Katherine Smith Habits are alive and well in Design Day thinking.


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