STEAM course introduces students to human-centered design

Bethel Park School District  |  Posted on
picture BPHS students connect an electronic invention tool called a Makey-Makey to a circuit they designed to play a song.

BPHS students connect an electronic invention tool called a Makey-Makey to a circuit they designed to play a song.

Introductory STEAM is a new semester-long course being piloted at Bethel Park High School (BPHS) as an elective for ninth-graders. This class takes an interdisciplinary approach to teaching science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics (STEAM). A team of teachers share the responsibility of designing and presenting the coursework. The team includes science teacher Lee Cristofano, music teacher Jonathan Derby, and English teacher and instructional technology coach Charles Youngs who collaborate using a project-based approach to introduce the students to STEAM concepts focusing on human-centered design.

Human-centered design requires students to think critically and solve problems by examining ways that can make life better. BPHS students work through the same processes as professional designers and makers. Projects thus far have included inventions, building robotic vehicles with LittleBits electronics, conductive sewing, paper circuitry, and virtual reality video recording and editing. The course work takes place in any of three innovation studios, classroom spaces specially outfitted for STEAM-related learning activities. Using the human-centered design process, students begin planning their projects with a series of divergent, critical thinking and brainstorming activities. Next, they consider how people would interact with a proposed innovation. They do so by observing, interviewing, and researching prospective users and their needs. Students prototyped and presented their designs, which included such ideas as a portable backpack grill, a lunch box that heats and cools food, a school participation reward app, and a smart locker filled useful gadgets.

A key part of human-centered design is user experience, having empathy for the user, and thinking of how one’s innovation can make life better for people. To improve their designs students have to consider the world around them. Collaboration is important. While some assignments are individual, most projects require students to work together as they brainstorm, plan, prototype and test their ideas.