Design Thinking Project with Grade 4 Students

As the stars aligned two things happened a few months ago. Our music  teacher was going to throw out some old musical instruments and Grade 4 were doing a unit on the global impact of consumer choices.

We decided that we would get each Grade 4 class to create a sculpture or piece of art to brighten up our campus grounds repurposing the musical instruments. Going through the steps of the design thinking process allowed for flexibility in creating ideas but also structure. Here’s what we did.


We showed each class the amount of instruments they would have as a class to create something with. We also gave 4 design parameters that the sculpture could incorporate but it was up to the students if they chose to include any of those or not. We also showed a quick video of an artist who created various sculptures with thrash to get the creative mindsets kickstarted.

Empathise and Define

Why would we choose to create a sculpture for our school grounds? Who would benefit from this and why is that important? This wasn’t a sculpture just for each class to enjoy so what must you think about when designing for other people in our campus?


We had each class get their thoughts out on our writable walls and desks to get a thinking about why we were undertaking this activity. When all groups were finished we presented our findings as a class. From this initial thinking the thoughts of our students became a little more refined in what they might want to design.


It was a good first step and the students had some interesting initial thinking about why the project would be worthwhile and who it would benefit.

Ideate, Prototype, Test

We went through all these steps before we even started creating our final product. We wanted each student to come up their own unique idea, present it to the class with why and how they chose their design idea, and then the class would vote on the best idea. It was fitting that they had just finished a unit on governments so they had a chance to put democracy into practise.


As this was project was facilitated between myself and the art teacher we wanted the students to sketch out the musical instruments before putting down their ideas. This would get them to explore the texture and the shape of the instruments and develop an understanding of how they worked and how they could be used in another form.

Then students could sketch out and annotate their designs.


One of the interesting parts of this process was that even when the perceived deadline had passed students were coming up with last minute changes and brand new ideas. One of the winning ideas (the solar system idea) was thought up in a last minute moment of inspiration.

Students then presented their ideas to their classmates with the reasoning behind the idea and how they think they would make it. They then faced some grilling questions from their classmates!


Then came the democratic vote; you could vote twice (once for yourself if you wanted). As teachers this was the hardest to sit through as we had our favourites and, yes, the ones that would be the most achievable with the resources available. As it was, the students voted for ones we felt were probably the strongest ideas. The winning votes were for wind chimes, a new bell system, and a model of the solar system.

So then the building began. There were many things happening at once, mainly painting and manipulating the instruments as the students progressed to ensure they could fit together in its final form.


Some of the projects were more painting orientated than the rest; namely the bell system and the planets. We weren’t overly worried about the students not experiencing dismantling or sawing and drilling as this was the natural progression of their ideas. The wind chime class did have to get the saws and drills out though!

So after a few weeks of creating the final products were revealed and the wind chimes are chiming, the bell replacement system is clanging (sometimes), and the solar system model is educating our guests and fellow students.


Looking back on it, it was stressful at times to give the students control over the direction as we knew our resources were limited somewhat. We made it work and the students enjoyed seeing their final creations around our campus. The solar system was used as a provocation in Grade 4’s later unit on the earth’s position in space, the wind chimes are enjoyed by our visitors to our garden, and the bell replacement system gets rattled every now and again but the bells still ring. Maybe upon reflection the students can amend that design to make it more appealing to use….

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