Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Design Thinking unit, students discover the steps of the Design Thinking process, and then use that process to design and build a product to rescue a stranded sloth.

Lesson Overview

Medium hanging sloth 320Design Thinking Mystery: A Stranded Sloth!

In the solve, students discover that problem-solving is a process that involves brainstorming, prototyping, testing, refining designs and retesting. (40 mins)

Medium build 320Build a Tower & Discover the Design Thinking Process

Students will experience Design Thinking through the creation of a rescue tower challenge. They will create a reference booklet based on their reflection. The optional extension provides students with the opportunity to analyze famous engineering designs. (150 mins)

Medium pexels photo 126625Engineering Challenge! What will you build to save a sloth from a pit of hungry gators?

Students will use the design process to plan and test a solution in order to save a sloth, Dullis, from the tree. Students will use their solution to write a final page of the story from lesson 1. (160-170 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

3-5 ETS1-1
Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
3-5 ETS1-2
Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
3-5 ETS1-3
Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solution to better meet the criteria for success.
Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
  • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
  • Developing and Using Models

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Defining and Delimiting an Engineering Problem

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Influence of Science, Engineering, and Technology on Society and the Natural World

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Students may believe that Design Thinking is only used by engineers, but in fact this process is used in many areas and across many industries.
  • Learners may believe that since the steps of Design Thinking are presented in a specific order they must always follow them exactly as shown. Reinforce to students that Design Thinking is a creative process that may take different paths.
  • Students may initially think that a prototype should only be tested once. Emphasize to students that prototypes typically need to be tested and the design needs to be refined and retested a number of times before a final engineered product is produced. Through multiple tests, multiple variables can be identified and tested to make a more successful product.
  • Learners may be inclined to go with the first idea they come up with. Reinforce that brainstorming is a very important component to the process, and encourage students to be open to many ideas.
  • Students may not realize that prototypes need to use proper proportions and should be designed from similar materials to that of the actual engineered product to test efficiency of materials.


    • Design Thinking
    • Brainstorm
    • Ideate
    • Prototype
    • Test
    • Refine
    • Retest

Content Expert

  • Susie Wise
    Director of K12 Lab Stanford d.school


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout