Teacher Professional Development: Design Slam Your Learning Space

Introduction: Teacher Professional Development: Design Slam Your Learning Space

About: Tinkercad is a free and easy, browser-based 3D design and modeling tool for all. Tinkercad allows anyone to imagine anything and then design it in minutes.

This has been written by Autodesk Tinkercad as a resource to support school leaders, teacher leaders, and other teacher trainers in facilitating professional development for K12 educators.

Skills taught:

Educators will leave this session with strategies for engaging students to:

  • Apply design thinking methods to a real-world problem.
  • Practice design and technical skills in a fun and nurturing environment.
  • Develop an entrepreneurial mindset in communicating their ideas to an authentic audience.

Session overview:

Design Slams are a challenge of creativity, skill, and presentation. They introduce the design process by creating a fun environment for participants to look at problems differently and pursue solutions based on quick decision-making. Regardless of their skill level, participants have the opportunity to apply their design- and critical- thinking skills and pitch their ideas in a visible gathering that promotes youth leadership, industry and community involvement, and innovation. This session will include an overview of the design thinking process and tools educators can use to engage young people in applying this mindset to a real-world problem through a Design Slam.

This professional development can be easily applied to the classroom by educators through using this complementary instructional resource: Teach Your Students to Make a Difference through Design

Estimated instructional time: 4-6 hours

Sample schedule for a four-hour session:

  1. Pose the challenge & begin ideating [15 min.]
  2. Provide some training and get hands-on [60 min.]
  3. Introduce and apply a design thinking framework [30 min.]
  4. Imagine, Design, Make session [45 min.]
  5. Introduce and apply an entrepreneurial mindset [45 min.]
  6. Pitch session [45 min.]


  • Slideshow
  • Shared folder of facilitator resources
  • Computers, internet, Tinkercad (a free, easy-to-use, web-based 3D CAD design tool)
  • Optional: Computers with Fusion 360 installed; computer mice; craft supplies; whiteboard space or chart paper and markers

Step 1: Pose a Challenge

How can schools and other learning spaces foster the culture and conditions that shift mindsets from passive to active learning? Design Slams are one way of doing this!

During this session, your colleagues will participate in a Design Slam and, through doing so, will learn how to bring the event—and the design thinking process—to their students.

To help your colleagues practice this skill, we’ve identified a challenge for educators to address that we believe can be applicable to many settings: How might we reimagine and reinvent learning spaces to better support student learning?

In order to integrate technical skills, we have created the following design prompts for you to use. You may switch up the language however you please. The first employs Tinkercad only; the second supports educators in making the jump from Tinkercad to Fusion 360 (discussed in Step 8.) Both emphasize how teaching design can also develop students' communication skills, as well as an entrepreneurial mindset.

1. How might we redesign our learning spaces to encourage: collaboration, inclusion, equity, and joy? Create a model that illustrates your design. Develop a pitch that tells the story of how your design solves a problem for students in a new way.

2. Create a model in Tinkercad of an object, space, or concept that would improve your students’ learning environment. Render it in Fusion 360. Develop a pitch that tells the story of how your design solves a problem for students in a new way.

Depending on the time you have allotted and the interests and comfort with technology of your participants, you may set aside some time for sketching on paper or even constructing 3D models with craft supplies before jumping into CAD.

Here is a slideshow you may use to introduce the prompt. You may share the educator-created examples included in the resource folder to clarify what the end product could look like, or you may just use them for your own reference. You know your colleagues best!

Step 2: Provide Some Training and Get Hands-on

Tinkercad is a valuable resource for educators and students to bring their ideas from mind to design in minutes. It is also a FREE, easy-to-use, browser-based creativity tool for teaching 3D design and more! (Did we mention FREE?!)

You may introduce Tinkercad and its practical application in the classroom by sharing this quick (3-5 minute) presentation (with speaker notes.) This is an easy way of illustrating how teaching Tinkercad is a useful tool for fostering an innovative learning environment for students (that is also aligned with ISTE standards.)

After you have established some instructional context for using Tinkercad, let your colleagues try out some moves through these short starter lessons. Completing all seven should take no more than 30 minutes, and once they have mastered the basics, they should be ready to begin their own creations.

Allow about an hour for brainstorming and designing in Tinkercad before you move on to the next Step. Participants may work individually or in pairs. Because one of the objectives is for learners to gain technical skills, you should not allow for teams bigger than two or three people, so that everyone has a chance to get hands on with the technology.

Step 3: Introduce a Design Thinking Framework

In the world of design, problem = opportunity.

There are many different frameworks that are called "design thinking" with mostly subtle variations; the most important constant is that it has a human-centered core—meaning that the first and most critical step in the process involves empathizing with the end user of whatever it is you are designing.

After participants have had a chance to generate some ideas and explore them using prototyping materials and design tools, it is now a great time to remind them about the end user and to prompt them to develop a more detailed plan for solving a problem that is relevant to the theme of this Design Slam.

The Innovator's Compass, a framework created by Ela Ben-Ur, is a highly learnable, uncomplicated approach that helps people find better ways to move forward that are grounded in the principles that matter most.

Pictured below is another great tool from the Design Museum Foundation for creating an empathy map with even the littlest learners.

You might give participants the choice of using either of these graphics to compose their thoughts at this stage.

If you are interested in learning more about the principles of design thinking and its application in a school setting, this Instructable provides a deep dive.

Step 4: Imagine, Design, Make

Move it. Size it. Scale it. Group it. This is a chance for your colleagues to demonstrate 3D design literacy and show off their skills. For more information on this, here is a great resource for getting students acting and talking like real design professionals.

In addition to technical skills, this design challenge is also meant to empower your colleagues as innovators. Encourage them to use their imagination to challenge the status quo - to show creativity, cleverness, and simplicity in exploring form and function.

Remind them that their end product should also make an impact: Design can be a super power in addressing real-world problems. They should continuously stay grounded in the needs and goals of the end user: Students!

When they have completed their designs, they will also be expected to tell their design story. While they are immersed in the design process, you may pause them periodically to stop and reflect: What did you learn? Why should others care? Why does your design matter? How could it make the learning environment better?

If possible, this is a great opportunity for industry professionals—such as architects or engineers or designers—to work side-by-side with educators. You might be surprised by how eager those in other professional communities are to get into schools to network with educators, learn from them, and support their work. Give it a try!

Depending on your schedule, at this point in the process you should allow your colleagues some time to revisit their design ideas and iterate based on their design thinking process.

Step 5: Infuse an Entrepreneurial Mindset

Steve Wozniak. Alexander Graham Bell. Lin-Manuel Miranda. What do they all have in common? In addition to being innovators, they were all once teachers too!

Every day as an educator, you are thinking on your feet, testing hypotheses, solving complex problems in new ways, bringing ideas into reality, and empowering others to be creative. You are a natural innovator!

Similar to design thinking, thinking like an entrepreneur means looking at the world through the lens of opportunity. It also means failing fast and learning from mistakes, finding new ways to create value, and turning ideas into action.

As your colleagues are wrapping up the first iteration of their designs, you should start getting them ready to share their ideas with a wider audience. Most good entrepreneurial pitches include a value proposition.

A value proposition* should aim to:

  • Acknowledge the problem and pains felt by your target audience
  • Show an understanding of their needs and hopes
  • Quantify the benefits of your product
  • Highlight the difference between your solution and the status quo

At this point, they should shift into creating a "pitch deck" that expresses the value of their design by explaining the problem they are addressing and highlighting specific features of the design that attempt to solve it. For the sake of time, they may use this template from which to build their decks.

You may also share a quick example of how a real startup (Ori Systems) illustrates their value proposition (One room. A hundred ways.) without using any words.

3D modeling software like Tinkercad and Fusion 360 can also be a powerful entrepreneurial storytelling tool. Read more about this in the Tinkercad blog.

Step 6: Set the Stage for the Pitch

Once your colleagues are done composing their design stories, there should be time for each team to present to the larger group for feedback and validation. If possible, it would be beneficial to also invite other stakeholders, such as students, industry and community partners, or school leaders to hear the teams' ideas and offer feedback.

If you haven't yet already, be sure to review the scoring rubric with participants and those offering feedback before the presentations.

Step 7: (Optional) Build Context About How This Challenge Aligns With the Future of Work

Young people are interacting with the designed world every day. More and more, they will also be engaging with its "digital twin"—a digital replica of a living or non-living physical entity.

This may sound a bit creepy to you, but, for students—especially those already immersed in virtual environments like video games—this concept of a bridge between the physical and digital world is not so foreign.

Spark a discussion about the Future of Work

Imagine a game in which lessons are learned and opportunities are uncovered that can be applied to the physical world. The video at the top of this step illustrates how "digital twins" are being used today in a similar manner. In addition to CAD, other technologies like sensors, connected devices, AI, and machine learning are allowing for the analysis of data and monitoring of systems to curb problems before they even occur, troubleshoot inefficiencies, and even plan for the future by using simulations.

This video and the other resources linked in this slideshow could provide a springboard for discussion amongst your colleagues about how emerging technologies and trends like automation and computational design will shape the job landscape your students will one day enter. How must educators adapt to this change? What skills should be emphasized? How could schools be redesigned to better support this type of learning?

Make a real-world industry connection

You could also emphasize correlations between design thinking and other more industry-specific methodologies like the engineering mindset, the architectural design process, or lean manufacturing or construction. You may even invite in a local industry professional for a discussion on this topic. (A sample agenda for this workshop format is included in the slide show for this Step.)

STEAM is a rich stew of science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics that is intersecting with industries in exciting ways. For example, in the construction industry, the digitization of the built environment results in new types of jobs and new types of skills, like modeling and managing BIM data. In the manufacturing industry, better collaboration between designers, manufacturing workers, and robots can not only increase the quality of output and productivity on factory floors, but also save workers from monotonous and often dangerous work.

Tinkercad and Fusion 360 are great learning vehicles for students to quickly turn ideas into CAD models and demonstrate their 3D design literacy.

Model the change that is needed

As an educator, you are essential to bridging the skills gap we face. Employers are reporting the highest talent shortages since 2007. Employment growth is projected across sectors beyond high tech, including health care, construction, and certain manufacturing segments. Increasingly, the roles within these fields will require skills that are:

  • technical
  • social
  • creative
  • non repetitive
  • some combination of the above...

We hope that this Design Slam is a compelling example for how to model the integration of these skills for your colleagues—and for the next generation!

Step 8: (Optional) Level Up the Tech Skills With Fusion 360

Raise your hand if you like coloring! How about in 3D?

Here's a supplemental resource for you elevate your colleagues' CAD skills by teaching them how to enhance their designs using Fusion 360.

Step 9: Celebrate Innovative Thinking and Real-world Application

Isn't it amazing what educators can create when given the time and space to really innovate? Designing with purpose fuels this spirit.

Are your colleagues ready to pass this torch to students?

Recently, we published a series of lessons meant to help teachers of all grade levels lead a Design Slam with their students. Here's an overview:

Grades preK-5:Make for Everyone asks, How might we redesign our public spaces to encourage inclusivity and foster community?

Grades 6-8:Make It Green asks, How might we use design to address climate change?

Grades 9-12:Make Justice asks, How might we use design to address: affordable housing, disaster relief, and/or equitable access to resources?

The opportunity to reimagine the THINGS we make, and how we MAKE them is now. Thank you for leading the way for the next generation of innovators!

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