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Blowing the woof off design thinking

Students help develop products to benefit dog rescues

Dogs make just about any assignment more appealing, but a recent project at Northern Trails ⅚ school blew the woof off the design thinking process.

Fifth graders were challenged to develop works of art that could be printed on a product and sold at the Raise the Woof event on Nov. 22 to benefit Hearts of Hope dog rescue of Grand Rapids.

Liam Rozier shows his water bottle design

Students formed groups of three to six, then researched what products might sell best by interviewing Janelle McFarlane, Hearts of Hope founder. Next, they completed cost-profit analyses to determine which products would yield a good return on investment.

“We were going to do ornaments but those were pretty expensive,” said Anna Shaarda.

Channah Burgoyne explained her group’s choice to put their designs on a ball cap: “We thought it stood out because everybody else was doing stuff like mugs and bottles,” she said.

Ethan Han on the return on investment of his group’s magnet designs: “We’re selling them for $4 each but they only cost like $2 to make, so the profit’s like, double.”

Each group created mock-ups of their products and a pitch to present to four judges: McFarlane; Northern Trails Principal Susan Gutierrez; Matt Dowdy, art director for the Gilmore Collection; and Gerry Verwey, design thinking coordinator at Kent ISD. 

Jessica Liu with her loveable canine art

‘Incredible Soft Skills’

Last summer, art teacher Stephanie Cionca attended a workshop at Kent ISD called “Design Thinking: Teachers In Industry,” where she learned how to engage students in the process while partnering with community leaders and area businesses to solve real-world problems. 

Gutierrez applauded the use of design thinking in the classroom, adding, “what’s key is to study and examine the needs of the end user. Working as a team and integrating art into the design thinking, there are incredible soft skills our students have gained.”

Said Verwey: “It was a wonderful exercise for (Cionca’s) students to practice building empathy, defining a problem, ideating and going through prototypes with feedback, all for the benefit of an excited community partner.”

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering East Grand Rapids, Forest Hills and Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio or email Morgan.

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