Integrating design concepts into the classroom

Katherine Thomas, who is Notre Dame's International Baccalaureate-Middle Years Program coordinator and community project coordinator in the middle division, writes about how the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are integrating design into their core classes, a key component of the MYP program.

Design integration in the middle-school core curriculum
By Katherine Thomas

Concept cars, birthday parties, and the community project all have something in common: they all require the use of the "design cycle." They all start with a problem or a goal, and in order to be successful, must go through certain planning steps. 

For example, your daughter wants to have a 12th birthday party. You need to find a date that is available, decide on a theme, figure out a location, create a guest list, figure out from where the food is coming…the list goes on and on. Without realizing it, you are going through the steps of inquiring and analyzing, developing ideas, creating the solution, and then re-evaluating. This ability to go through planning steps is not something that is innate, it is a learned skill.

As an International Baccalaureate School, we are required to teach this skill through a design class. Rather than offering design as a stand-alone class, as we have in the past, it has been integrated into other core subjects in the middle division. In sixth grade, it’s a part of reading and writing, in seventh grade it is a part of world history, and in eighth grade it is a part of the science curriculum. This integration has provided the students with the opportunity to see the correlation between the design cycle and the subject specific work they are doing.

In sixth grade, students created “Take A Walk In My Shoes” posters using the design cycle. They learned how to create a proper layout, where to place pictures and information, and how to research the information that would be included.

In seventh grade world history, students are tasked with creating a genocide memorial. Using the design cycle, they will decide which genocide to commemorate, what medium their memorial will be made of, where it will be located and what it will look like.

In eighth-grade science, students will research board games to determine the best qualities for a periodic table board game. This research reinforces their scientific learning, while teaching the steps of creating a project from start to finish.

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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at