GRASPS and Authenticity

When teaching design, we are asking the student to adopt the role of the designer. But for many, that is an unclear role. Students may be unclear about the aspects of their role and how to be successful in it.

A bigger question is the authenticity of the task-- Are we asking students to do something that would be done in the real world outside of the classroom? McTighe and Wiggins define a performance task as authentic if it "reflects the way in which people in the world outside of school must use knowledge and skill to address various situations where expertise is tested or challenged." This distinction helps frame the significance and relevance of the task for the student. Students can see the value of learning the content and developing a solution.

Having performance tasks that are clear and authentic also allow for better assessment - the expectations are clear and we (the teachers) can see evidence of transfer of knowledge and understanding--the synthesis of knowledge into a design solution.

Our program has been thinking about the authenticity of our tasks and units as we continue to develop the conceptual inquiry nature of our program. We have started to use the G.R.A.S.P.S. model to structure performance tasks to clarify expectations and goals, both for the teachers and the students. The assessment associated with the inquiry is structured around the following expectations and goals.

  • Goal: A definition of the problem or goal
  • Role: Define the role of the student
  • Audience: Identify the target audience
  • Situation: This is the context or scenario of the goal
  • Product: What is created and why it will be created
  • Standards: Rubrics or success criteria

A recent unit title Designing Like You Give A Damn, used this model to develop an open inquiry into issues of sustainability and global importance. On the Unit website, parts of the grasp model are made clear for the students.

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We are looking to further develop these as the framework for developing our units and assessment pieces, with the goal of moving towards authentic assessment and authentic tasks.

Guiding Principles: Dieter Rams' Principles for Good Design

As part of our inquiry into the role and purpose of design, grade 10s have been exploring Dieter Rams' Principles for Good Design.  These have provided us with a starting point from which to evaluate, articulate, and create designs that are meaningful, useful, and focused on the needs of the user.

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Through inquiring into these principles students explore their role as a student of design. Most importantly, they moved away from thinking of design as the making of attractive things, and towards the creating of meaningful solutions to authentic problems.

We began this process by generating our own list of criteria that made a design good. Then, we looked at Rams' principles and matched them to our own. Students then dove deeper, researching individual criteria, analyzing existing designs through the lens of the ten principles, and finally, creating a sketchnote showing their own understanding of the principles. 

Sketchnoting for understanding

The Diploma Design class has a lot of material to cover, much of it quite dense. The challenge, from the teacher's point of view, is to find a way to get students to engage in the content that is challenging, meaningful, and collaborative. 


We are experimenting with giant sketchnotes, as a form for researching and delving into knowledge. I've been interested in using sketchnotes for awhile as they hold great potential for organizing and reflecting upon knowledge.

Through this activity, students slow-down and consider how they will present the information they gather. This act of slowing down and reflecting is actually helping them process the information more quickly and deeply. Furthermore, just making the notes by hand and being off a digital device for a change encourages them to engage with the material in a fresh way.


Design Incubator for Personal Project


The MYP Personal Project is a major component for grade 10 students. It's an opportunity for them to delve into and research an area of their choice, and develop something that showcases their journey, knowledge, and understanding. It's a challenging project that depends on sustained motivation for it to be successful.

More and more of students girls are electing to do their personal project in a design-related area: coding, product design, or media. While the projects should be student-driven, we wanted to make sure they could have a team to lean on to help guide, motivate and support each other. The Design Incubator for Personal Project was born.

Lead by a small team of teachers, we've created several clusters. Students are grouped according to their design area (digital, industrial, or media); they are also grouped in mixed groups. Each group arranges meet-ups where they check in about their progress, discuss problems, and support each other. These meet-ups are student organized and led, and follow the grow-coaching model. As a teacher, it's been great to stumble across a meeting in the library or design room, and students are collaborating and supporting each other authentically on their personal projects.

Recently, some Grade 11's have taken over the incubator project and are leading it. It's now fully student-lead, with recent graduates of the MYP (the Grade 11s) mentoring and supporting the Grades 10s.  So far, the feedback from the students is that they feel more in control of their project, and that they are using each other for inspiration. 

BHX Exchange 2017

A great documentary showcasing the whole BHA/BHC team, students, and inquiry.

BHX Exchange Documentary

Design-Build: Wind Tunnel Test Chamber

For an upcoming interdisciplinary unit on wind turbine design, the main focus was collecting reliable data to inform iterations of the design. The best way to gather accurate data is to have reliable testing conditions. So we decided to build a Wind Tunnel Test Chamber.

Along with a team of grade nine students and a couple of teachers, we constructed a 3-part test chamber. Our first discovery in our research was that wind tunnels pull air, not blow air. This produced laminar flow, which has very low turbulence, and hence, a consistent wind speed at the contact surface of the blades.

Using what we had, we "re-purposed" some standing fans to build a wall of 16 fans to pull air into the chamber. New power boxes were 3D printed to contain the switches and wires we harvested from the fans. The 1.2 meter square test chamber was equipped with an anemometer to measure windspeed right in front of the prototypes.

The frame was built of wood, with corrugated plastic sheets used for the panels. The corrugated plastic is very light and easy to work with. 

Working alongside the grade nine girls, it was rewarding to see them develop their skills, confidence, and pride in working at such a large scale. It was a great opportunity for them to practically apply their geometry knowledge on a large scale and through manipulating materials.