School cafeteria redesign (SUMMATIVE ASSESSMENT)

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This is a performance-based summative assessment lasting for two class periods that includes all major objectives for the unit. It assesses students' proficiency for each of the following: 1) understanding a partner's needs; 2) conducting an empathy interview; 3) developing a ¨how might we?¨ question for a partner's needs; 4) developing rapid prototype solutions; 5) building a rapid prototype of an idea; 6) testing the prototype against user needs; 7) iterating on the prototype design; 8) self-assessing mastery of engineering design thinking skills; and 9) reflecting on the engineering design process.

Big Idea

Students must practice all aspects of the engineering design process in real time for a teacher to assess mastery. How might we assess students' mastery of engineering design thinking through a real-world design?

FRAME: A performance-based assessment created for identified student needs

The model for this assessment is a core activity of the Stanford d school.  My purpose is to assess students' proficiency with engineering design thinking.  Because this is a process that produces products, I chose to create this assessment as an actual design challenge.  As such, my assessments of students will focus both on artifacts (writing, prototype creation) and behavioral observations.

One move I made in creating this exam was to first survey students about something they would change in school.  While there was no clear majority, more students identified the cafeteria/lunch experience more than any other part of the school.  I probed students through an Edmodo discussion to understand their needs as best I could.  Some student responses are in the attached screenshot.  My final decision to focus on a sustainable cafeteria experience was made to bridge the engineering design thinking skills we have developed in this course with the content focus of upcoming units.

A more sustainable lunch

5 minutes


This is the first of a two class period final.  Students will engage in a real-time engineering design process.  The warm-up activity will be for students to draw a sustainable cafeteria.  They will use the follow description to aid their effort:

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, “Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment.” (source: Accessed on 3 October 2012)

 I will display the attached image at the front of the room as a visual reminder for students of the purpose of this opening activity.

Real-world design challenge: The sustainable cafeteria (part 1)

50 minutes


I will facilitate a discussion of the opening activity with the class.  My goal is to determine our feelings about a sustainable cafeteria experience.  I will end with a question: What step of the engineering design process did I just perform?  

I will explain that my attempts to empathize are exactly what we will be doing for the next two days. To summarize our course so far, I review with students all that we have learned so far about the stages of the engineering design process.  I will then describe the sustainable cafeteria design challenge.  How might we create a sustainable cafeteria experience for our design partner?  I will assign student pairs in advance, and project pairings.  I will use my observations of classroom dynamics and knowledge of classroom relationships to pair students that do not regularly interact, but will have a functional classroom relationship.


This activity will happen over two days.  On the first day, I will guide students through the completion of the following tasks:

  1. Interview
  2. Dig deeper
  3. Capture findings
  4. Define problem statement
  5. Sketch at least five radical ways to meet your user's needs

I will assess students with the attached rubric.

NOTE: The goal of this first day is to identify a prototype solution for a more sustainable cafeteria experience.  Some students may choose to focus on a solution that is not easy to develop as a physical prototype.  I will end the first day by telling students that they will be building a prototype during day two of the assessment and that they are encouraged to assess their own ideas for how easy they would be to prototype.


Teachers interested in learning how to facilitate this process should explore this video from the Stanford d school that provides directions for a similar process.

NOTE: I do not play music during this process as students will either be distracted or will argue with whatever I choose.


Empathy interview: A student discuss cafeteria food

Rapid prototypes: Students assess rapid prototype ideas (there is a background hum of focused activity)

Sample student submissions: Day 1


Attached are a few of the written artifacts from this final.  I want to stress again that these artifacts are one aspect of the assessment process.  Observations of student behavior are equally as important.  For this reason, I actively circulate and make observational assessments of student proficiency throughout the final.  


Real-world design challenge: The sustainable cafeteria (part 2)

50 minutes


For this second day, students build prototypes, test prototypes with intended users, iterate, and reflection on the process.  Again timing is strict.  For supplies, I gave student groups spaghetti, index cards, paper clips, rubber bands, paper bags, string, tape, and scissors.   


Developing prototypes


Baby shark tank peer review


Self-assessment and debrief (Day 2)

10 minutes

To close this exam, students answer reflection questions and self-assess.  

Attached are some representative samples of reflection questions.  These are useful as both assessment data and teacher feedback.  For instance, I noticed that many students still do not accurately connect design mindsets to process.  This tells me immediately that I need to improve that part of my practice.

Also attached is the rubric that students use to self-assess each part of the exam.  I will compare self-assessments with my own assessment to identify areas where there is disagreement.  These areas become the focus of my feedback, as differences indicate that a student does not understand their level of proficiency.

The rubrics used for this unit are a work in progress.  A promising lead for future iteration comes from the K12 lab.  Currently, the engineering design thinking rubrics I use suffer from an abstraction bias.  What exactly is, for instance, a "surprising new insight"?  How might I better communicate expectations for that sort of description of proficiency within a mastery-based assessment structure?