Unit Synthesis: prototype + test + iterate (2 of 4)

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Students will be able to: 1) use evidence to articulate the importance of social-emotional learning skills; 2) create a prototype contract that outlines a solution to a personal social-emotional need; and 3) flash publicize the key ideas of their contracts.

Big Idea

Tenets of social and emotional learning are powerful constraints of engineering design thinking. How might we develop student contracts that maximize self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationships skills, and responsible decision making?

FRAME: SEL continued...

Students continue the process of developing solutions to needs within an SEL constraint structure.  The goal for today is that students will create prototype contracts for use during the remainder of the semester.  These contracts articulate students' ideas for changing behavior to develop competency in an SEL category.

Teachers are assess students' ability to rapidly prototype effective solutions using the engineering-design thinking process.  Teachers also assess students understanding of SEL competencies as design constraints.  Finally, teachers gain an understanding of how to support students in the future.  

This lesson can surface a number of students' skills deficiencies.  The guidelines section at the end provides some suggestions for how to provide effective feedback for students.

Why social-emotional learning?

12 minutes


Students will examine models that connect social-emotional learning as a design constraint with effective social-emotional learning design prototypes.  

Overview of activity

Students learn about some of the research supporting social-emotional learning from a Chicago school case study.  Students also understand some of the ideation strategies and prototypes that teachers have developed for students.  Finally, students engage in a discussion about what they have seen and how we might develop effective prototypes in a high school classroom that reflective well-develop social-emotional learning competencies.

What will students do?

While viewing, student identify three engineering-design thinking prototype solutions and answer the following two questions:

  1. What needs do these solutions meet?
  2. How did these solutions change over time?  How do you anticipate that these solutions might change in the future?

After viewing, students share out their notes in their table groups.  Students groups then share out one solution idea they identified with the whole class.

Research resources

Social-emotional learning is a developing space in research in practice.  I have attached two articles of differing complexity and length that are useful primers.

Making a contract

35 minutes


In design teams of no more than five, students develop personalized prototype social-emotional learning contracts.  This activity loops back to the previous "Bias toward action" lesson.  Students have the opportunity to practice rapid prototyping.  The teacher is able to assess students proficiency in applying rapid prototyping to an SEL design context.  The teacher also receive valuable information about students' idea for improving classroom structures to meet the needs of the student population.

Group Understanding

Because of the complexity of this task, we will norm our understanding with a whole class read through of the document and the model contract paragraphs.  See the attached Classroom Culture Personal Prototype Commitment Contract.  I will frequently check for understanding and request that students restate the purpose and process of each part of the assignment.  I will end by explicitly reminding students that they will design this contract by using the engineering design thinking process.

Individual process

  1. Empathize:  Identify your needs as a student of the Arts 11 community.  What feelings come up consistently during your classes? When are you frustrated?  Happy?  Confused?
  2. Define: Develop a “how might I” question that defines a problem based on the need(s) that you identified in the empathize stage.

Group process 

  1. Ideate: Join a team of up to four students and develop solution ideas for the problem you have defined.  We will use the CASEL competencies as constraints.  Each student will focus on ONE COMPETENCY as a solution idea.
  2. Prototype:  Build a prototype of your solution.   This can take the form of a written description, a picture or diagram, or a physical object. We will use the CASEL competencies as constraints
  3. Test: Try out your prototype.  How does it fail?  Organize a “baby shark tank” to give and receive feedback.  How can you make your prototype better?
  4. Iterate: Use the information gathered during the testing stage to improve your prototype. What changes do you need to make?


Each student will create a Classroom Culture Personal Prototype Commitment Contract.  There is a sample attached.  This document outlines the prototype solution.  All members of a student group will sign this contract before students submit contracts.  The members that sign the contract agree to hold a student accountable for the outlined solution. 

Is 35 minutes enough?

No.  Students will not finish this activity during class.  However, most students will be able to identify a focus and will be in the middle of contract development when the activity ends.  This is a purposeful move, as the time constrain pushes students to rapidly prototype.

Pair share and public accountability

10 minutes


Students learn about each other's needs and earn about multiple design solutions to similar problems.


Students read their contracts to another student in the room that is not on the student's design team.  If a student has not yet finished the contract, the student shares out current thinking.  Finally, we will whip around the room and each student will state the competency chosen for the contract and the in process solution that they have developed to improve proficiency in that competency.

So how do I assess the contract and the design process-TEACHER GUIDELINES

What kind of feedback will I give to students?

Feedback for contracts:

Expect to reject most first draft of contracts.  Students' prototype solution must match the personal SEL need identified.  Most often students will give the explanation of need short thrift.  They may write something like "I need to do better with talking" when they really mean "I am unable to self-regulate my impulse to talk to friends I have in class."  The contracts, in other words, are essentially claims that students are making about their SEL proficiency and the evidence used to support these claims are the students' behaviors.  If the evidence a student provides does not match the claim, this is a clear sign that the student either does not understand a competency or rushed through the work.  Quick conversations with students are best for providing this feedback.

Feedback for process:

Contracts that are completely off base are indications that a student lacks proficiency in key engineering-design thinking practices, or is simply unable to apply practices to a new context.  At this point of the unit, most students will be proficient in all areas of the process, but teachers should look out for warning sign during the contract process.  Can students identify needs?  Can students develop prototype ideas that meet needs?  Can students give feedback to each other that target the connection between solutions and needs?  Where do teachers notice a breakdown in individual or class skills?  If a whole class is unable to perform a particular task, teacher-centered modeling, increased scaffolding, and more targeted feedback aligned to specific skill competencies within the engineering-design framework will be necessary adjustments.  This lesson is a "best case" scenario that allows for a looser, more open-ended activity structure.  Some of my classes were at this point.  Some of my classes were not.  Not all students will be ready for this level of self-direction and teachers should anticipate the need to reteach some aspect of this process based on real-time assessment of student processes.