The Magic of Design Thinking
Fourth grader spearheads a CWA need, from conception to execution
by Joe Sparano, Lower and Middle School Technology Integration Specialist
Last fall, Nick Zosel-Johnson came to me with a story: fourth grader Max Tebrock ’27 thought the Lower School needed a bike rack. Although lots of students live close enough to commute on two wheels, there really wasn’t a place to park them during the school day. Max had originally proposed the idea as a third grader, including weekly visits to Nick’s office with reminders and sticky notes: “Don’t forget about the bike rack, Mr. Z-J!”
Max was right, and Nick asked if I could help the fourth graders design the bike rack together as a technology class project.
I loved the idea! Fundamentally, it’d be a graphic design project, a terrific process for practicing all kinds of communication and problem-solving skills: setting goals, brainstorming, sketching, prototyping, sharing and receiving feedback, and collaborating. Plus, we could organically embed technology tools as part of that process. Then the students’ work would eventually live outside their classrooms, bolted to the ground outside the Lower School building. I pitched the project to the fourth graders, and they loved the idea, too.
The purpose and magic of graphic design is its ability to communicate specific, meaningful ideas. So, the first step of our process was to decide on our communication goals. I asked the students, “When you think of Charles Wright Academy, what words come to mind? What ideas do you want others to know about your school? What makes CWA a special place?”
Students explored those questions on paper, listing words and sketching pictures. Together, they generated a really inspiring set of options: “friends, learning, outdoors, persistence, teamwork, kindness, athletics, community”—to name just a few.
Next, students built a digital prototype, using Google Drawings to mock-up their favorite symbols inside a virtual bike rack. The goal was to visualize their ideas quickly and get feedback on how clearly and meaningfully their designs communicated. “What does this symbol mean to you? How well do those ideas represent CWA? Any suggestions for how I can improve?”
Based on that feedback, students chose one prototype to share with the class. They printed it, posted it on the wall, and the class voted for their favorites. The leading symbols were: the martlet (representing a love for learning), trees (the CWA campus), a campground (outdoor education), the Lower School bell (the CWA community), and a bicycle (which, to me, represents Max’s tireless journey toward making this bike rack a reality).
After the vote, I took those symbols into Adobe Illustrator, streamlined them into a cohesive set, and presented the revisions to the fourth graders for final approval. The students got to see the real-world, galvanized-steel implementation of their effort during a field trip to Specialty Metals, who fabricated our new bike rack beautifully.
The class voted on symbols they felt best represent CWA, which were translated into the artwork for the individual bike rack rings.
And here we are—after months of work, our shiny new bike rack is installed and ready to use! But it’s become much more than a place for parking bikes. It’s a testament to perseverance (a CWA institutional value that Max so genuinely embodies) and a permanent monument to the reasons why our school is a special place for the bike rack’s many designers. //