The Science of Design, Hillbrook's Spring Hard Problem 2016


by Christa Flores -

Hillbrook’s 5th grade, the class of 2019, has embarked on this year’s spring hard problem, a semester long deep project in science that addresses rigorous research practices, as well as a challenging engineering and design prompt. What makes the spring hard problem so hard? In the spring students are asked to apply everything they have learned in Problem-based science during our Materials, Patterns, Structures and Systems units. Now we are in our deep dive into our Problems unit. The Problems unit is the culminating unit of problem-based science and celebrates the "antidisciplinary" approach of design to solve real world problems. Problems are defined as needs in our environment and often require designing and engineering innovative solutions. Problems are rated on a level of 1-2-3-4, where level 3 and 4 problems are real world problems. Level 3 problems are hard but can usually be solved by a learner's local network of peers, teachers, parents, grandparents and other available mentors. Level 4 problems are global messes we can only hope to engage with through our local communities using creativity and collaboration. 


This year is the hardest problem assigned yet, as the class of 2019 will also be investigating a Level 3 and a Level 4 problem. This year's level 3 or local problem is to finish the construction of the addition to the Village of Friendly Relations began by the female builders of the class of 2015. Our Level 4 problem is a historical and global problem, women's rights and educational equity. This year’s project has students in search of a story about a heroine to serve as inspiration for a 10 foot by 12 foot interactive history museum inside the uncompleted structure in the heart of campus. We are calling this year’s project the Hillbrook HERstory Museum.

To structure a design and engineering challenge of this magnitude the class of 2019 has been given the following rules to follow:

Phase One: Research and Inspiration

  1. Rule One, work with an adult mentor on campus to research women in history who had a great lesson to teach and form a few essential questions.
  2. Rule Two, chose one person who links to Hillbrooks’ history or Hillbrook’s Core Values (Be Kind, Take Risks, Be Your Best, Be Curious) and answer your essential questions to craft a HERstory that needs to be told.

Phase Two: Design, Build and Test

  1. Rule Three, Use your HERstory to inform the design of an interactive museum that spans a timeline from 1935-2015, in honor of the school’s 80th anniversary.
  2. Rule Four, the museum must apply the mechanical arts and renewable energy sources.

Students have arranged themselves into eight teams of 4-5 collaborators to take on one of the eight decades of the school’s history. Teams will have all spring semester to complete their research, design and building. To share the journey of this project each team has created a website with a blog. To check out our first blog posts, get inspired by real heroines and student historians, please see the links below. You can also come see their work on May 20th - 22nd in San Mateo at the 2016 Bay Area Maker Faire.


Check out our new form of assessment, blogging using Googlesites! 

“The Guardians” - Website:

“The Tiger Masters” - Website:

“The Survivors” - Website:

“The Fireballs” - Website:

“Rainbow Atoms” - Website:

“Kawaii Creepers” - Website:

“Super Scientists” - Website:

"Jr.Sl inc." - Website: