One of my favorite units to teach is the Digital Design Treehouse Unit. In this unit, students first design a treehouse on paper. Then, using a simple program like MS Paint, they create their treehouse using a computer or other device. Finally, the students have the opportunity to print off their treehouse design, and share it with their classmates, school, or even community.
This unit is a great example of how the design cycle can work. It covers each of the steps – research, planning, creating, and evaluating – and gives the students plenty of practice with each step. It’s designed to work for students 4th – 7th grade, and includes:
- A full project plan from start to finish
- x3 printable assignments
- x4 printable rubrics
- Additional online resources
- Extension ideas to further challenge and support students
If you’re interested, you can check out the Digital Design Treehouse Unit here.
Teaching the Treehouse Design Unit
Teaching the Digital Treehouse Design Unit is similar to teaching other design units.
First, I like to start off by prompting the students with research questions. This is important for two reasons. The first reason, is because not all students have background knowledge about treehouses. When I was growing up, I loved the movie Swiss Family Robinson. I had an incredible imagination when it came to treehouses. However, one of my friends had moved to town, previously coming from a big city. While he had heard of treehouses, he had never seen one – nor had he seen that movie. Allowing students to research treehouses lets them generate some ideas. Additionally, research skills are very important to learn, and this gives student a chance to practice.
Next, the students practice their design skills. In the elementary grades, I usually ask the students to design 1-2 different treehouses, and then choose their favorite. This helps the students begin to learn that design is about coming up with new ideas, not just doing something once and being done. In middle school, I would ask my students to design 2-3 treehouses, and choose their favorite.
Then, students will create their treehouse design digitally. My students were taught this unit in a computer lab, so they used MS Paint to create their digital treehouses. To help them, I would take 1 day and have it be “Fun Paint Day”, and model how to use all the tools in MS Paint. This allowed the students to learn about the program, and practice it, before they needed to start making their treehouse. You could use this strategy with pretty much any digital paint program or app.
Finally, once the students had created their treehouse design, I would spend the time printing their designs, and we would have a showcase. Depending on the year, the showcase could be as small as a single class, or as large as a curriculum night. After the showcase, I always made sure to hand out a reflection or evaluation for my students to fill out, so they could reflect on their treehouse, and determine if what they created was successful (and it usually was)!
Expanding the Treehouse Design Unit
One of the best things about this unit, is that it can be expanded to fit with other content areas. Specifically, Language Arts comes to mind.
There is a great book series called The Magic Treehouse. This book series is numbered (for example, Magic Treehouse 02, or Magic Treehouse 03), and contains all sorts of fun and exciting stories. Two of my favorite books include Pirates Past Noon, and the Magic Treehouse Merlin Missions.
The treehouse unit can be combined with a Language Arts class to create a Magic Treehouse Curriculum, which explores both the literature from the Magic Treehouse books, as well as a design for a treehouse in digital form.