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Shoe Design

In the very first week of the school year, I gave my students a maker challenge to create their own shoes using only paper grocery bags and tape. First and second graders worked in small groups of two or three. This project was an all day affair, and one that my students continued to talk about for weeks to come. Over the course of the school year, they frequently asked me, “When are we going to make shoes again?”

After our wrapping up our third quarter theme of botany, I was searching for a way to extend and utilize my students’ knowledge of structures and functions. I was also striving to choose a theme that my students would be invested in.

And so, in an effort to follow student interest and continue developing their understanding of structures and functions, shoe design became our fourth quarter theme.

We began, as we always do, with observation. We looked carefully at the shoes on our own feet and noticed colors, patterns, similarities, and differences. First and second graders took their shoes off and we used the taxonomy toolkit to sort shoes in many different ways that they suggested, including, color, height of the midsole, type of shoe, and amount of tread.

Why do we even wear shoes? Students brainstormed what they thought shoes were for.

  • “To protect your feet, like when you go on gravel.”

  • “To keep your feet warm.”

  • “They are comfort for your feet.”

  • “To look good.”

  • “There are different shoes for different things you do.”

  • “To match your environment. It’s like an adaptation!”

  • “I think the sole is to protect your foot from the ground.”

From this exercise, an essential question and a number of themes emerged, which informed our study moving forward.

Our essential question became, “How do shoes support physical movement?”

In thinking about shoe design, we focused on:

  • Anatomy of the foot

  • Structures and functions

  • Parts of the shoe

  • Comfort

  • Strength of materials

  • Originality

  • Art and Design

For the rest of that week, students did more than just look at shoes, they experienced what it felt like to wear different shoes for different activities. Students participated in a number of physical challenges first in athletic shoes, and then again in flip flops. We discussed the ways in which these shoes supported our feet in these challenges, and what parts on the shoe were responsible.

First and second graders also played a guessing game where they saw an image of a shoe and then tried to guess the sport or activity it was used for. We brainstormed what a person would need in a shoe for a specific activity such as hiking or basketball. We paid close attention to the structures we were naming and students began to learn the parts of a shoe.

To further this exploration, students worked together to take apart shoes and separate them into their parts, clearly labeling things such as the midsole, tongue, and pull tab. Next, we had an anatomy of the foot lesson, feeling the bones in our feet and naming them, like the phalanges, the metatarsals, and the calcaneus.

When it was time to begin their group projects, my students had a good amount of prior knowledge and experience thinking about shoe design related to specific activities. They brainstormed and then chose a sport to design a shoe for. Working in their original shoe design groups, we had come full circle from the beginning of the year. The shoe design groups worked together to research their sport, taking notes on the specific movements and what part of the foot might need the most support. They began to design their shoes, thinking about patterns, fabric, and colors as well.

As a class, we visited Fabric Planet in Venice, and students were able to pick out their own materials, including elastic for their laces and other pieces for their design.

Back in the classroom, first and second graders embarked on the difficult task to creating a shoe pattern that would fit one group member’s feet. They taped their classmate’s feet, wrapping the tape three times around a sock. Afterward, this foot mold was cut in three pieces, resulting in a pattern of the sole, the left, and the right side of the foot. These patterns were traced onto newspaper, which were then pinned to fabric and cut out.

As we began to sew, many students ran into the issue that their patterns were too small. Every group created a number of prototypes, before finding the right size pattern to create a shoe that would fit. We also experimented with a few different methods of giving the shoe some structure. Padding made the shoe too thick, except for the biathlon boot, for which it gave some structure and warmth. For the other shoes, we used iron-on interfacing, so the shoes would not flop over the moment they were taken off a foot. A sewing machine was used for the majority of the shoe construction, and students worked with an educator to push the pedal and move the fabric. For smaller pieces, like a logo or a pull tab, students used a hot glue gun.

In the end, most groups ended up with only one shoe, as the enormity of the project set in. As students reflected on their process, they remarked at how they how they had changed as collaborators. Learning how to work through the challenges that they faced along the way, like making compromises to change their logo, or finding effective ways to communicate when they were having disagreements.

One student said, “At the beginning of the year, I was not the best listener. I think over time I have practiced and done a lot of collaborating. Now I’m actually.. a very good listener.”

Another student reflected on doing the project a second time, with the same partner.

“The first time, we weren’t working together as good. We both had really good ideas, but we were both younger and didn’t know how to work together. Now, in our second project, we learned from the last time. We reflect on what we did and we change what we didn’t like, and we change it this time to what we do like. I think that because we worked together a lot better this time, our shoe turned out a lot better.”

This is the beauty of giving students the chance to try again, ten months later.

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