MS STEAM starter pack pt. 2: Design

This is the second in a 3-part (maybe 4) series on setting up a sweet STEAM classroom in your Middle School. If you want to go read part 1, it's here: MS STEAM starter pack pt. 1: Programming

Design & STEM vs. STEAM

So, this topic is all about putting the "A" in STEAM. It used to be STEM, and for a brief time it was STE[A]M, but these days it's STEAM, and for good reason. Apple did not experience the massive market success that it is known for by making products that were simply functional. For better or worse, human beings are drawn to beauty. We love stuff that looks good, and I believe that any STEAM program worth its salt will cover the basic fundamentals of design.

This is much more difficult than it sounds. Somehow, whether in advertisements, user interfaces, or simple brand marks, the people who understand design wow us and suck us in with their brilliant use of typography, color, and composition. I think most of us have an inherent sense of what "looks good", but most of us have no idea how to recreate the aesthetic that we consciously or subconsciously find appealing. That said, how on earth are we supposed to teach it?

I'm going to share one free tool with you today. Hopefully it stays free, but the web app itself is only a third of the value of this site. What makes this site awesome is that it teaches the principles of design for you in simple interactive lessons. BRILLIANT!


In addition to their "Design School", that covers a host of advanced concepts, Canva has a section of interactive Tutorials for beginners, and that is where the awesome happens.

  1. You and your students should sign up for Canva (Pro tip: Use your Google account to manage your credentials. One thing I really like about Canva right now is the ability to sign up / sign in with Google. This makes entry a lot easier for staff and students if you have institutional Google accounts.
  2. Go try the tutorials yourself so that you know what it is the students are supposed to be doing.
  3. Assign students the tutorials you've found to be the most useful. Below, I will link the tutorials I have all of my students do. 
    1. Getting Started
      1. Less is More
    2. Fonts
      1. Choosing the right font
      2. Font pairing
      3. Tips for Titles
    3. Layout
      1. The Art of Alignment
      2. Working with White Space
      3. Harnessing Hierarchy
    4. Color:
      1. Color your design
      2. Color Relationships
If you'd like to see some more info on how to use Canva as a design tool, check out my post on Three tools to step up design in your classroom. Obviously, if your district has a license for Adobe Creative Suite (Creative Cloud) and has it deployed to your student workstations, Canva is going to seem a little weak. As you'll see in my post, though, it's built in templates and typography layouts make it a win for those that struggle with design.

Miscellaneous YouTube tutorials

Over the years, I have found some YouTube videos that I think really help all of my students make things look better. Share these with your students. I think you'll find that the combination of these videos and the above lessons from Canva will give students a base understanding of how to design things that just look better.
Next time, we'll look at 3d printing and technical drawing in the Middle School classroom. That topic is a wild ride!


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