Apple's Next Smartphone: Product Design Challenge Lesson Plan

My own personal example

As educators, we must continue cultivating the next generation of innovators, those who can solve the world’s biggest problems. Rather than solely using traditional teaching methods requiring students to memorize facts and information, Apple’s Next Smartphone: Product Design Challenge is a lesson I’ve designed to help students clarify their understanding of the engineering design process in a creative and collaborative manner. In short, the lesson instructs students to use Tinkercad, a free and user-friendly, web-based, computer-aided design (CAD) application, to create a 3D model of what they think Apple’s next smartphone will look like, along with the newly added features it will boast.

Although the integration of technology in education is becoming more widespread over time with the expansion of one-to-one computer initiatives, developing meaningful and relatable activities that foster positive learning experiences is crucial in preparing students for the unpredictable nature of the 21st century. From my experience, my students are most engaged when I provide them with fun activities that relate to the world around them. My initial thought to design this lesson began with a discussion I had with my Intro to Engineering students a few weeks ago. Upon Apple’s recent release of the iPhone 8 and iPhone X, we discussed the importance of engineering teams — ranging from product designers to software engineers — working collaboratively to create these stylish and multifunctional devices. My students were eager to discuss their thoughts and opinions, especially as most of them possess smartphones, along with buzz in the media regarding the new releases.

When my CEP 810 graduate course required us to create a lesson this week, it dawned on me: I would allow students to create their own version of the iPhone to help them recognize the effort that is spent in developing one of the world’s most widely used smartphone brands. Of note, the lesson is designed to be covered in one 60-minute class, however it can be extended if time permits. Additionally, even though I happen to teach middle school students, the teacher can differentiate the activity to meet the needs of more advanced and/or older students.

As Bransford, Brown and Cocking state, “Emerging technologies are leading to the development of many new opportunities to guide and enhance learning that were unimagined even a few years ago” (2000, p. 4). Traditionally, students have had the ability to learn CAD software, however with the inception of Tinkercad in 2011, individuals can now learn 3D modeling in a much simpler manner. As school districts make 3D printers more widely available to students, not only can they design prototypes, but also create tangible models to see their ideas actualize. Moreover, design challenges like the one I’m offering touch on Renee Hobbs’ five communication competencies, allowing students the ability to collaboratively and critically utilize technology to research information, create a solution to a given problem based on empathizing with the needs of others, and reflect on their progress. For more information on digital and media literacy mogul, Renee Hobbs, check this out.

Furthermore, this lesson meets students where they are most comfortable learning, through playing. As Thomas and Brown state in A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change (2011), "Children use play and imagination as the primary mechanisms for making sense of their new, rapidly evolving world" (p. 47). By having students immerse themselves in Tinkercad, unleashing creativity in exploration of all the website's features, it allows for endless possibilities and a greater understanding of the engineering design process.

Lastly, if you’ve never heard of Tinkercad, check out this brief introductory video. I highly suggest creating your own account and explore all that the site has to offer.

As always, thanks for reading and I welcome any thoughts and/or feedback you may have!


Autodesk Tinkercad (2016). What is tinkercad? A square is not just a square - An animated overview. Retrieved from

Bransford, J., Brown, A.L. & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How people learn: brain, mind, experience and school (pp. 3-). Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Retrieved from

Hobbs, R. (2011). Digital and media literacy: Connecting culture and classroom. Thousand, Oaks, CA: Corwin/Sage.

Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change. Lexington, Ky: CreateSpace?. Retrieved from