Empathy: Walk A Mile In My Duct Tape Shoes

The first design brief at NIS for Grade 2 students focused on the idea of empathy, and the students were challenged to make shoes for a classmate. I came across the idea of having kids design and make shoes in Suzie Boss’s article in Edutopia earlier this year when I was looking for ways to help our students explore empathy.

 Duct Tape Shoes

We began the year by introducing NIS’s take on the design cycle, and then moved into exploring why people wear shoes.


After drawing their favourite shoes and explaining why they liked them, the students partnered up and began to interview each other about what kinds of shoes they wear, what kind they like, and what kind they don’t like. The idea here was to get the kids to understand the needs of another.

 Favourite Shoes

We dissected existing products by cutting up some old shoes on a bandsaw and seeing how shoes are constructed.

Cutting Shoe

Click for video: Shoe Cutting

The next step was to get the kids designing shoes for their parnter. The went through their notes from the interviews and began sketching the shoe they thought their partner wanted.  They had to have four parts of a shoe: sole, midsole, insole and upper. They shared their sketches with their ‘client’ and went back to drawing board if the client wasn’t satisfied.

 Shoe Design

When it came time to actually start making the shoes, my students were surprised to find out that I had no idea how to make a shoe. I did, however, know that there is a wealth of resources online to help us discover this. I hoped to teach my students that ‘knowing how’ is rarely as important as ‘wanting to’. We had the desire to make these shoes, and so we began by looking at excellent tutorials like this one on ‘How to Make Duct Tape Shoes’ by Duct Tape Creations.

Soon, cardboard, felt, duct tape and foam tiles filled the room and the kids were off and running. The kids learned to safely use hot-glue guns and box cutters, and soon the shoes were coming together.

Shoe Making

  Click for Video: Shoe Making

 As the students tried on their new shoes, it was lovely to see the makers beaming with pride. The real beauty was in watching this pride turn to confidence as the kids helped one another with tools and materials.

Pride & Silliness

Click for video: Pride & Silliness

I must admit that early on I wasn’t too happy with how the shoe-making process went. The kids didn’t seem quite as excited by the interviewing and shoe drawing as I’d hoped, and they were very distracted by the four tons of Lego that the other grades were using in their design. ‘Why can’t we play with Lego?’, they begged. (Why, indeed!) As soon as the kids got cardboard, duct tape, felt and scissors in their hands everything changed. The level of excitement and engagement went through the roof, and the kids were dealing with real problems on how to make this or that part, or how to put things together. I found my own level of engagement peaking as well.

Class Shoes

It’s obvious that the real passion for the kids is in the making- using their hands and minds to create something that they can call their own, something they can be proud of, and something that stands as a testament to ability to be a maker.