At the end of last year, right before Christmas, I saw a tweet about The Extraordinaires. After visiting the site, I was intrigued by the product and ended up buying one of the smaller sets to try out with my students. Since my 2nd grade gifted students are studying structures, I chose the “Buildings” set.
All of the products in The Extraordinaires line revolve around Design Thinking. Each set includes Character cards, Design projects, and Think cards. The sets also include a drawing pad, and at least one pen. The Buildings Set includes 6 each of the Character and Design cards and 10 Think cards. Larger, more expensive sets, contain more cards.
Each of The Extraordinaires Studio projects allows you to choose a character and a design project. For example, one of my students got the “giant” character and “sports venue,” so his assignment was to dream up a place for his character to play a sport. You can, of course, mix and match the cards, which makes for interesting combinations. The think cards can be used to help refine the project and add details.
Fortunately, I only have 5 students in this particular class, so the set I bought is the perfect size. (Some of the larger sets have higher age recommendations. The company assured me in a tweet that the 16+ noted on the box “only refers to the guidebook and the depth of content,” so this leads me to believe that the cards would still be fine to use with lower ages.)
My students were extremely motivated by the Character and Project cards. The graphics on these definitely generated enthusiasm. Before passing out the cards, we had talked about empathy. I emphasized the importance of designing for their “clients” instead of themselves. For about 20 minutes, there was complete silence in the room as the students got to work.
I had already told the students that this was just the beginning, that they would go through many drafts before settling on final designs. It’s good I prepared them, because I realized that I hadn’t done a very good job of teaching them about empathy. As they shared their first drafts, it became clear that they drew buildings that were familiar and just added a few details (like kelp, for the mermaid’s house) to align the structures with the characters.
Fortunately, the website for The Extraordinaires includes some resources for teachers. We will be using the “Graphic Organizer for Getting to Know an Extraordinaire.” After all, it’s difficult to have empathy for someone you don’t know. This is actually all practice for our final semester project, for which they actually will be designing something for someone at our school. (More about that in a future post.)
If you like the idea of teaching Design Thinking to your students, and would like some other resources, Jackie Gerstein has a wonderful collection of design challenges here. For a great free Design Thinking curriculum, City X is another alternative. To see why you should even consider incorporating Design Thinking into your curriculum, this video from The Extraordinaires allows students to explain. (Be sure to watch all the way to the end if you really want your heartstrings tugged 😉