Thomas Heatherwick demonstrates amazing feats of design, architecture, and engineering in this TED video that I showed my 2nd graders (studying structures) this week. After the revelation I had a few weeks ago that my students aren’t entirely sure of the importance of creativity, I wanted to be certain that they saw these examples of unique designs that defy all norms. The favorite, which literally has gotten “oohs and ahs” from every audience I’ve shown it to so far, is the bridge. (Go to about 3:33 on the video to see that directly.) Almost as popular with my students are the apartment buildings near the end of the video that demonstrate that not all tall buildings are wider at the bottom than the top!
Since my 2nd graders are studying structures right now, it seems only right that they should design one of their own. With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought I could make their designs seem more relevant if they had a “client” in mind. I keep talking about the importance of empathy in Design Thinking, and they seem to have a difficult time empathizing with fictional characters, so I chose someone they might know a bit more.
We started by brainstorming things that their moms like. One hand immediately went up. “Facebook,” the student declared. LOL, I thought, hoping this wasn’t about to become one of those situations where the students volunteered more information than needed to be shared in a public school setting… My own daughter would probably respond, “Playing Sudoku on her iPad while she watches ‘Call the Midwife.'”
Fortunately, the rest of the responses were pretty standard. “Peace and quiet” seemed pretty popular, as did “sleep” and “me.” Some of the students suggested they also put things that their moms don’t like, such as shoes on the floor, to help them with their later designs.
After the students brainstormed decent lists, I showed them an example of a house floorplan. We talked about what unique rooms we could add to customize a house for their mom. “For example, you might like basketball so an indoor basketball court would be in your dream home. But what would be in your mom’s?”
The floorplans are just rough drafts at the moment, but you can see a couple of examples below. I’m still debating what the final product will look like. Draw the outside of the house and do a green screen video? Make a card with the house facade on the outside and the floorplan on the inside? I think the moms will get a kick out of what their children think they value no matter what the medium of delivery, but I’d be happy to take any of your suggestions in the comments below!
By the way, if you would like some other ideas for Mother’s Day activities, here is my post from last year.
Disruptus is one of my new favorite games. It’s great for Brain Breaks and to jump start brainstorming sessions. I’ve used it with my younger and older students, and it has been a hit with all of them so far. Like Anaxi, which I reviewed here, it is produced by Funnybone Toys. You can find it at specialty toy stores and periodically on Amazon.
The game consists of heavy-duty cards that each have a picture on them, a cube, and a timer. You can read the instructions on the Funnybone website. There are different versions of gameplay. So far, my students have enjoyed just watching me roll the cube under the document camera and selecting random cards. Then I set the timer (I think it’s about 2 minutes), and they scramble to draw or write ideas on scratch paper. Then we share the ideas. If you want to make it competitive, you can play it similar to Apples to Apples, where one person is the judge and selects what he or she thinks was the most creative idea.
Here are the options on the faces of the cube that you might roll:
My first graders were playing the “Create 2” and we pulled out a picture of a toilet and a picture of a steering wheel. You can imagine the ideas they generated for combining those!
You know those early finishers who don’t have enough time, really, to start something else – but still have enough time to distract the students still working? Put this under the document camera to think about when done, and tell them you will discuss everyone’s answers as an exit ticket, in the line for the bathroom, or any other transition time during the day.
There are lots of grins and laughs when we do this. Most importantly, the students are exercising their divergent thinking skills which, too often, don’t get enough use during the school day.
Sometimes random themes show up in the various social networks that I follow. Today, I came across two completely different posts that appealed to my appreciation for creative ways for students to show their learning.
First, I saw this tweet:
— Paul W. Hankins (@PaulWHankins) December 19, 2017
I like the idea of making poetry 3-dimensional, and I could see lots of ways to go with this idea.
Then, I saw a tweet from Russel Tarr about “Tubular Timeline Towers,” an idea one of his students designed for an open-ended homework assignment. What a great way to represent something chronologically!
The wheels are turning in my brain as I try to think of variations on this theme!
In that creepy way that Amazon has of knowing all about you, it recommended Mockups to me when I was searching for another brainstorming game someone had recommended on Twitter. The original game was not available, so I thought I would give Mockups a try instead.
Mockups is a good game to practice Design Thinking. It includes cards of three different colors. Pick a card of each color, and you suddenly have a Design Thinking Challenge. A white card tells you the person you are designing for, the gray card tells you what to design, and the black card will give you a constraint for that design.
As an example, I just randomly selected: Adventurous Preschoolers, A Way to Keep Their Hands Warm, Absorbent. There are suggested “games” to play using the card, such as giving the challenge to teams to come up with the best answer or making groups work silently on creating a solution. Of course, you can use the cards however you want.
This can be a fun way to encourage creativity, and students can learn empathy and new vocabulary as they design. The suggested ages, according to Amazon, are 6+. I took out the card, “bartenders,” but didn’t see any others that were objectionable.
For some other Makerspace challenge ideas, check out this recent post.
Although it’s great to allow students to use their imaginations, they will generally feel overwhelmed if you give them infinite choices. For example, if you say, “Build something out of Legos,” many students will either spend most of their time figuring out what to build or attempt to build something they have already done in the past. So, a couple of years ago I thought I would randomize some Makerspace Building Challenges for my students by using a tool called Flippity. Instead of building “something,” they might be urged to build an amusement park ride or a shelter for a natural disaster, for example. You can find my post on using the tool here.
In this recent post from Laura Fleming, you can find even better Makerspace Challenges using Flippity. Her first version randomly selects building techniques and materials to spark the imagination. Her second version uses S.C.A.M.P.E.R., which is a great innovation tool that I describe a bit more in detail in this blog post. Laura gives full instructions for how to use her Flippity challenges and how to modify them for your own use in her post.
I have a post on 5 Resources for Design Thinking Challenges here. For my list of Makerspace Essentials, including Laura’s book, Worlds of Making, click here. (Laura also has a new book, called The Kickstart Guide to Making Great Makerspaces.)
A few years ago, I thought I would help out the parents of my gifted and talented students by writing about some games, toys, or books that I thought might make good purchases during the holiday season. I called the series of posts, “Gifts for the Gifted,” and I have continued to do it annually on every Friday in November and December. These gifts are suggestions for any child – not just those who qualify for a GT program. Sometimes I receive a free product for review, but I am not paid for these posts, and I never recommend a product that I wouldn’t buy for my own child. For past “Gifts for the Gifted” posts, you can visit this page. Also, you can see last week’s recommendation here. And, if you want to see the more than 100 games and toys I’ve recommended over the years on my blog, check out my Pinterest board.
RollerCoaster Challenge is another fabulous product from ThinkFun. I’m pretty sure the company doesn’t need any PR from me, as this game has won numerous awards in the last year, including the Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Platinum Award and Toy of the Year Finalist. I’ve seen it recommended on numerous gift guides – especially ones that are related to S.T.E.M. products. But all of those accolades may not have reached the audience who reads this blog, so I want to make sure RollerCoaster Challenge gets included in my list, too.
I’m going to start with getting one negative out of the way – pretty much the only negative about this game. There are a lot of pieces in this game. As a parent and a teacher, I get kind of nervous about games dependent on numerous parts. Easy to lose, painful to step on, difficult to store. However, the pieces are what make this game so entertaining. It reminds me a bit of the game Mousetrap that I used to play as a kid. The fun is in putting the pieces together just the right way. (I never actually played Mousetrap, just assembled the bazillion parts.)
RollerCoaster Challenge is a 1-player game that is suitable for ages 6 and up. Of course, the number of players and the best age group varies in real life. Most of ThinkFun’s solitaire games work well with 2 or 3 people collaborating to solve the challenges, and this one is no exception. As for age range, I refer you to the above paragraph. If your 6-year-old (or 10-year-old, for that matter) has a problem with leaving Legos all over your house, you may want to think twice about this purchase – or be proactive with a plan for keeping the pieces contained.
The game comes with Challenge cards, scaffolded perfectly to increase the difficulty slightly on each challenge. The cards tell you which pieces to use to build your roller coaster: tracks, posts, and tunnels. The diagram shows you certain locations, and then the player(s) must figure out where to place the rest in order to make a working roller coaster track. When completed, you can put the small plastic coaster attached to a ball bearing (included) at the top of the track and let it go. Watch it swiftly glide down the track to its end-point, and cheer! (My students added the last instruction, and adhered to it faithfully at the conclusion of each challenge.)
Of course, there is no law against designing roller coaster tracks of your own imagination. In fact, ThinkFun encourages this by offering a free online “Create Your Own RollerCoaster Challenge Card” link. You start with a solution, then the challenge, and can share the whole thing on social media or print it when finished.
My 3rd grade students love this game. If I had let them, they probably would have played it for hours. Their spatial reasoning skills are far superior to mine, and they could identify where to place the posts and tracks with little effort on the Beginning challenges. Once we reached the next level, it took them a bit longer to solve (which is exactly what I like to see), but they persevered happily.
So, I guess what I’m trying to say is that RollerCoaster Challenge is well worth the anxiety of keeping “track” of numerous pieces. I definitely recommend it for budding engineers and problem solvers!