Tag Archives: design thinking

Using Flippity for Makerspace Challenges

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.)

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image from Pixabay
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Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – RollerCoaster Challenge

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!

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Gifts for the Gifted 2017 – Extraordinaires

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.

If you have a child who enjoys drawing, Extraordinaires may be just the gift for him or her.  This unique kit encourages Design Thinking by providing Character cards (Extraordinaires), Project Cards, Think Cards, and Idea Pad, and a case. (Included supplies vary, depending on the set.)  Children can choose an Extraordinaire and a Project to design for that character.  Empathy is encouraged by suggesting the designer should first study the Extraordinaires card closely to learn anything that might be helpful in creating a personalized design for the character.  Think Cards can be used to help the designer consider improvements or tweak that can be made to the design.  Inventing a “backstory” for the character is also recommended.

We have used the Buildings Set and the Design Studio in my 2nd and 4th grade classes.  The students really enjoy choosing from the unusual cartoon-like Extraordinaires, and quickly become close to the fictional characters they’ve selected.  These sets definitely spark the imagination – especially for children who love to invent, draw, and/or write.

There are currently three Extraordinaires sets available at different price points.  There is also a free app available that allows designers to see and share projects.  If you scroll to the bottom of this page, you can download a sample project for children to try.

If you want your child to spend more time “unplugged” and creating, Extraordinaires is definitely a worthwhile gift option.

 

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image from Extraordinaires.com

Cardboard Mini Golf

I am a recovering control freak/perfectionist.  So, when my students work on projects for #cardboardchallenge, it takes every ounce of restraint to not turn into a raving lunatic.  Nothing goes as planned; in fact plans are pretty much a waste of time.  My classroom looks like an episode of “Hoarders,” and I find duct tape hanging off of my clothes for months afterwards.

I constantly tell my students that empathy and mistakes are part of the design process, but it turns out I should be lecturing myself more than them.  While I watched over the mass production of cardboard miniature golf courses this year, I had to keep reminding myself that I shouldn’t be disappointed that my students’ visions were completely different than mine and that it’s not very encouraging to have a teacher keep telling you, “That’s not going to work!”

During the entire week leading up to our first project “reveal” at a school festival, I worried that it would rain.  On the day of the festival, bright sunshine greeted us – along with hurricane-worthy gusts of winds intent on adding the extra challenge of giving us moving targets as we ran around the basketball court chasing our golf courses.

The tech enhancements we had made for a few courses disappointed because they kept getting disconnected or weren’t loud enough to make people “ooh” and “ahh.”  Some students abandoned supervisory shifts of their courses to go play elsewhere, and one group took an hour to get their course working because one of the students had a picture in his mind of what it should like that none of the rest of us could understand, and he wouldn’t compromise.

I am not telling you this to complain or to discourage you from attempting a similar project.  I like to be honest on my posts, so people don’t get blindsided by obstacles when they decide to try out a “good idea.”  The question is, was this a good idea?

After we put some weights on the courses to keep them in one place, and students began to stream over to try out swinging the putters, I saw a lot of smiles.  I heard a few students talk about how proud they were of their work, a few who mentioned some adjustments they wanted to make, and a few who already had ideas for next year.  Some students took extra shifts to make sure their courses could stay open, and there were many kids who would try a course and then get back in line to try it again.  In other words, kids were having fun.

I had told the students this was our first big “test” of the courses, because we are hoping to take some to a S.T.E.A.M. Festival in December.  To be honest, though, it’s tempting to forget about that – just clean everything up and move on to other projects.  I am desperate to get back to some semblance of order and leave the chaos behind for awhile.  Fun was had, lessons were learned, so let’s call it a day, right?

But Design Thinking isn’t about giving up.  So, next week we are going to reflect on peer feedback, discuss improvements that can be made, and continue to make messes that will create knots in my stomach, but that I will accept as part of the process. We are going to move those projects from good enough to great.

But first I need to buy a lot more duct tape…

The Power of Design

One of my favorite podcasts is “TED Radio Hour” on NPR, on which each episode examines TED talks that address a particular theme.  Last week, the theme was, “The Power of Design,” and I found many parts applicable to education.  The show includes Tony Fadell, who speaks about the thought processes that went into the first iPod, and Janine Benyus, who speaks about what designers can learn from nature (very applicable to my 2nd grade unit on structures), and three other TED speakers.  Alice Rawsthorn speaks about the rebellious natures of the best designers – such as Blackbeard.  Yes, the pirate.  You can thank Blackbeard for the skull and crossbones.

I have been thinking about innovation and creativity quite a bit, and how I can help my students to try to be more original and less derivative.  Listening to this podcast reminded me of this recent interview with Quentin Tarantino when he was asked for his advice. “My advice for when you want to find a story you want to tell is: What is a movie you want to see?” Tarantino said. “What is it that you want to contribute? There’s a whole lot of movies you could see without you. What’s the movie that we have never seen because you haven’t made it. Make that movie. Make the movie that’s the reason you’re going to be doing it.”

What’s the ______________ that we have never seen because you haven’t made it?  The story, the invention, the picture, the school, the educational system…  Fill in the blank with what you want to design.

 

 

5 Resources for Design Thinking Challenges

When introducing Design Thinking to children, it’s important to include the “empathy” part of the process.  Sometimes, it is easier for students to practice this with fictional characters before they begin applying it to real people.  I’ve curated a collection of both free (green) and paid (purple) resources that offer character cards you can print out to distribute to students so that when they are designing they have a “client” in mind.  If you would like some suggestions for books and videos to help teach empathy, Joelle Trayers has several blog posts that address this topic.

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image from Wikimedia Commons
  • Younger students will enjoy these Adorable free printable from Krissy Venosdale of literary characters
  • The City X Toolkit includes dozens of fictional character cards that can be printed out for free.  (For more information about City X, you can read my blog post here.)
  • Jackie Gerstein created a “Maker Education Card Game” that you can view and use for free here.
  • The Extraordinaires series has different kits at several price points.  You can read more about it in my post here.
  • Khandu is a set of cards that I purchased awhile ago in a crowd-funding campaign.  Like Extraordinaires, it includes characters and challenges.  My set also includes “Ideation,” “Inspiration,” “Action,” and “Prototyping” cards.  It’s a pretty comprehensive pack of 70 full color, thick cards.  Although the pricing is in euros, you can also purchase it through PayPal.
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    image from Wikimedia Commons

Global Day of Design 2017

Mark your calendar for May 2, 2017, this year’s Global Day of Design.  This project, spearheaded by educators A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, encourages classrooms all around the globe to participate in innovative thinking and creating during one 24-hour period.  According to Juliani, over 40,000 students participated in last year’s Global Day of Design, an impressive number that we could surely double this year.

Ideally, every day should be one that includes innovation for our students.  However, the reality is far from this.  Hopefully, just as Hour of Code has promoted awareness of the need for more computer science education, the Global Day of Design will encourage more educators to integrate Design Thinking into the curriculum.

Juliani’s post gives a link to register for the Global Day of Design, as well as many resources.  The official website for the project also has a registration link and the bonus of at least 12 free design challenges with the promise of more to come.

In a related post, my colleague Sony Terborg recently wrote about the concept of “The Producer Mindset,” and also linked to the Global Day of Design.  Like Terborg, many forward-thinking educators agree that it is imperative that we move away from the factory-based system of education to instead provide students with opportunities to create and think for themselves.  Design Thinking is a great framework for educators to refer to when embarking on introducing innovation in the classroom, and I would recommend the Global Day of Design as just the beginning that will hopefully eventually lead to a new generation that is comfortable designing 365 days a year.

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image from: Dean Meyers on Flickr