One of my favorite workshops to do with teachers is, “Developing Design Thinkers.” There are so many ways to use the Design Thinking process in every part of the curriculum, and it is just plain fun! I recently learned about a tool that I will definitely be incorporating next time. It’s called, “Protobot,” and it was developed by one of the professors at Stanford’s d. School. Protobot is an online randomizer that will propose different design challenges. Some of them are thought-provoking and some completely absurd. But the surprising combination of objects and purposes is what makes Protobot the perfect warm-up activity for promoting creativity. Here are a couple of the prompts I got when I clicked the “Randomizer” button:
Anyone who teaches can probably imagine the giggles these would elicit from students, especially the last one! The designer, Molly (@MollyClare), has some suggestions for using Protobot with different sized groups. You will also notice that my link takes you to the English (safe mode) version, which you can change by clicking in the top right corner. She teaches college, so sexuality and alcohol are possible references in the “unsafe” version. Either way, you might not want to go the completely random route if you have super young students, and take screen shots of potential ideas instead.
Here are some other options for generating design thinking challenges in the classroom. And don’t forget that I have a Wakelet of books to use, including picture books, that inspire creativity and design thinking!
Rob Morrill is a Innovation Lab teacher who was invited by Tinkercad this summer to write regular blog posts about projects he has done with students. You can read more about Rob’s experience and expertise in his introductory post. One way to keep track of the projects he adds is to visit this page, which is a “roundup” of all of the posts he has published so far. You can also visit Rob’s website. I’ve been wanting to try a lithophane project, and now I’m even more inspired after seeing his instructions and examples.
In case you’ve missed it, Tinkercad is one of my absolute favorite entry-level design programs (and it’s free!) that I discovered when our school got its first 3d printer. It keeps improving, and you can move from simple designs to really complex ones to accommodate all abilities. Here is a post I did at the end of last year about Tinkercad Design Slams. It’s also one of my recommended online tools to help students develop their spatial reasoning. You can integrate so many parts of your curriculum (especially math) into Tinkercad projects, as well as develop creativity and that Design Thinking mindset. Even if you don’t have a 3d printer (see my post on questions to consider if you are thinking of acquiring one), students love to show off their Tinkercad designs virtually, and they can be exported into other programs. For more ideas on using Tinkercad with Design Thinking, see this post on the City X book.
By the way, Tinkercad has a teacher dashboard that you can use, where you can add classes, students, and assignments. And, did I mention it’s free?!!! Don’t worry if you haven’t used it before. They’ve got you covered with their tutorials, and your students will help each other out. (Mine invariably discovered something I didn’t know about the program every time they used it.)
About 6 years ago, as people who are excited about learning new things can be wont to do, my colleague and I emphatically agreed to piloting a 3d printer on our elementary school campus without actually knowing a single thing about 3d printing. There was a huge learning curve just trying to figure out how to get the darn thing to print out one of its pre-programmed examples. Once we accomplished the extraordinary feat of coaxing our printer to spit out a plastic bolt that we could use for pretty much nothing, we realized that we needed to figure out what meaningful objects we could fabricate – and how to design them. Our research was frustrating. Other than mass producing keychains and other items with school logos, no one seemed to have any idea about what elementary students might be able to do with a 3d printer. (By the way, if you are thinking of purchasing a 3d printer for your classroom, or doing a Donors Choose request, here is an article I wrote on some considerations you should make before you commit.)
That’s when we stumbled across City X. And Design Thinking. And Tinkercad.
And that’s when we learned that we didn’t need a 3d printer.
Don’t get me wrong. They are nice to have, and students love holding their own designs in their hands. But the most valuable part of the learning is the Design Thinking process.
The free toolkit from City X helped us to walk our students through the design process. The premise of the program is that humans have started a new settlement called City X on another planet, and the citizens need help with different challenges they are encountering in this novel environment. You can read more about how my colleague and I used the program here.
The toolkit includes a lot of resources, and was a true blessing for the two of us, as we discovered a way to really engage children while helping them to learn about empathy, problem-solving, and multiple other lifelong skills.
Now there is a City X book (thanks for letting me know about it, Amy C!), written by one of the co-creators of the original project, Brett Schilke. Journey to City X: Adventures in Engineering for Kids begins with the same idea as the original project, that the mayor of City X is asking for your help with various problems. In this book, however, there is more detail on how to embark on the design adventures as members of “The Irresistible Futures Agency.” It includes 35 challenges in the areas of transportation, environment, communication, food, health, safety, and energy. Each challenge walks students through solving problems for the fictional planet as they make connections to our own, real-world. There are still choices when it comes to who their “clients” will be and what their final solutions entail, but there are additional activities and recommended explorations in each chapter that are perfect for students new to the idea of Design Thinking.
Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have a 3d printer. Students can prototype and test with any number of easily accessible materials such as cardboard and clay. Also keep in mind that the broad categories of each challenge make them relatively easy to integrate with science or social studies curriculum.
Once students experience the City X project, they will be ready to do “real-world” designs using the same framework.
I’ve written a lot about Makey Makey in the past, including recommending it in my “Gifts for the Gifted” series in 2014. (See all of my past recommendations here.) I recently visited their website, and noticed that there is a now a nice layout of lesson plans to use with this versatile tool. Some other ways I’ve seen people use it are as a Book Tasting tool and an Exit Ticket Data Tracker. My students used it for interactive onomatopoeia in one instance, and as a game controller for their Scratch games in our game design unit. There are plenty of ways to get creative with Makey Makey, and it’s very user-friendly. If you are considering integrating more Design Thinking into your classroom, a Makey Makey is an inexpensive way to encourage innovation and experimentation with your students!
One of the fabulous things about 3d printing is that so many files are open source and freely available on the internet. You can download the .stl, put it through whatever your preferred slicing software is (such as Cura or the one that came with your 3d printer), and you have your own version. Now, you have access to 18,000 .stl files for ancient sculptures and artifacts through the “Scan the World” project. This was no small task. “Scan the World” partnered with Google Arts and Culture and museums around the world to get scans of their treasures – sometimes using drones to take pictures of larger sculptures on exhibit. You can read more about the project here. View the extensive archive hosted by MiniFactory here.
My family and I recently took a trip to Colorado. On our way to our VRBO in Colorado Springs, we stopped in the lovely town of Littleton. Walking down Main Street, we saw many fun shops and boutiques, but it was a Monday and several were closed. I was drawn to one sign, “PlayForge,” and peeked in the windows to see a darkened shop that seemed to sell board games. Disappointed the store wasn’t open, I continued walking down the street, but I kept glancing back.
The next morning, I was doing my daily scan of my Twitter feed, and couldn’t believe the second Tweet that I read was about PlayForge. (Knowing the far reach of social media these days, I suppose I should not have been surprised.) The Tweet was from one of the owners, Jesse Stommel (@Jessifer), and I realized I was going to have to return to Littleton to visit this amazing space. PlayForge had only recently opened, and it seems my initial attraction to the spot was more intuitive than I had realized.
You see, Jesse Stommel is an educator. He and his husband opened PlayForge as a retail store, but also a makerspace. With their adorable 4-year-old daughter, Hazel, as inspiration, they created a game store where children are welcome, and they will eventually be offering classes on game design where kids and families can make products using the store’s 3d printers, laser cutters, vinyl cutter, and other tools.
At PlayForge, you can find games for all ages, a classroom area with tables and a giant digital screen, and a room with accordion doors that can open out to the sidewalk so making can happen for everyone to see. Families will absolutely adore this unique business. Jesse, co-author of An Urgency of Teachers, and an experienced educator, is committed to helping children to love playing and making games.
So, yes, we made it back to Littleton on a day the store was open, and I got to meet the family and get a tour. We bought a couple of games that I thought I might be able to fit in my suitcase, and Hazel the Store Manager took a break from her jigsaw puzzle to scan them for us at the checkout.
If you live in Littleton, you should treat yourself by visiting PlayForge at 2420 W Main St. in Old Town Littleton, CO. You can find store hours and contact info here. You can also follow them on Twitter @PlayForgeGames. You can also listen to an 8-minute interview with Jesse and @reddy2go about the store here.
If you live in San Antonio… hey we need a place like this! I don’t have any money to invest, but I would be a great consultant and maker space teacher!