About Lightning Strikes

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Design Thinking: Taking the First Steps

Sliding under my daughter's bed in search of her collection of beanie babies is a most unusual part of lesson preparation, even for an elementary teacher. But, I needed a number of stuffed animals for a creative problem solving lesson and I thought the beanie babies would fit the bill nicely. We'll return to them in a moment.

I began my integration of creative and design thinking into my 4th grade curriculum with the book Creative Confidence, which I wrote about back in August.  I realized, though, that I would have to begin by laying a foundation for my students that would include brainstorming experience, productive collaborative work, listening skills, and a variety of practice scenarios before we could use many of the ideas from the book. I have some experience using Creative Problem Solving (CPS) in teaching, so I turned to one of the books I have, Big Tools for Young Thinkers by Susan Keller-Mathers and Kristin Puccio. CPS is a method that advocates a step by step process to encourage creative solutions. Both CPS and design thinking emphasize identifying a problem to solve, generating lots of ideas, suspending any judgment on the value of ideas, collaboration and divergent thinking, so I felt that CPS activities would be a productive first step..

The first sessions with my class were from Big Tools for Young Thinkers and introduced the rules of brainstorming, which they then applied in an activity generating ideas for preventing a squirrel from stealing all the fruit from your fruit tree. The students worked in small groups with the goals of coming up with as many ideas as possible and not criticizing anyone else's ideas during brainstorming.  (They were also not allowed to harm the squirrel as part of a solution.) The next lesson we did from the book was machine creation through a drawing activity. For this exploration students drew ideas for three new machines, then switched papers with a partner. With someone else's ideas in front of them and their own in their heads, students tried piggybacking off their partner's machines to create different new creations. Our third CPS exercise was creating a new type of transportation by forcing a relationship between two different modes of transport. As can be seen, these activities are also a lot of fun.

I switched gears for the next lesson and took an idea I had gotten from Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Success, Happiness (and World Peace) by Chade-Ming Tan. This is a wonderful book on mindfulness. One of the exercises in the book is a listening exercise in which partners take turns listening and talking. The speaker has three minutes to speak, uninterrupted, about any one topic. The topic should be a serious one that is important to the speaker, such as a time when you were upset or sad. The listener's job is to listen, look at the speaker's face, nod encouragingly, and possibly say, "mm hmm," but nothing more. If the speaker runs out of things to say, the two sit in silence until either the speaker says something or the three minutes are up. Then they switch roles. Though I got this from Search Inside Yourself,  one of the drama teachers at Quest told me this comes from drama education. I chose to do this activity because one of the aspects of the design thinking process is really listening to others (often customers in the business and engineering worlds) in order to understand the problems that you might be trying to solve. I wanted to apply this to some of the problems I would present to my class during the year.

For my 4th graders, talking is not very difficult, but staying silent and focused on the speaker was a huge step. I was thrilled at how well they carried this out. With debriefed afterwards about how they felt as speaker and as listener. Most of them found both roles challenging.

One of the stuffed animals created after interviewing a partner

The next lesson called on listening skills, as well as brainstorming. This exercise asked students to take two stuffed animals and create a new animal through the forced relationship. This is the reason I was under my daughter's bed, searching for beanie babies. She had collected a lot at the height of the Beanie Baby craze, and they are smaller than many stuffed animals, making it easy for me to bring a lot of them to school. Each student got two diverse animals and drew a new stuffed animal, with a description or name. Taking this activity a step further, I had partners interview each other, using their listening skills, about what characteristics each wanted in a stuffed animal. Then they created animals for each other, again drawing them on paper, and presented them to the class.

All of the above activities were done in our first trimester. One of the challenges in adding Creative Thinking to my curriculum was finding time for it. I spend between 30 and 60 minutes on it per week, though some weeks special events take over that time. I have a long Thursday afternoon with my students, so these types of lessons, that are more interactive, are perfect for keeping focus and engagement.

In the second trimester we will be moving into some different types of creative explorations. I am planning ways to integrate creative thinking and problem solving lessons into other subjects, especially now that me students have some of the basics of the process down. We are in the alpha stage of development - an exciting process!

1 comment:

  1. This is an interesting project for 4th graders, Becky. You should share this on Twitter under the hashtag #CelebrateMonday.