What Can You Create With . . .?

Any kind of activity that’s open-ended and encourages creativity/problem-solving is something I love to use to challenge students. I came across this video from John Spencer and decided to try it with our third graders. Click here to view more of John’s videos!

The Challenge:  Using the following supplies, create something that has a use.

  • 2 pieces of paper
  • 3 straws
  • 1 marble
  • a few paper clips
  • a few rubber bands
  • 8 or 9 inches of masking tape (Tape isn’t on the original supply list but, after watching the first class struggle, I decided to provide some tape.)

What I love about the video is how Spencer stresses that there is NO bad idea!

We began with asking students to brainstorm on their own. They could jot down ideas or draw them. I only gave them 60 seconds or so; usually students are so excited that they can’t keep quiet for too long! They’re very eager to get started!

The next step was for the group to discuss all ideas and then come up with a decision on what to create. Most groups did fine with this, although a very few struggled. It’s difficult to practice the give-and-take that is needed to collaborate but, it’s an extremely important skill to learn!

What was so interesting is that each class approached the challenge in different ways. With one class, every single group had the same idea – a slingshot! Granted, they were all different – but still, the same idea?!

The other classes provided more variety with their designs. One group designed a purse for their teacher. I wasn’t quite sure what role the marble played in the design, but was quickly told it went inside to check to see if the purse could actually hold things.

Here are a few other creations.

I wish the above group had explained more about their process. They built a bridge out of paper for the marble to roll on, but, what they discovered was that it rolled off the bridge every time. I overheard a member of the group exclaim, “We are ALL geniuses. We’re definitely NOT idiots!” That’s when the ideas really seemed to flow! The students came up with the idea of lining the bridge with paper clips. This provided a “railing” that kept the marble on the bridge.

This was hard for third graders! The type of supplies along with the limited number of items that could be used really was a stretch for the children. Even though some of the designs were similar and/or not too complicated, each group worked through the design process by planning, discussing, making changes, and sometimes, even starting over. The entire process was excellent practice and I have no doubt it will get easier as more challenges are presented!

A Better House for the Three Pigs

Continuing with the Fairy Tale theme, Mrs. Garcia and I found an activity from Teachers Pay Teachers called, The Big Bad Wolf STEM Challenge. We adapted it slightly to incorporate design thinking. (I like to use the Launch Cycle model because it’s very easy for elementary children to understand. See the post, Design Thinking + Dot Day = Thoughtful Creationfor a more in-depth description of this model.)

The challenge: Build a house for the pigs that can’t be blown down by the Big Bad Wolf (aka the hairdryer).

The students chose 20 of one of the following:

  • toothpicks
  • straws
  • popsicle sticks

We started by asking the children to assume the role of the pigs. What would you want for a house? How could it be built so that it was sturdy enough to withstand all the huffing and puffing of the wolf?

Going through the design thinking process, we had the students discuss ideas with their partner using only verbal descriptions. They had 2 minutes for this (and begged for more)! Then, the children sketched ideas based on the previous discussions. Next, each described their illustrations. The hardest task was to choose the “final” design – the one to be used for building. That step required give and take as well as negotiating skills as they tried to prove that certain designs would withstand the wolf better than others. It was interesting to listen to the conversations as the children combined the best parts of each of the sketches. There was no arguing. Instead, we saw and heard fantastic reasoning skills as students talked through the pros and cons of each design element!

Time for building! Students collected the materials and went to work. No two houses were alike!

The one thing I’d change for the future would be to limit the amount of tape. That would certainly increase the challenge difficulty. These houses were like an armored truck; there was SO much tape wrapped around some of them that I’m not even sure these structures could be crushed!

The reflection time is very important. It’s really easy to skip this step because of lack of time but it’s critical to have the students talk about their challenges; what worked, what didn’t, what they would change doing it again, etc. It also provides the opportunity for the teacher to get a better idea of the students’ thinking.

Here’s a video to give you a glimpse into the Three Pigs challenge.

To the students, this seems like “play” – it’s most definitely fun for children AND teachers! But, there is SO much learning going on. Collaboration, design, planning, learning how to improvise if something doesn’t work – to name just a few of the skills!

I’d love to hear your experiences with design thinking!