I look over at the laughter and my Head of School is using a tiny light and a giant comb on the business director's head, illustrating the proper use of the flashlight their group designed. I couldn’t believe how great their design was. In fact, every group had a great design. They all worked, mostly, and the room was alive with creative energy.
C is for Creativity
Have you had your vitamin C lately? Creativity is seen as frivolous in many foolish places. If we overvalue efficiency, then creativity is simply a distraction or decoration. In fact, creativity is the tool we have to maintain to be able to craft the world and not merely wash it down with a frosty beverage.
While I mainly work with young students, my adult workshops are more dramatic than most of my classes. For the kids, I am often just connecting with their out-of-school self that rides horses or rescues motorbikes or the other way around. When I work with adults who are learning about design thinking, they are often surprised at how creativity impacts their careers and lives.
Design Thinking Makes Creativity Feel Safe
Making is an essentially creative activity, and all creative action generates real vulnerability. When we ask adults to create in front of other adults, it can be stressful and uncomfortable. Design thinking can help form some easy “game rules” that make the creative process feel less overwhelming and safer.
If you don’t know much about design thinking, I oversimplify it as a design process that has a real user with real needs at the center of the process. This process drives what we do and helps us fill in the next step of a project. This makes the experience more predictable and familiar, easing some of the anxiety that comes with creating.
STEAM Learning with Staff
In a staff meeting I was orchestrating, I wanted everyone to have a hands-on design thinking experience that would encourage educators to work together as a creative team. I also needed it be 45 minutes or less.
I received a microgrant from Sparkfun for a project I’m developing, allowing me to purchase LEDs and the BBC micro:bit pieces needed to control them. With those goals in mind and a few new puppets in hand, I created the next chapter in my Design Thinking with Puppets project.
I gathered what real examples I could find around the school and developed a simple script. I provided the teachers with a working code for the micro:bit that turned the LED on and off-if they hooked it up right. When they didn’t, the teachers had to determine the problem and develop a solution.
The challenge of making a flashlight was made much more complex and varied by placing it in a design thinking context. There were several groups that needed their light to flash. They had the tools available to change the code on the micro:bit and were able to find a solution with a little creative thinking.
Approaching Challenges Together
The day after the meeting, I had several people remark on how much fun they had. Having fun together does us all good. The world is challenging, but we can make great stuff together anyway.
When school leaders make the space and time for adults to engage in purposeful play, it makes it much easier for those adults to bring purposeful play to their students.
Try It in Your Classroom
The Google Slides and accompanying video below provide teachers with all the information and supporting resources they need to design a flashlight.
Sam Patterson is the Makerspace coordinator at Echo Horizon School on Los Angeles’ West Side. Sam has been in the classroom since 2002, teaching grades PreK-12. He believes every lesson is a writing lesson. Read more articles on his blog, My Paperless Classroom, and follow him on Twitter @SamPatue.
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