Encouraging students to apply creative thinking

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How do you provide students room to move, think, wonder, ponder and explore? To think creatively, trial ideas, imagine possibilities and dream fiercely?

Over the school holidays, we hosted a course for students in Years 4 to 8 to foster creative thinking and apply possibilities with access to limited resources – simply, just cardboard boxes. Cardboard boxes that previously housed new appliances for our home, that our young children would rather play with than their new toys. Cardboard boxes that stimulate children’s imaginations and provide them with endless possibilities for what they could create – perhaps a pirate ship, secret base, fortress, duplicator, or a transmogrifier?

As our students grow older, they are made to conform to rules, boundaries and closed tasks with expected outcomes and strict specifications and their creativity decreases at a rapid rate. Does this hinder our students’ ability to think creatively? With critical and creative thinking, as well as problem-solving, listed as the top skills we need to flourish and thrive in the fourth industrial revolution, how can we encourage our students to develop their creative thinking skills and consider possibilities for the future?

In preparation for the course, I sourced every cardboard box and tube I could get my hands on from around the School and it was quite incredible to see the amount of cardboard accumulated by staff. It created a room full of creative possibilities waiting to happen and students’ eyes lit up in delight as they stepped into their room of “limited resources”.

For their first task, students were required to work in small teams to build a spacecraft that could house a person for the time it takes to fly to the moon. The questions started to pour in – how many hours does it take to fly to the moon? What features would the spacecraft need to allow a human to survive in the cabin for that long? What features were required on the exterior for the spacecraft to withstand the hostile environment it would travel through in space? The room came alive with discussion and planning and I used photos from my trip to the NASA facility in Houston, Texas, where I was able to see new spacecraft under construction, to answer these questions.

Students used masking tape and Makedo toolkits to build their creations. The toolkits contained plastic screws able to screw into cardboard and hold pieces together, as well as plastic screwdrivers and plastic saws that could cut through cardboard without cutting the user.

Students were excited to tell me all about their creations.

“We have two large rockets for turbo power, as well as smaller rockets all around the bottom in case there is an emergency,” Isobel explained.

“We included a solar panel to provide a natural and renewable energy source to the spacecraft,” Ruby announced.

“We have included a calcium chart to ensure our astronaut stays healthy,” Chloe asserted.

“To be clever in our use of space, we have compacted the seat to fold out from the wall which also turns into a bed, with seat belts to keep us from moving around too much,” Sofia explained.

“Our spacecraft has its own droid which can be programmed by the computer inside,” Charlotte said.

“We had to consider the features we included to ensure the craft wasn’t weighed down. The rockets would need to be larger to increase the power and momentum when working against gravity to break into the space environment. It’s a fine balancing act,” Chloe added.

I also ran a similar activity with students during the Girl Guardians mentoring program. On this occasion, the participants were not given a brief and allowed to create anything they could possibly dream of using the cardboard boxes. The room erupted into a buzz of excitement and possibility.

The girls worked on their creations over two sessions, using personal experiences to inspire their new inventions. Their ideas were diverse and creative in both thought and application, including a futuristic car, a Positive Thoughts Machine, a futuristic fort, and a Trojan horse.

“We created a futuristic car that cooks food as it runs. Chocolate pizza is its specialty. It had comfy seats inside with integrated back massagers. The ideas stemmed from long-distance driving and how we could make it more comfortable and enjoyable,” Jasmine said.

“We created a futuristic fort – an underground bunker in a city of bunkers. We have to live underground because there is an Ice Age. The lighting has glow worms and it has a cheese department with never-ending cheese in it. It has doors with strings attached to open them and a special window door at the top so we can peek out and see what’s happening,” Naomi and Sophia described.

“Our group created a Positive Thoughts Machine (PTM) to help you to think of positive and happy thoughts, rather than negative and sad ones. They would be as common as ATMs and you go in there when you’re feeling negative or down and it helps you to be positive and happy. You put a bit of money in so we can continue to create them and can reach more people. There’s a little bit of magic happening. The PTM doesn’t make you happy, it helps you to identify positive thoughts in your brain… It supports you to think about the good things around you and celebrate them – that is what makes you positive and happy,” Matilda explained.

“We would put the PTMs all around the place – in the shopping centre, down the park, near the restaurants, in schools and workplaces. Whenever you see someone feeling down or negative, you can show them to the nearest PTM. We wanted to create something original, that people could relate to… and we wanted this to be accessible. We wanted to do something to do with happiness and people. Often, I come home from school and I’m tired and I don’t think much of what’s around me, or happy thoughts. I don’t feel as grateful for the things around me and that’s what the PTM is for,” Grace added.

During both cardboard courses, students were provided with the opportunity to develop their critical and creative thinking skills and create possibilities through imagining and dreaming. I continue to wonder how we can embed and apply these skills in our schools every day, in our classrooms through integrated curriculum opportunities, and in our homes to grow children’s imaginations well into adulthood. I wonder what possibilities our future generations will create and devise in our rapidly changing world.