Allowing students room for creative thinking and its application

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

During the July holiday break, I ran a course through the Imaginarium for gifted girls in Years 4 to 8 to foster creative thinking through the application of possibilities with access to limited resources. Those resources? Cardboard boxes. The boxes that our young children would rather play with than their new toys. The boxes that previously housed new appliances for our home, that provide endless possibilities for children when their imagination is stimulated, where they consider everything that a cardboard box could possibly be. A pirate ship? A secret base? A fortress? A duplicator? A transmogrifier? Creative thinking, where endless possibilities are considered and trialled, utilising role play to simulate.

As our students grow older, their creativity is decreasing at a rapid rate, through conforming to rules, boundaries, and closed tasks with expected outcomes and strict specifications. Is this hindering our students’ ability to think creatively and grow this capability? With critical and creative thinking as well as problem-solving listed as the top skills we will 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, every cardboard box and tube I could get my hands on was sourced around the School campus. It’s quite incredible the amount of cardboard you can accumulate when you put a call out to staff. Even a staff member’s partner sourced cardboard from the local supermarket; it came in large sheets with a honeycomb scaffold inside supporting its width. To the delight of the students in the course, what culminated was a room full of options, of possibilities, of creativity just waiting to happen. Upon introduction to their room of ‘limited resources’, their eyes lit up in delight.

 The first task students completed required them to work in small teams to build a spacecraft that could house a person for the time it takes to fly to the moon. Upon hearing the brief, questions were pondered. 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? What shape would the space craft utilise? Following my trip to the NASA facility in Houston, Texas, where I was privileged to see new spacecraft under construction, photos stimulated the questions, the wondering, the consideration of possibilities – and the room came alive with discussion and planning.

Over the next hour, students worked in small groups using masking tape or Makedo toolkits to build their creations. Makedo toolkits contain plastic screws that screw into the cardboard and hold pieces together. The kits also include plastic screwdrivers and plastic saws that cut through the cardboard but don’t cut the user, and have an implement at the end to make holes in the cardboard to screw the screws into. An absolute dream for an activity like this when working with students from the safety perspective as well as the openness to further possibilities than masking tape can provide.

 

The discussion and explanations during the creation of the space craft were diverse.

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

“Yes, they give the space craft an extra boost and more momentum,” Chloe added.

“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 informed us.

 “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 explained.

 “We named ours ‘Ride Sally Ride’ after the first woman to walk on the moon,” claimed one of the groups as they completed their final features.

 “We named our space craft ‘SPELM II’. Every mission has a name. Our is our initials and the average of our ages,” another group asserted.

As the first activity for the day’s course, critical and creative thinking was in play, with rich discussions and collaboration in full swing. 

On a separate occasion, I ran a similar activity with students through our Girl Guardians mentoring programme, although these participants weren’t given a brief. “In a small group, what could you dream of to create using cardboard boxes?” I asked.

 

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“You mean we can make anything? Anything at all?” I was questioned.

 “Anything,” I responded. What followed was a room buzzing with excitement of possibility.

The girls worked on their creations over two sessions of the mentoring programme, presenting their new inventions to the group. What came about was an array of creative ideas, of possibilities and considerations stemming from their personal experiences.

“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 it could be made more comfortable and enjoyable,” explained Jasmine.

“We created a futuristic fort. It’s 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 everlasting 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 PTM: a Positive Thoughts Machine. This machine helps you to think of positive and happy thoughts rather than negative and sad thoughts. They’d be as common as ATMs. You put a bit of money in so we can continue to create them so we can reach more people. You go in there when you’re feeling negative or down and it helps you to be positive and happy,” Matilda explained.

“There’s a little bit of magic happening. It (the PTM) doesn’t make you happy, it helps you to identify positive thoughts in your brain, ‘cause they are in your brain, or they may be around you, like in a rainbow. It supports you to think about the good things around you and celebrate them. And that makes you positive and happy,” she added. 

“We would put the PTMs all around the place – in the shopping centre, down the park, near the restaurants, in schools and work places… Whenever you see someone feeling down or negative, you can show them to the nearest PTM,” Grace explained. “We wanted to create something original, that people could relate to. We liked how ATMs are accessible around the place 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 and happy thoughts. I don’t feel as grateful for the things around me and that’s what the PTM is for. To be grateful for what’s around me, like when my dog comes up to me and makes me happy.” 

From a futuristic car to a Positive Thoughts Machine, a futuristic fort to a Trojan horse. The ideas were diverse and creative in thought and application.  

On both occasions, students were provided with the opportunity to develop their critical and creative thinking skills, and create possibilities through imagining and dreaming. Though two examples of how this can be utilised to stimulate thinking and creativity, I continue to wonder how we can embed and apply these skills daily in our schools, 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. I wonder.