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Strategies to get kids to start thinking

There are 3 main points to this blog post: (1) Failure is OK, (2) Think outside the square and (3) Persist. These are then followed by some practical teaching ideas.

We need to teach our students how to think and this can be achieved. One of the first concepts I think teachers need to teach students is that failure is OK. They need to understand that failure is part of the learning experience. We’ve all heard of the learning pit. It is a visual, explaining the path of learning. It begins with  the feeling of  ‘I don’t know’,  through to the, ‘It is too hard, I want to quit’. Then it begins to head upwards as students begin say ‘I’ll try again’, ‘Maybe I can do it’, and finished off with, ‘I was right not to give up’, ‘Eureka! I’ve succeeded’. Audri’s Monster Trap  is a great video to share with students in order to begin discussing the concept that failure is OK.

The next step is to try and get your students to think ‘outside the square’, to think ‘above and beyond’.

Then you need to teach them to persist. The Lego Story is a beautiful video to share with students, it is rich in content and deep with thought.

However, you need to do more than just discuss these ideas and watch short videos. Below I have provided you with some tasks I use with my students in order to begin to develop the ideas that failure is OK, you need to think outside the square and that you need to persist. Particularly with the third point, persistence, you will often find students saying, ‘I can’t think of anything’ and with the activities below, you will usually hear this after 2 minutes. Reply with,  ‘Persist, you’ve only been thinking for 2 minutes!’.  I also find that most students like to work in groups in order to share ideas.

1.Starters to get students to  begin to think differently
– Name 10 things you can not clean
– List 5 sounds you have never heard
– Name 10 things you could not photograph

2. Ask student to consider the disadvantages of an object and considering improvements
– Choose an object and list the disadvantages of it (what goes wrong when you use it?)
– Then list some ways of correcting, or eliminating the disadvantages
NOTE: We often accept the inadequacies of many products, without really considering how they can be improved. You will be amazed at the number of everyday products which can be further developed.

3. Combining objects
– List 3 attributes/features/functions of a leaf and 3 of a mousetrap.
– Combine the two to create a new invention.

4. BAR (Bigger, Add, Replace)
– Choose an object and BAR  it
– For example, a skateboard
Bigger- Extend the rear of the skateboard, making it much bigger, and put some shelves on it for storage space. Place a counterweight on the front to balance it out.
Add- Add a small rocket motor, which can be controlled with a foot throttle near the back of the skateboard.
Replace- Replace the wheels with a small hovercraft unit, which is controlled by a hand-held rotating device.

5. Variations
– Choose an action/job/task and think of how many ways you can complete it.
– For example, how many ways can you peel a banana, or how many ways can you turn on the TV or how many ways can you make new friends?

6. Predicting
– Predict how schools will operate in 100 years.
– Predict 5 present day household appliances which will be obsolete in 20 years time.
– Predict the power source of the family car by the year 2020.​
– My students love this video

7. Finding things in common
– Decide upon 2 objects which would generally have nothing in common, and try to outline some points of commonality between them.
– For example, cheese and chalk.
– This is great for the development of unusual concepts.

8. Show students a range of new inventions and ask them to critique, discuss etc. Here are a few that I use:
– Robots cook food and serve food in China LINK
– Solar powered tent LINK
– Tensile tree tents: Floating tree houses mimic spider webs LINK
– Glow nightlight with glowing balls LINK
– Sunny cat bed LINK
– Edible water blob LINK

 If you’d like to share some of your resources, post a comment below. 

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