Magazine article Technology and Children

Inventing: Moving from Exploring to Model Building. (IDSA)

Magazine article Technology and Children

Inventing: Moving from Exploring to Model Building. (IDSA)

Article excerpt

Grade Level: grades 3-6

Time: Two class periods


From time to time, I try to work a lesson into my college-level classroom that I learned while observing a grade school classroom in action. I did so recently after having sat in on a 4th grade writing class in which the teacher asked, "What do we do when we don't know what to write?" The hands shot up. "Write anyway and write anything, and if you cannot think of anything to say, write the same letter over and over and over." This is good advice for students of any age. Creativity does not come on demand, and when it does not arrive on schedule,, you need to keep the engines running until the process shifts into gear. I asked my junior class in product design to use this approach in creative sketching. When sitting with a pad and pencil seeking a visual concept, the pencil should not be still. Sketching anything at all will generate ideas and images that the designer recognizes as having merit and can develop into concepts.

Certain threads connect students at all levels of their education. They study math, history, science, art, reading, etc., from first grade through advanced degrees. What about design or engineering? What are the basic skills that are nurtured in the young that come into play for design, engineering, or architecture? Children have vivid imaginations and only need encouragement to develop them. When children speak freely, they speak with an air of experience--although experience and imagination will overlap considerably. As a designer, I find that it is from this intersection of experience and imagination that new products are born.

Part I

Exploring and Designing

The process is aided with a "starter object," that aids the imagination by offering a shape and some details that can be used to imagine something entirely new. Professionals use this process. Begin with "found" starter objects--common objects that have a well-known purpose. Examples might be a stapler, a computer mouse, a skate, a paintbrush, or a flashlight. As these products will be imagined into other uses, it is best not to use blocks or other building materials. The objects should have doors, handles, hinges, moving parts, and details that imply function. Before continuing, the children should have an object in hand, for which they know the traditional use.

Go Exploring

Ask your students to share anecdotes of places they have explored such as caves, forests, or department stores and about people with whom they might have done this exploration. Often they have learned about historical exploration, so encourage them to picture themselves as an explorer, in this context, it may also be helpful to reference books or movies involving exploration, in any case, when the class is firmly involved in the adventure of investigating the unknown, turn their attention back to the objects in their hands.

In this critical phase of the project, the goal is to imagine the object as a tool or device to aid in the experience of exploration. Students should picture features in their new product, aided by features of the starter object.

Such features may be the hinge of the stapler, the ball under the mouse, the wheels of the skate, or the bristles of the brush. …

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