This year I have the unique challenge and thrill of teaching seventh and eighth grade students about creativity and problem solving. For almost a decade I have been coaching students for creative problem solving competitions for Destination Imagination and Future Problem Solving. However this is the first time I have had to design a class around those principles.
Thankfully creative people are so open to sharing. I am borrowing heavily from the Stanford d.school K-12 site and from numerous e-mails to the Texas A&M University Institute for Applied Creativity.
My challenge this week was to embed two fundamental tenets of the class: the opportunity for innovation is everywhere and to be a great problem solver you have to look at the challenge from different perspectives.
To begin our discussion on perspectives I used the Marshmallow Challenge. I have used this challenge in class for a couple of years for a break away from the routine of school. This year I used it to give the class a shared experience on the importance of perspective in problem solving.
I had eight groups of children attempt the challenge on Thursday, only three groups had a standing structure at the end of the eighteen minute time limit. The lesson: You forgot about the marshmallow.
The key to solving the challenge is to start with the marshmallow and build the structure from there. The marshmallow is a metaphor for the people we are solving problems for - we can never forget to take their perspective into account when designing solutions to their problems.
We did the exact same challenge on Friday and seven of the eight groups had standing structures with the tallest being 24.5 inches. They started with the marshmallow and worked their way down.
For homework this week the class had to post their reflections on the first week of class. Here are their thoughts on the impact of the marshmallow challenge:
I learned that when solving problems, you should always be thinking about the person you're solving them for.
In this past week I have learned to work better with others and--in the case of the marshmallow challenge--"always put the customer on top" (haha).
I learned that you should always be open minded and make several prototypes before the ta-da moment.
Also I learned that everything we build has a marshmallow, all designs and innovations should cater to the customer, and that design plans should include several prototypes.
We learned that good design has to go through many prototypes before reaching the final product, and that throughout the designing process the customer must always be kept in mind.
As the year goes on we will keep building on these concepts: the world is ripe for innovation, fail fast and fail often and most importantly never forget the marshmallow.