Learning through Rapid Prototyping

I recently presented a workshop on Design Thinking with a fabulous NJAIS colleague.  It was an incredibly thought-provoking experience for me. Teaching educators about using design thinking in the classroom forced me — or, more correctly, allowed me  — to immerse myself, again, in a plethora of creativity and design thinking resources. I read, listened and thought deeply, as I searched for the connections, and inspirations to share with the participants.

The idea of rapid prototyping was particularly provocative. It’s not the norm for education, and yet it has the potential to be profoundly valuable. By prototyping rapidly — with ideas, strategies, or products — we gather large amounts of information in a relatively short period of time. In the process, we discover our own strength and agency, and we experience the hidden potential of failure.

Rapid prototyping and gathering information from each failure, is a natural mechanism for learning, problem solving, and innovating.  I experienced its value as I watched my students attempt the Tower of Hanoi math game.

I prepped them for the process. I emboldened them in their willingness to try. I told them they might not get it  — the 1st, the 5th or the 100th time —  but they should keep trying, and learning with each move, mistake or failure. After listening to the rules, they gathered their three blocks, and set to work figuring out the puzzle.

One of the  girls was  the epitome of rapid prototyping. Rarely taking her eyes off the blocks, she moved them without discussion.She made hundreds of moves. She appeared undeterred by her failure to solve the puzzle, and seemed to find joy and interest in the process.

The number and quickness of her moves, might suggest her moves were aimless or unstudied. Someone watching might  wonder whether she were learning anything, or making any progress. But, looking at it with the eye of a design thinker, it became clear she was rapidly prototyping.

 

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Her movements were speedy, and many. But, they were definitely not without observation, noticing, thought, or purpose. As she made her moves, she clearly learned about the blocks, the puzzle board, and the ways in which everything worked together. After what seemed like hundreds of moves, she paused, looking at the board. Then, she  made the seven moves necessary to solve the puzzle!

(I particularly love this photo that captured the rapid movement of her hands as a blur of motion.)

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It was fascinating and a bit humbling to watch her! I was struck by how wonderfully it illustrated how we learn, as well as my role as an educator.

I must create a culture and environment that supports my students. A culture with resources that bolster their knowledge and understanding, while encouraging them to be brave, and to believe in their ability to work and learn. I must give them provocations and opportunities to problem find, and problem solve.

Then, I must step back and let them do their thing. I must resist any urge to jump in and rescue them before they actually need my help. I must sit in my own discomfort, and trust. Trust the process of learning. Trust creativity and design thinking. Trust rapid prototyping and learning from failure. And mostly, trust them!

Finally I must breathe! My breath helps me pause and gift my students with time and space. It helps me remain calm and confident, unafraid as my students heroically brave the unknown.

It’s a spectacular process that inspires and teaches me. My students — our students — have a tremendous amount of courage, insight and capacity to do and learn. All they need is the opportunity — and our trust and breath.

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The Blank Page Revisited

I’ve written several times about the blank page – once about my own experience and then another time about my Kindergartners working to overcome the blank page.

Even so, I still struggle with the blank page. It fascinates and attracts me – enticing me with its beauty and possibility — while simultaneously intimidating and mocking me!

I love making art – letting other’s art inspire me, exploring new mediums, or creating beautiful things for myself and others. I’m pretty talented. But again, wow, sometimes I’m stymied by the blank page. It pokes at me — like a sneaky bully — with angst and doubt, and keeps me from doing what I might.

My mind is always searching for connections between seemingly unconnected things, and the other day that trait helped me have an epiphany that helps me overcome my own blank pages.

The first part of the connection is a note and bracelet gifted me by one of my K students:

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I love that note and bracelet. I am even thinking how I might have a more permanent bracelet made that says “Imagine possibility!”

The second part of the connection was a quote on a friend’s Facebook post:

“Stop worrying about what might go wrong and get excited about what might go right!”

Ding, ding, ding!!! All of a sudden I got it!

I AM good at imagining. I imagine wonderful opportunities and ways of accomplishing them when I’m building with my kids. When I’m imagining art possibilities, I revel in all sorts of fabulous, positive possibilities. I enjoy imagining things I might make, as well as new ways to do things.

But when gazing upon the blankness of the page my imagining begins to change. Instead of the joy-filled optimistic possibility thinking, or the enthusiastic fun of trying new things, I imagine all the things that could go wrong. And, just like my more hopeful, lighthearted imagination, my fretting, angst-ridden imagination is powerful and thinks of many possibilities. Only problem is, these possibilities include the numerous things I do not want to happen!

This epiphany helped me as I worked on the door design I am creating. I did research. I prototyped. I discarded methods and color combinations that didn’t work. I refined the methods and color combinations until I was quite pleased. Finally, I mustered up my courage and took control of my own thinking.

Instead of allowing my imagination to travel down the dark path of doubt, doing it’s beautiful creative process to imagine all that could go wrong – destroying my hours and hours of work – I chose to get excited about what might go right! I imagined the fantabulous things that might occur – in my learning and in my actual product.

Sometimes I’m not able to come up with the actual possibilities because my thoughts of what might go wrong are so strong. In those times, I determine to embrace the excitement and possibility of what MIGHT go right — even if I’m not sure what they might be.

So one day, as sat in my workshop space, my door stared at me, daring me — or begging me, depending on your perspective — to come continue to work. With determined resoluteness, I accepted the challenge! I pulled out the colors, chose my brushes and began working.

It was a bit stressful for a moment, but as I worked, the stress eased and I developed a process that worked well. After just one flower was painted, my imagination was freed! I began to imagine — and believe — all the things that might go right. It was remarkable how interesting — intoxicating even — it was!

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I am now super excited to be in the process, and see where this will end up. I’ve made mistakes. But, I’ve chosen to breathe through them and let my imagination and process make good things happen. My fingers are crossed this will stay with me for future blank pages.

I’m wondering — imagining — how I will use this information with my students. I am certain there is something profound to share with them. My mind is already at work.

Now to await the marvelous, mysterious connections sure to come, and to become excited about all that may go right — for myself and my students.

The Magic of Ideas

I love the book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom. The illustrations are wonderful and add a profound depth that is accessible to all. If you haven’t read it yet, find a copy and read it! You won’t be disappointed.

Perhaps even better would be to read it with some children. Each time I read it to my class, they notice new things in the illustrations, and make unique connections and wonderings. They encourage me to open my eyes, mind, and heart, a bit wider, stay in the moment, and notice all there is to see.

I read the book aloud – stopping often for their eager noticing, sharing, wondering, conversing and questioning. It took us almost 30 minutes to read the book! We talked a lot about ideas – having ideas, feeding them, sometimes being afraid to share them, sometimes sharing our ideas freely, listening to other ideas, getting inspired by other people’s ideas, and, changing the world with our ideas!

I asked if they thought their ideas could change the world. There was a mixed response. Some thought yes, some no, and some were unsure. I told them I believed their ideas DO change the world. I asked them if they had every helped a friend who was sad, or if they had problem-solved with a friend. Of course, they all had. I continued, saying “Those ideas you shared when your friend was sad, and when you needed answers, helped right? So, they changed the world for that person and for you!”

I grabbed a notebook I carry in my bag, and shared some things I jot down – words, thoughts, ideas, images. Then I pulled out the small notebooks I made my students. The covers were decorated with circles and dots. Some were connected, some only partially formed, some mixing colors, some were off by themselves – just like our ideas. Finally I set my kids free to begin to fill their books with their thoughts, plans, imaginings, and visions.

Here are some of their ideas …

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  • Design and make dog clothes.
  • Make a big computer that converts into a small laptop

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  • Finger knit a headband like Caileigh’s.
  • I make board games.

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  • She will build a tower too. She’ll also build a bike.
  • Make a company. Make a new way to read.

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  • Make a blanket for Pikachu (finger knit).
  • Be myself. Dream big.

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  • Nothing can stop you from doing the thing you love.
  • I will always do crafts and drawing, even when I am angry.

Fabulous, right?

They cracked me up at the end of the time (about 30 minutes). I was wandering around telling them we had 5 more minutes, talking with them about their ideas, and taking photos. At some point I sat down, to chat or look at something more closely. The next thing I knew, I was surrounded by a circle of students – probably 2-3 deep at points – all saying “I have an idea, Miss James!” It was an incredible surge of joyful energy.

It was magical and wonderful!