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Matthew Miller Jacob Wells

Build Play Learn Published by

211 South Broad Street, 5th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19102 Copyright Š 2011

Copyright © 2011 by Matthew Miller & Jacob Wells Illustrations copyright © 2011 by Matthew Miller & Jacob Wells Photography credits: All photography created by © 2011 Matthew Miller & Jacob Wells unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced–mechanically, electronically, or by any other means, including photocopying–without written permission of the publisher. Cover design by Matthew Miller & Jacob Wells Book design by Matthew Miller & Jacob Wells Masters of Industrial Design at The University of the Arts 212 South Broad Street, 5th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19102 First printing May 2011

Submitted in partial fulfillment of requirements for degree of Master of Industrial Design at The University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA by Matthew Miller & Jacob Wells

Approved by

committee chair anne harrison

reader david cooper moore

211 South Broad Street, 5th Floor Philadelphia, PA 19102 Copyright Š 2011

director jonas milder

Thesis Statement The experience of taking things apart, tinkering and making can engage children in reflective thinking. It can help them see their worlds in new ways and help them become better creative problem solvers.

I, Jacob Wells, dedicate this book to my parents, Richard and Betty Wells. Thank you for always supporting my creative endeavors and entertaining my wacky ideas.

I, Matt Miller, dedicate this book to my father, Brian Miller. Thanks for always believing me in me and being there to lend a helping hand.

Acknowledgements A special thanks to Anne Harrison, David Cooper Moore, Fleisher Art Memorial, The Hacktory, Georgia Guthrie.

Table of Contents 08 Project Brief 10 Children today 14 Fleisher Art Memorial 18 The Hacktory 20 Masters of Industrial Design 22 Research 24 Teaching children to be reflective learners 26 Teaching creativity 28 LEGO 32 Thinkering 34 Design Thinking 40 Constructivism 42 Inquiry based science museums 46 Case Study 50 Eric’s story 68 Worksheets 70 Introducing the design process 74 Visual Class Planer 76 Help fill the parts bins! 80 I’m planning to make 82 A collaborative classroom 84 Thinkering in action 86 Final Design 88 The disassembly project 94 Table of Contents

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1: Project Brief 8


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Children play differently then they used too. They have become non-tinkerers. 10

1: Project Brief

Children today are surrounded by media, TV, and video games, they move at twitchspeed: multi-tasking and expecting instant feedback and rewards. They have become consumers rather than creators. Considering that children today are spending more time

than ever consuming digital media, this thesis began with a few questions: How does digital media effect creative play? When comparing digital versus physical play environments, which one provides a richer learning experience? and how can we help children see

their world as opportunities to create rather than consume? Research shows that there is no difference between digital and physical play. What is important is for children to be able to take a step back and reflect on the activity they 11

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Children today are consumers of digital media. are engaged in. Reflective thinking is difficult for younger children, but important in the creative process. Engaging children in reflective thinking became the design challenge of this project. This challenge ultimately inspired the design of an experience that would incorporate thinkering, the act of engaging the hands and the mind, with design process. Thinkering inherently supports reflective thinking although has no specific process or structure. Combining thinkering and design process allows reflective thinking to be practiced and repeated to eventually become a natural way of thinking for the child. We identified a common thread between the problem of childhood consumption and 12

the need to engage in reflective thinking. This common thread was thinkering. Our goal was to effectively engage children in thinkering to encourage reflective thinking. Through hands-on and exploratory based projects we allowed children to experience common household objects in a new way. They were able to take them apart, thinker with them and build something new. By doing so they took ownership of these objects in an entirely new

way than they were used to. This thesis looks at how to support reflective thinking by engaging children in thinkering. The results of a case study with Fleisher Art Memorial are a step in the direction of developing a curriculum that supports reflective thinking and the creative process through thinkering with consumable goods.

What is important is for children to be able to take a step back and reflect

Each day, the average 8–10 year-old spends

1: Project Brief

7.5 hours


29% MULTITASKING of this time

3.41 hours 1 hour



69% have

31% want

age 11–14

age 6–12

handheld video game players

iPod Touch or Computer

Sources: NielsonWire, 2010; Kaiser Family Foundation, 2010


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Fleisher Art Memorial Sharing art education for everyone 14

1: Project Brief

Fleisher Art Memorial is an educational institution based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Founder Samuel Fleisher first offered an invitation for people to come and learn art in 1898, his vision of high-quality, tuition-free art

instruction is still followed today. The memorial offers a variety of classes to all age groups, creating a community around making and sharing art. Our class brought a different approach to teaching at Fleisher. It

expanded the artists’ tool set to include hammers, screws, nails, gadgets, and gizmos.


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Our class was enrolled with 11 children ranging in age from 8 - 10. There were 8 boys and 3 girls. The class title was Gadgets and Kinetic sculpture. It was left up to us as to what our curriculum would be. We had full control of project themes, depth and difficulty, and materials, as long as we worked within a budget. Our budget for the The class was arranged in collaboration with The Hacktory in Philadelphia.

Fleisher Art Memorial offered us an opportunity to work with children ages 8-10 in an after-school class.


1: Project Brief

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Hacktory Printer Smash

The Hacktory A group of technology enthusiasts, DIY-ers, and artists from Philadelphia 18

1: Project Brief

We want to reinforce the idea that our world is malleable – the devices and spaces we interact with everyday can be repurposed and modified to create new experiences.

The Hacktory is a non-profit organization of technology enthusiasts, DIY-ers, geeks, and artists who promote the use of technology in the arts through classes, events, and community. Their goal is to

empower people and give them a sense that technology can be a tool for personal expression and to reinforce the idea that the world is malleable – the devices and spaces we interact with everyday can

be re-purposed and modified to create new experiences. Their mission statement is in line with the goals and principals of Build Play Learn.








MiD STUDIO Opportunity to teach the class Class begins

Masters of Industrial Design Graduate design education at the University of the Arts We embraced our partnership with The Hacktory and Fleisher as an opportunity to observe and interact with our user group. We thoroughly documented each of the 10 classes with photos and videos, capturing both process and finished product. Every week we would observe and


interact with the children in our class. Those observations and interactions were documented through video and photography. We logged over twenty hours of footage of our class. The observations and documentation of each class was analyzed. We analyzed the children’s interactions with

each other, the projects, and our interactions with them. The analysis informed the following weeks approach to a project. Essentially, every week became an iteration and prototype leading up to our final design concept, the disassembly project.







Safe spaces workshop Meeting the teaching artists

Our weekly design process This graphic shows our project FLEISHER timeline and process. We spent ART MEMORIAL twenty total hours interacting with our class. Every class was analyzed and MiDinformed STUDIO the following weeks approach to a project. We analyzed the children’s’ interactions with each other, the projects, and our interactions with them.

INTERACT Observe Document

PROTOTYPE Synthesize Build & Test

REFLECT Analyze Evaluate

EXPLORE Research Interview


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2: Research 22


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Teaching children to be reflective learners Dr. Charles Burnette explains that reflective

is not the only thing children need in order

thinking is especially difficult for younger

to approach these problems. Tim Brown, the

children. He suggests that a teacher can guide

CEO of IDEO, criticized education by stating

the student through thinking reflectively by

that “most of what we do in K–12 education

asking provoking questions. The benefit in this

is drain out creative skills.” (Brown)

is that by learning to take a moment to step back and reflect, to assess their current work compared to their original intent, children learn how to become independent learners. They “learn how to learn.” Reflective thinking children are better suited to approach problems in any subject — since they can step back, reflect, and critically evaluate what they have experienced and what needs to be done. (Burnette) It is important for children to become reflective thinkers in order to be creative problem solvers. Our current education system fails to prepare students with the reflective thinking skills they need to become creative problem solvers. (Robinson) What our education system does is support memorization and recall of factual information. This is the main method of learning and preparing students for their future. The fact is that today we face challenges unlike those ever faced before and factual memorization 24

Critical, independent and reflective thinking are major pieces of what makes up creativity. Creative skills are inherently present in independent learning and reflective thinking. They allow for working in a highly focused way on ideas and projects, crafting them into their best forms and making critical judgements along the way about which is best and why.” (Robinson pg 5).

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10 11 12


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Supporting reflective thinking by teaching creativity Anyone can be creative. It is important to

Sir Robinson lists specific methods of

understand the role the teacher or facilitator

developing “skills of independent creative

of a creative experience plays. It is also

work.” These methods include (Robinson, 2001):

important to understand methods in which to aid creative process. Teaching creativity is not easy. Sir Robinson explains how creativity can be taught. He believes that educators

• Promote experimentation • Encourage generative thought • Expression of personal ideas and feelings

have three roles in teaching creativity:

• Convey the understanding of phases in

• Encouraging — Everyone is creative, yet

• Develop awareness of the roles of

many people believe that creativity is limited to certain people or activities. Teachers should inspire confidence and “Encourage people to believe in their creative potential.”

creative work, and their need for time intuition and aesthetic processes • Play with ideas and conjecture about possibilities • Facilitate critical evaluation of ideas.

• Identifying — While everyone can learn general creative skills, each student will

These methods for development can

have different creative capacities and

be summarized as follows:

strengths. Teachers should “Help students discover their own creative strengths.” • Developing — Teachers should help students develop “skills of independent creative work” by encouraging self-confidence and the capacity to think for ones self.

• Promote experimentation and divergent thinking • Encourage and allow personal expression • Provide structure that clarifies phases of the creative process • Have fun with ideas and brainstorm possibilities • Facilitate critical thinking


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These ideas and principles are important to understand if you are a person trying to facilitate creative experiences in any regard. What they lack is a framework and process in which to follow. Without a framework, following these principles and maintaining your roles is difficult. If we apply a specific framework, teachers and students can track progress of a project and have more opportunity for reflection within the creative experience.

Child has idea

Child reflects

“If someone tells you they can not read or write, you don’t assume that they are not capable of reading and writing, but that they haven’t been taught how. It is the same with creativity.” – Sir Ken Robinson

Ask how, why, & what


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Systematic creativity To think about what they are doing and why they are doing it. Systematic Creativity addresses reflective thinking by offering an expansive system of parts and defining clear constraints for putting them together. (D. G. Edith Ackermann)





How does Systematic Creativity encourage reflection? Reflection occurs when the user of the LEGO system makes something. In the act of making

Systematic Creativity

the user has to consciously reflect on how they are building their creation, how they must manipulate the parts, and how those manipulations fit within the constraints. Novice

Systematic creativity is logic plus imagination. It is a concept that LEGO applies to all products they design. In the research paper titled Systematic Creativity in the Digital Realm, LEGO found that children move seamlessly between digital and physical play

LEGO builders are guided through the system with step-by-step instructions. After following the instructions, builders are empowered with an understanding of how the system works. They can now apply what they learned to create things purely from their imagination.

environments. Each environment has its own

Lego talks about creativity on a broader

affordances and can positively contribute to

scale, moving away from the discussion of

a creative experience in different ways. They

any one particular creative system, creativity

explain what is important is for children to step

itself is humanity’s system for reflecting upon

back from things and take a moment to reflect.

itself. Constructivist, John Dewey, suggests


2: Research

that understanding an artistic or creative

in it. Therefore being engaged in a creative

experience is like understanding how a flower

experience encourages reflection upon ourselves

grows – rather than simply noticing that it is

and our place in the world. (Dewey) LEGO

pretty, it involves an understanding of ‘the soil,

states that this in turn is perhaps the basis

air, and light’ which have contributed to the

for our cultural systems, and an argument for

etiology of the work and which will be reflected

creativity in society. (D. G. Edith Ackermann)

What is the system and what are the parts? The expansive system of play that LEGO supports includes the bricks, wheels, and all other elements designed to connect to each other.

What are the constraints of the system? The constraints of the system are the way in which LEGO elements fit together and the limitation to which they do so.


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Applying Systematic Creativity outside the world of LEGO Systematic creativity is powerful within the constraints of the LEGO system of play. However, in our class we weren’t using LEGOs, we were using real parts. This raised a couple important questions: How can systematic creativity be applied to the real world when things in the real world do not always logically or literally connect? If systematic creativity could be applied outside of the LEGO system of play, can it be used as a platform in which to support reflective thinking in hands-on projects?


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Thinkering Thinking and doing is a concept that has been stressed from the beginning of the project, calling it “seeing the world as opportunities.” In other words, children need to see the world around them as parts from which to build new things. As challenges they can conquer with a little creative problem solving. In our class our students are able to fully realize their creative visions only after exploring and tinkering with the parts inside the appliances. Our research showed there is a word for this: “Thinkering” — thinking and tinkering - engaging the mind and the hands. We did not make this word up, the term “Thinkering” was coined in the novel, The English Patient, to “suggest collecting a thought as one tinkers with a half-completed bicycle.” The term is now being used by various academics, designers, and makers to describe the act of engaging the hands and the mind. It’s the idea that you can approach a problem with an unknown answer and through handson exploration and reflective thinking you can arrive at new solutions. Thinking alone, without engaging one’s hands, risks creating “abstract 32

learners who have difficulty applying what they have learned to the world around them” (Elliot Washor, Co-Founder of Big Picture Learning) Thinkering inherently presents opportunity for reflection. Thinkering and the maker movement is not a shiny new fad that should be used as next disruptive wave in education reform. Rather, it should be defined by the maker rationale: “deep engagement with content, experimentation, exploration, problem-solving, collaboration, and learning to learn—the ingredients of effective learning communities.” (Honey and Siegel) If we want to teach students how to become makers, we need to consider how to engage teachers. There is little in most existing K-12 curriculum that supports “making” and formal education. Even the curriculum for undergraduate teacher-preparation up to how schools are structured presents a challenge in incorporating maker mentality. Connecting maker culture and hands-on project based learning to educational opportunities that exist in formal and informal settings is

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working effectively in places throughout the country where it has been injected. Most of these schools are private, or charter schools and have high tuition rates making them inaccessible to a large portion of the population. Each school that has adopted these values reminds us of the connection between hand and mind, and doing and reflecting. “It is our natural inclination to create as we learn and to learn as we create that is at the heart of this movement.” (Honey and Siegel) “Schools must provide for all students a handmind approach to the essential “academics.” The hand-to-mind pathway is a way to engage all students and deepen their learning, to understand what quality looks like, and through practice and tinkering to apply discipline-based skills. Schools can reap the rewards of making if they can resist the “curse of the course;” loosen rigid time structures to promote exploration and smart failures; and, in the evening and on weekends, open their labs, sheds and garages to the community and to makers of all ages and levels of expertise. They will need as well to

bring the traditional academic disciplines to the making itself. By employing people, objects, places and situations to support making, schools will prepare a whole generation of young people to succeed in the challenging careers out there now -- and the ones that will be.” (Washor) The words of educators who have adopted the principles of thinkering are proof of the power it can bring to the educational experience of young people. As designers, we see this as an opportunity as to engage young people in projects that allow them to thinker outside of the formal education environment. By working outside of the educational system we have more free reign to explore how these creative experience can exist and slowly try to launch them in educational environments.


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Design thinking as a creative framework Design thinking provides a framework for the creative process. Dr. Charles Brunette is a design educator and creator of the iDESIGN method of design thinking. He served as chair of the Industrial Design department of the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA, USA. During this time he started the Design Based Education K–12 Program with then chair of the Art Education Program, Janis Norman. The program was initiated in 1989 by Dr. Brunette and began as a university course called Design With Kids. According to Dr. Brunette’s website, this course “placed design students in classrooms to help teachers conduct design projects related to their teaching goals” [iDesignthinking. com]. Dr. Brunette also published a Teacher’s Resource Guide on technology teaching tools in collaboration with other university faculty and local schools. Now, this resource guide seems outdated and irrelevant, however at the time it was written it was ahead of its time. It aided teachers in using the new technology of the time into their curriculum. He has since published the iDESIGN model for design thinking. While this material is 34

originally based on a the Design Based K–12 Education Program, it has since been modified and reworked to present one of most clear explanations on design thinking available. Design thinking as explained through iDESIGN is “…a process of creative and critical thinking that allows information and ideas to be organized, decisions to be made, situations to be improved, and knowledge to be gained.” In other words, its a framework to help guide an effective and purposeful creative process. The iDESIGN website provides a wealth of information including rationale for teaching design thinking, methods for teaching, content for curriculums, tools and techniques, assessment, and insight into the educational theories that form the basis of iDESIGN. Dr. Brunette makes a compelling case for design thinking’s potential to be applied to any domain. He states, “design thinking is not restricted to any particular domain like language is to words, math to numbers or music to sounds.” Instead, “It is a generic process that may be applied to anything to produce or do something that is not already determined.”

2: Research

Dr. Charles Burnette is a pioneer in applying design thinking to the educational experiences of young people in formal educational settings. For this reason we were interested in two areas of Dr. Burnette’s research:

How to implement design thinking into the classroom. How to encourage reflection and self-assessment in younger children.


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Design Thinking is a process that can be applied anywhere He clarifies a common misconception the people have when the hear the term ‘design.’ Design is not a particular pattern or decoration — “these are only results of the particular design activity that created them.” Rather, as Dr. Brunette explains, “Designing is the process by which ideas are made observable and useful as well as the process by which artifacts and behaviors are conceived and realized.” Understanding the real meaning of design, it becomes clearer as to how the design process can be applied to any domain.

that challenge and focus personal initiative.” In a time when traditional education focuses on rote memorization, drill and recall, and standardized curriculums and testing, design thinking provides a refreshing and inspiring alternative. Students become engaged through projects that share their personal interests. Individual learning styles are celebrated and nurtured and personal initiative is developed. Rather then evaluating students based on what they can recall, students are evaluated on how think along the way. Students recall “relevant knowledge when it is useful…” rather than “… simply recalling knowledge for its own sake.” []

Perhaps the biggest value of design thinking is that it provides a motivating and engaging learning experience that accommodates various learning styles, interests, and abilities. Design Dr. Charles Burnette is a pioneer engages participants in applying design thinking to the “through project based educational experiences of young learning experiences

people in formal educational settings.


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The IDESiGN Model Organized by 7 ways of thinking Intentional

Intending Establish needs wants and goals.


Defining Name, list and describe what is involved.


Exploring Imagine, organize and analyze possibilities.


Suggesting Decide, present and explain your proposal.


innovating Continually improve as you produce what is proposed.


Goal-getting Judge, measure and evaluate your success.


KNowing Remember, integrate and apply what you learn.


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Bringing IDESiGN into our classroom Due to the length and timing of our class (2 hours per week for 10 weeks) we felt the full process in the form that Dr. Burnette provided was too complex and that his presentation of design thinking was meant for educators that could be engaging their students on a daily basis. In order to hand this process over to our students it needed to be easily and quickly digestible. We have adapted Dr. Burnette’s shortened 5 mode version of his design thinking model. We adopted Burnette’s 5 components of the shortened iDesign model. We have included all 7 ways of thinking and arranged these modes to emphasize thinking and doing — Internal and external. We have also changed Burnette’s abstracted iconography to iconography that is visually recognizable to the younger students and represents something they can relate to. In the Build Play Learn version of the 5 component process “Intend” sits up top and invites children to fill-in exactly what they intend to make. The rest of the steps (Develop Suggest Do & Know) help them through the process. We also observed in our class students 38

did not react positively to the terms “design thinking” or “process.” For this reason, we titled the process “the way we work” in order to create more approachable language for our younger students.

Teaching and learning seven different ways of thinking can be a difficult Burnette himself even recognized this and offered a shortened model. He presents a 5 component model of iDesign by grouping certain modes of thinking. He acknowledges, “it may seem easier to teach design thinking if there were fewer than seven ways of thinking to teach and learn.” “Keeping Intentional and Reflective Thinking distinct becomes important as children begin to sort out how they should consider and apply complex knowledge.”

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Representational icons for each step 5The step IDESiGN design process Model Organized How Burnette’s by 7 7ways waysofofthinking thinking support thinkering Intentional







Procedural Do Evaluative



Doing is important, why doesn’t Burnette attach a way of thinking? 39

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Constructivism and reflective thinking Constructivism is an educational theory about how people learn. According to this theory people learn about their world and gain knowledge through their experiences within it. Through these experiences, people encounter new information. Through critical reflection, they evaluate this new information against their current understanding of the world. They may decide to adapt this new information or they may discard it as irrelevant. Either way, constructivism encourages people to constantly inquire and assess their world. Constructivism is rooted in the theories of Dewey and Vygotsky. Reflection is an important part of the constructivist approach. Because students must constantly assess new information, they need to be well versed and capable of reflective thought. Rather then learning how to ingest and recall information, students “learn how to learn” (Cadwell, 2002) Critics say that the constructivist approach to education is elitist. They claim that constructivism and other “progressive” educational theories have been most successful 40

with children from privileged backgrounds who are fortunate in having outstanding teachers, committed parents, and rich home environments. They argue that disadvantaged children, lacking such resources, benefit more from more explicit instruction. Although there may be some truth in the criticisms of constructivist approaches, it is important to consider why disadvantaged children lack such resources. They too should benefit from these approaches. The truth is, any teacher can support reflective thinking by providing learning environments where children can explore and inquire as long as they put forth the effort. Constructivists counter criticism stating that in studies where children were compared on higher-order thinking skills, constructivist students seemed to outperform their peers.

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Inquiry based science museums When we visited the Please Touch Museum, we saw many instances of parents stepping in. While an employee praised the “intergenerational play� that was happening - parents, grandparents, etc. playing together, it seemed instead the parents were doing things and the kids just following along. While intergenerational play is a positive thing, it was our observation that the type of learning that is advertised and boasted about by these 42

museums is not always actually happening. At these museums parents often step in to help their child do something, rather than letting the child figure things out on their own. According to Vygotsky’s theory of ZPD (zone of proximal development), rather than stepping in, kids need to be pushed in these instances. If a child does not seem to be getting something right, for example moving a lever, they should be asked questions that will help push / guide them to the answer, rather than just giving them the answer.

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Inquiry based museums are wonderful for field trips and days of family bonding, however the amount of learning that happens while experiencing the exhibits is questionable. Essentially it’s the same as comparing visiting The Louvre to painting your own version of the Mona Lisa. You learn more about how to paint by attempting the act and experiencing the process rather than observing a finished product.

The Franklin Museum offers hands-on exploration for all ages.



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3: Case Study 46


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Gadgets & Kinetics A class that introduces children to the joys of thinkering Eric’s story Creating from broken appliances Sharing the design process Drawing worksheets I’m planning to make Collecting parts Sketchbooks Thinkering in action


3: Case Study


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I want to build a robot! It’s gonna be a TV with an iPod head with Xbox controller arms and laser eyes! This was Jacob’s plan from the first day of class.


3: Case Study

This is my chance to build the Robot!

We announce that the final project is going to be to disassemble appliances and use the collected parts to build something new, Jacob is very excited. His eyes light up, “This is my chance to build the Robot!�


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He starts to disassemble a speaker and tinker with the parts he is finding to see how they might fit together. Jacob has never taken apart an appliance before. He is surprised to see all the parts that are inside.


3: Case Study

But Jacob isn’t finding the parts he needs for his robot. There are no iPods, TV’s or Xbox controllers here —just a bunch of old broken appliances.


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After having a chance to take things apart, Jacob is given a challenge. We show him the parts database on the computer. Holding up a drawing of an appliance plays a movie that explains how it works. We ask that Jacob contribute to the database by drawing one of the parts he finds during the disassembly. 54

3: Case Study

After drawing the fuse, Jacob stores it in the parts bins

Jacob gets to work. He finds a small fuse inside an old VCR. Jacob draws the fuse and shows the computer. The teacher asks Jacob what the part does, and what it could do in his robot. Jacob is not sure how to use the part in his robot.


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Across the room he spots Elena taking apart a metal fan. That fan would make the perfect base to start my robot he thinks to himself. “Elena, can I please have that part?� Jacob asks. 56

3: Case Study

Jacob’s drawing incorporates the metal fan base he got in the trade

Elena says yes and trades Jacob the metal fan base for another part. Remembering his drawing of the fuse, Jacob decides to draw a picture of his robot using his new part.


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Jacob continues to disassemble appliances. Soon he gathers all the parts he thinks he’ll need. With these parts together, Jacob draws another version of his robot.


Jacob thinkers with the parts to see how they will fit together. Mocking up the robot on the floor, Jacob now has a clear vision of how the parts will interlock. Jacob creates one more drawing. This will serves as blue prints to start building.

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Jacob begins to build. He can’t help but keep his mind from thinking about the laser. “The robot is still missing one thing!” Jacob exclaims.


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Jacob spots Solomon and Matt playing with the fan controller. Jacob knows this will com in handy to control the laser weapons system. He trades for a metal part that he is no longer using for the robot.


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Jacob installs his laser beam and controller. His robot is now complete! Jacob exclaims, “my robot is awesome!�


3: Case Study

Jacob’s story is about a creative experience that engages the mind and the hands. It’s about an opportunity to to use “real tools” to build and create. To take apart and explore what’s inside the appliances, gadgets, and gizmos that are typically “hands-off” within the home. It’s making and doing and being inspired to create whatever he can imagine! Jacob’s story is real and was one of many that could be told from the Gadgets and Kinetics class.


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From consumer to creator, a first attempt

Encouraging Jacob to see the world as parts

At the beginning of the project, there is a struggle that happens when Jacob tries to initially take an idea from his imagination and translate it into a drawing. While his robot sounded like an very original idea, it was merely an amalgamation of consumable goods — an iPod, TV, and XBOX. This is understandable considering the environment in which children today are immersed. In the act of having to draw the idea, Jacob was challenged to reflect and think about how his idea would actually work. He had to think about aesthetics and how the parts could fit together — after all, how does one connect an iPod to a TV, besides using a cable? This helps explain why Jacob’s imagined idea and sketch are so different — in the act of drawing he was coming to these realizations.

We provided a worksheet to encourage Jacob to think about new ways to use the parts he was about to discover. The worksheet had a space for him to make his initial drawing and provided two blank lists: “I know I will use these parts” and “I think I will need these parts.” Since Jacob had never before taken apart any of the appliances, he did not know what parts to list. However, by asking these questions Jacob had to reflect on the parts he was discovering while disassembling and file them into these two categories.


A number of exercises required Jacob to think reflectively about his experience. He needed to think in two areas: First he thought about what these parts did in the context of the appliance he was taking apart, and Second he thought about how the parts could be re-purposed for his robot.

3: Case Study

Existing knowledge and comparisons

Collaboration: problemsolving and idea-sharing

Jacob was presented with appliances that he was not familiar with. Since he may or may not have been sure of what each of the appliances were or what they did, he may have had trouble making the mental leap into the possibilities that existed within that appliance. By assessing his existing knowledge and comparing the unknown appliance to something he was familiar with, he was able to arrive at certain conclusions and move forward with the project.

Jacob’s robot was a collaborative effort. Many of the parts were salvaged by his classmates and bartered for. Jacob worked collaboratively when dilemmas surfaced about how to build his robot. Ideas were also shared, the idea to use the circuit board as a beard was suggested by a classmate, as well as the fan controls as a weapons controller.

For instance, a lot of the children in the class didn’t know what a VCR was, but since it looked similar to a DVD player they could make the mental leap in thinking of the possibilities for that appliance, and they were correct in that both shared a lot of the same types of parts.


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Eric’s classmates Above are some of the other students besides Jacob. We thought these were two additional examples of the project that 66

display the intended results very well. Here you see Bix and Eric’s projects and several of “the way we work” process steps.

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Worksheets Each of these worksheets was designed to encourage critical thinking and reflection. They were used for different projects with varying success.

An overview of the 7 differet worksheets that were prototyped to encourage reflection

4: I’m planning to make Encouraged children to draw their creation and think about parts in new ways. 68

1: Waving Machine Simplifies making a complex machine.

5: Design Process Review Children are provided this sheet to fill in while we review design process as a class.

3: Case Study

2: Table-Top Machine Specificed the materials and rules for the chellenge.

6: Draw Your Part Students are encouraged to select a part, draw it, and explain its function to computer.

3: Maker’s Journal Provided space to draw and write before and after making.

7: Sketchbooks These books were an attempt to solve problems encountered with prior worksheets 69

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Introducing the design process We introduced the design process to the students with a worksheet. The worksheet prompted the students to follow along as we talked about the steps of the design process. They were asked to fill out the steps and list an example of an action that happens within that step.

way we work.” Below are six different student’s reactions to the “the way we work “ worksheet.

An additional change we made to introducing the design process was we provided it as the first page in the students’ sketchbooks. This allows students to reference “the way we work” After presenting the design process the first time, process when they need to. It also allows them the students didn’t react positively to the terms to become familiar with it simply by having to design or process. In the second iteration of the look at it everytime they use their sketchbooks. class the design process was presented as “the


3: Case Study

I intend to:


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Jacob imagines a robot made

Drawing the idea requires Jacob to

Jacob develops hand-tool

As Jacob continues to find

to find parts for his robot.

ideas for his robot.

from a TV, iPod, and Xbox.

think about how the robot will look.

skills as he explores a VCR

more parts, he has new


Breaking down the design process Each week the “the way we work” process was referenced. Above you can see that we have shown exactly what happened at each of these steps. Every student’s reaction and engagement with the process was different. Jacob’s engagement was a good 72

example because he followed the process and engaged the project as we designed it. Other student’s engagement helped us to design the second iteration of the class.

3: Case Study


Jacob arranges his collection of parts on the table.

He draws a building plan from these parts.



Jacob starts building,

Jacob now has a clear

instead of glue and tape.

disassembled and a robot complete

connecting his parts with screws

understanding of the parts he with a laser defense system!


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Deconstruction The kids were introduced to basic hand tools. Then, they were given a collection of appliances to take apart.

Waving Machine The kids made a machine that converted radial to linear motion using a kit that we designed. The kit provided instruction that simplified making this complex motion.

Table-Top Challenge We challenged the kids to make a machine that could knock a ping-pong ball off a cup using only a handful of everyday materials.

> Introduce basic hand tools

> Radial to linear motion

> Use everyday parts in creative ways to solve a challenge.

> This project took longer than expected.

> Surprisingly, the youngest group solved it first


Kinetic learning goals

> Explore what’s inside everyday appliances Observations & surprises

> Some kids were more interested in destroying the appliances then thinking about how they worked.

> Even with no demo, most kids were able to follow along

> The oldest kids made a mountain of tape.

> Although we suggested they draw the parts on paper, none did this.

What people are saying



Visual Class Planner

This is the funnest class ever! –Maxwell

Kids Being new to teaching, we had never written a class planner before. We were given an excel spreadsheet that was both lengthy and cumbesome. When printed out it was Parents about 25 pages long and difficult to read.


> The middle group was



4 OK, I get this. –Izzy

No break, Wo Work! Work! –The whole c

We saw this as an opportunity to create a tried visual class The visual class Look Mom at what I made! Watch! He taking apartplanner. things inplanner my kitchen! Better here simplified each class into key points Amazing! You made that? -??? than home! -Matt’s mom that could be easily referenced visually. I wanted to take this class -Bix’s dad



Roll-Back can The kids made a can that rolled back when pushed. Inside the can was a weight suspended from a rubber band.


Research How do these items work? What’s inside of them?

Build What can you build? Arrange your parts, sketch your ideas. No building yet!

Reflect What can you build? Arrange your parts, sketch your ideas. No building yet!

> Introduce basic hand tools

> Introduce basic hand tools

> Introduce basic hand tools

> Introduce basic hand tools

> Introduce basic hand tools

> Explore what’s inside everyday appliances

> Explore what’s inside everyday appliances

> Explore what’s inside everyday appliances

> Explore what’s inside everyday appliances

> Explore what’s inside everyday appliances

> Potential energy

> Take everyday items apart and make something new with the parts.



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Date Date Week 1

e Lesson Titl Place (indicate e Lesson Titl s) field trip Place te (indica field trips)


Objectives: Objectives: Objectives:

When did this become a design class? –Maxwell

Week 1

Week 2 Week 2


Concept What can you build? Arrange your parts, sketch your ideas. No building yet!

> Design process

> Cans did not work as expected, the materials were not consistent. Variables such as rubber band size greatly effected the success.


Design + Disassembly The kids were introduced to basic hand tools. Then, they were given a collection of appliances to take apart.

> Momentum

> Mass


3: Case Study

Thought Provokin g Questions: Thought Pro

voking Quest ions: Thought it I was working before, and now Provoking Question s: doesn’t work! – Jacob Week 3

Week 3

Week 4 Week 4

I’m not taking this home! – 4 people Please reproduce

only with permis

Using the Fleisher’s 8 9 10 existing class planning We want to build! –the older kids required filling Why can’t weworksheets build yet? –the older kids child really enjoyed this out many pages ofMy text, a class! - Every parent! daunting task for anyone, He checks the website a the time! It’s in his favor - Matt’s mom especially visual artists.

sion from the Fleishe

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duce only

Please repr

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Nothing to take home this week?


We’re going to take photos and make a postcard for the final show. -Digital photo teacher

75 I sent his grandparent th they love it! - Matt’s mom

Build Play Learn


Help fill the parts bins! After observing the students reactions to the worksheets we were giving them as tools for reflection, we noticed that they reacted to them as if they were schoolwork and not as tools for a creative project. What we got from this was that the worksheets did not provide a real audience. In an attempt to create a more real audience, we used a computer to record the students telling us about their projects. The 76

success of this exercise was great. Some of the more shy students were slow to approach the exercise, but once they started talking to the computer screen and they were able to see themselves, they really opened up. We were able to get them to talk more openly and therefore think more reflectively about their projects.

3: Case Study

What is this? A part that tells you how much you weigh. What else could it be? It could be a robots head spinning! Great, lets keep this part in a storage bin.


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These two pages show movie stills of the students telling us about there projects by talking to the computer. They were able to see themselves explaining their projects, giving their explanations context and meaning.


You could attach one end to something fixed and the other end to a bendable arm.

It’s a leprachon beard!

This could be used to control a robot


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These worksheets provided a space to draw idea and list parts


I’m planning to make We provided our students with two lists, to help them think about the parts they were collecting. The two lists were “What parts I will need” and “What parts I will use.” These lists were intended to help the students push their projects further by thinking about new parts 80

they were discovering as possibilities. They would need to reflect on those parts and think about relationships between hem. How can they be used? What do they actually do? Does someone else have an idea for this part? How can I build on that idea to make it my own?

3: Case Study

Asking for two lists of parts, “I will need” & “I will use” encouraged students to think about parts they discovered as building materials. 81

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A collaborative classroom Collaboration happened on multiple levels in the Gadgets and Kinetics classroom. Adults working with children, children 82

working with each other, idea and knowledge sharing, and collaborative building.

Eric’s Robot is a collaborative effort The parts on his robot came from the entire class, not just Eric alone. Ideas were shared the same way; Elena suggested that he use the circuit board as a ‘beard,’ while sam and brian used the fan. control as a game control!


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Although we provided a plastic hose, we didn’t provide a logical use for it. Students needed to find a use for the material.

Thinkering in action These stills are taken from a class video. They show Elana thinkering with the hose, discovering a problem, and then remembering the hose as a perfect solution. video time


40 minutes


3: Case Study

The hose was coiled to keep the ping-pong ball from falling off the table





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4: Final Design 86


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The process behind the disassembly project In our class we tested many different approaches to engaging the students in Thinkering. In this section we will talk about the designed project experience and discuss the process behind it. The disassembly project cycles through the 5 step design process twice and addresses all 7 of Dr. Burnette’s ways of thinking. It starts by allowing the students to get used to tools and the idea of taking things apart in a non-destructive manner. We start the project by introducing the tools, rules for safety and establish a classroom culture where all ideas are excepted. There are no bad ideas in our classroom.


4: Final Design

Intend Develop think








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Intentions for the project

Develop tool skills

Students are introduced to the project and “way we work” process. The first step is to set up the constraints of the project. We are going to disassemble appliances and then build something from the parts we find. You’ll need to find mechanical ways to connect these parts, without tape and glue alone. Introduce the design process, titled “the way we work.” Explain that the process map is as much a tool as a hammer.

Students start taking stuff apart with no specific instruction as to why or how This is pure tinkering. This step allows the students to develop skills with basic hand tools, become comfortable with the tools and use the tools to explore what is on the inside of objects that they usually take at face value.

4: Final Design




Suggest Possibilities

Do: Draw suggested possibility

Know: Reflect on your idea

Students draw one of the possibilities they imagined in the prior step. Drawing the suggested part idea allows the students to create what they have imagined. It is an exercise in translating creative thought into visual form and requires a child to implement their intentions.

Students share their sketch and idea as a group. Verbally sharing their ideas with each other provides an audience, it gives the sharing purpose. The students must reflect on what they have drawn and what brought them to draw that idea, including what the parts actual purpose was.

Students reflect on a part and draw it. Encourage reflective thinking by responding to students answers with provoking questions. Students should consider: • what the part actually did in the appliance it came from and • what could it possibly do. After the students have a chance to disassemble and explore what is inside the appliances they are more able to suggest actualities and possibilities for parts they have discovered. Some of their answers for what the parts actually do may not be perfect — this presents an opportunity to discuss what the part actually does by building on their suggestion.


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Intentions for building

Develop ideas

Students draw what they intend to build from their imagination and explain it verbally. This could be a worksheet, or in the sketchbook Having the students draw their intentions is important because it lets them set the circumstances for which they will move forward with their idea. It provokes them to think about what will be needed to complete the idea.

Students again take apart appliances, this time with clear intentions. Encourage the students to think about the parts they are discovering in two ways: • what the parts actually do • what they could possibly do We supply a bin to collect the parts and a worksheet to catalogue the parts. At this point, the students have their idea and are anxious to develop it further. A second exploration into taking apart appliances will allow them to find the parts that they will need to bring their idea to reality.

4: Final Design




Suggest an idea

Do: Build your idea

Students mock-up ways to build their robots within their selection of parts. They re-sketch their idea to serve as a plan of action. By mocking-up and re-sketching their idea, students are creating a visual tool to reference as they begin to build their creation. Students will need to think about what they intend to build and whether or not newly discovered parts fit in. They will need to suggest the plan of action they will need to take in order to complete their idea.

Students start to build their final idea The students bring their idea from concept to physical reality. The must reflect on all the prior work they have done and think through each part, how it brought them to the stage they are presently in.

Know: Reflect on what you have built Students name and photograph their creation. They draw and label the parts. Students finally reflect on their experience by capturing the product in a photograph. By naming their creation they are giving it personality and purpose. By labeling their final drawing they reflect on the different parts of their creation what the parts mean in the context of their creation as well as in the original appliance.


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Bibliography 1. Ackermann, Edith, David Gauntlett and Cecelia Weckstrom. “Defining Systematic Creativity.” Research Doc. LEGO Learning Institute, 2009. 2. —. “Systematic Creativity in the Digital Realm.” Research Doc. LEGO Learning Institute, 3. 2009.Brown, Tim. “Ted Talk: Tim Brown on Creativity and Play.” Serious Play 2008. TED, May 2008. 4. Burnette, Dr. Charles. iDesign Thinking. March 2011 <> 5. Dewey, John. Art As Experience. New York: The Berkeley Publishing Group, 1934. 6. Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl. “Americans Don’t ‘Tinker Around’ with Hobbies, Home Repairs, Poll Shows .” 10 December 2009. ThomasNet News. April 2011 <http://>. 7. Honey, Margaret and Eric Siegel. “Encouraging the Hand-Mind Connection in the Classroom.” 1 February 2011. Big Picture Learning. March 2011 <>. 8. Kaiser Family Foundation. December 2010 <>. 9. Maker Faire. Proceedings from the “Innovation, Education, and the Maker Movement” Workshop. Proceedings. New York: New York Hall of Science, 2010. 10. McDougall, Marina and Bryan Welch. A Curious. January 2011 <>. 11. Miller, Matthew and Emily Pilloton. Project H Design. January 2011 <>. 94

4: Final Design

12. Nielson. Nielson Wire. December 2010 <>. 13. President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. REPORT TO THE PRESIDENT PREPARE AND INSPIRE: K-12 EDUCATION IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATH (STEM) FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE. Executive Report. Executive Office of the President. Washington DC: Executive Office of the President, 2010. 14. Quest to Learn. April 2011 <>. 15. Robinson, Sir Ken. Out of our minds: Learning to be creative. Oxford: Capstone Publishing Limited, 2001. 16. Tulley, Gever. January 2011 <>. 17. Washor, Elliot. “Making Their Way: Creating a Generation of “Thinkerers”.” 25 August 2010. The Huffington Post. March 2011 <>.


Build Play Learn  

A thesis project that aims to create projects for children that support thinkering.

Build Play Learn  

A thesis project that aims to create projects for children that support thinkering.