February 26, 2021
You can learn about design thinking in Y4Y’s new course on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics). Design thinking is a problem-solving learning approach that acknowledges the role of creativity and the arts in STEM learning. It’s similar to the engineering design process NASA engineers use, as well as the creative process you see in the arts. You might remember that classic scene in Apollo 13 when the engineering team is presented with a list of materials at the astronauts’ disposal and asked to devise a way to make a “square peg to fit into a round hole.” The engineers had to use their imaginations, being flexible in their perceptions of what materials serve what purpose, in order to save the lives of their space-going counterparts. That scene perfectly illustrates design thinking.
An activity that taps into design thinking leads students to develop a product that solves a real-world problem or create something meaningful or of value. These activities ask students to
- Research users' needs.
- Clearly state the needs of users.
- Challenge their assumptions and document their ideas.
- Create solutions through brainstorming, collaboration and experimentation.
- Test and refine solutions.
Since 1978, schools around the world have offered Odyssey of the Mind (OotM) competitive clubs, promoting collaborative, creative problem-solving activities. Explore the design thinking that’s at the heart of this organization, the benefits and outcomes for students who’ve participated over the decades, and how these globally relevant lessons can be brought into 21st CCLC programs.
OotM problems, both long-term and spontaneous, ask students to combine their knowledge and their imaginations in a team environment to build, fix or create something in a new way. A small but statistically significant 2019 study that surveyed coaches and judges in the organization found that 10 core competencies were built through participation: teamwork, creativity, problem solving, planning and organizing, time management, public speaking, leadership, compromise, oral communication and adhering to constraints or parameters. Noted, also, in a 2017 study, participation in OotM helps students “learn, develop, and create highly transferable skills, experiences, and competencies, helping them become more career-ready and better prepared to engage into the global workforce.” So, what is OotM’s magic formula?
OotM teams are guided by adult coaches who might aid in developing discrete skills needed to solve a problem, but do not assist in forming actual solutions. Reflecting the importance of student voice and choice, teams can choose from several different types of problems, from mechanical to literary or musical. Long-term problem-solving involves student-planned use of time and material resources according to a list of criteria that must be met. These principles also come into play in the solving of spontaneous problems which are, as the name suggests, on-the-spot activities.
But the key element of imagination, to young minds, translates to a sense of “play,” even when rigorous structure and goals define an activity. Any veteran coach will tell you that preparation for an OotM team is a textbook makerspace, complete with generic materials such as rubber bands and Popsicle sticks with endless possible uses. While the students’ “arts and crafts” experience will offer them some proficiency with using these materials, formal curriculum and hands-on experience will help them understand nuances such as how you can best orient a Popsicle stick to maximize its strength, or what conditions and forces dictate the limits of a rubber band.
OotM’s popularity speaks to how much students enjoy creative problem solving together because it taps into their natural love of play. In fact, another way to describe design thinking is “play with a purpose!” With tools such as the Activity Center Planner, Student Self-Monitoring Checklist for Project Work, and STEAM Activity Example, the new Y4Y STEAM course will inspire you to reimagine how to support your students’ school-day STEM learning. Incorporating design thinking means that not even the sky is the limit when it comes to also giving your students the many career-readiness skills that OotM participants have enjoyed for decades. Truly, you can place the universe at their fingertips by helping your students to learn through play.