Fun fact: here at the Creativity Lab, Making isn’t just about making things. Making is also about learning to see the world with new eyes, and developing deeper knowledge and understanding of the world around us. One of the ways we incorporate this idea is through using Agency by Design’s thinking routines. Educators can easily integrate these routines into any subject — even those not typically associated with making, like the Humanities. The first routine, called Parts, Purposes, and Complexities, (PPC) is a great one to start with, and is applicable to physical objects as well as abstract ideas and constructs.
Last week, the 11th grade pre-Calculus class used this thinking routine to explore a retractable pen. They started by looking at the parts of the pen and recording their observations. Since this thinking routine is designed to encourage students to do a slow, in-depth read on an object or idea, we had them look at it without taking it apart for the first five minutes.
As they familiarized themselves with the parts of the pen, they began to create theories about what each part does (the purposes), and recorded how these parts might interact with one another and questions they may have had about them (the complexities).
“Zooming in” on an area or part that is particularly tricky to define is a useful tool in creating greater understanding. In the photo below, you can clearly see how the parts the students have labeled the “ink container cap” and the “clicker” could fit together, which not every group of students may have noticed as they looked at the pen.
Beyond giving them a basic explanation on what we were doing in the exercise, we provided very few prompts. The students decided for themselves how best to organize and share their ideas with each other and with other groups. This, too, is part of why we do this exercise; we want to allow our students to figure out what works best for them without preconceived ideas of what the teacher might be looking for. In this exercise, there is no wrong way to do it, no wrong answers. Because of this, our students decided to take several different approaches. Each group organized their ideas differently; some with lists or tables and some with drawings. With no “wrong questions”, students’ discussion and dialogues were rich and detailed. At the end, when we came back together as a group, students were able to see what approaches they thought worked best for the different aspects of the activity; for example, in this case having drawings of the parts was helpful, but may not have been as practical for the purposes or complexities sections.
So, how does this activity apply to making at Lighthouse? Well, first, it teaches students how to look at things with a designers’ eye. After they’ve examined all the parts of the pen, they could go several routes depending on what makes sense in the class. They could create their own pen or retractable device as a design exercise. They could explore how the thinking routine could be applied to more abstract ideas, like a story or a mathematical formula.
Or they could expand on it through Agency by Design’s next thinking routine: Parts, People, Interactions (PPI). This routine is designed to look at a whole system, not just a specific object or idea. We asked the students to come up with a system that the pen might be a part of — their choices were education, office supplies, and the rather broad “human” system. They then identified other parts of the system, the people who might be part of or impacted by the system, and created concept maps of how both parts and people might interact with one another.
Again, we didn’t prompt them to organize their ideas in a particular way. PPI is actually newer to Lighthouse than PPC, and so in some ways this part of the activity was an experiment for us. We didn’t know how it would turn out, or what sorts of prompts of scaffolding would lead to the deepest learning, so we just went for it. Now that we’ve done this exercise, we see some areas where we could improve the effectiveness of the PPI activity; for example, we might discuss what they think a system is beforehand, or have them make multiple drafts of their maps to allow them to refine and better organize them.
Regardless of the subject being taught or the materials you might have on hand, these thinking routines are relatively easy to incorporate, and help guide our students to slow down and look at things in a deeper way.
We’ll have more on the third and fourth thinking routines, Think, Feel, Care and Imagine If…, later in the school year. And, it is worth noting that while we often prefer to start with Parts, Purposes, Complexities, you can start with Imagine If and work your way back just as easily. Much like the Creativity Lab’s approach to making in general, we encourage you to use these tools and insights in whatever way is most helpful for you. And if you’re not sure how it will turn out, that’s fine. We view making as one grand experiment, and that’s definitely part of the fun!