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Thursday, July 5, 2012


Learning isn't just memorizing facts. It's discovering how to brainstorm and how to use that skill to solve problems.  So before kids tackle anything else they need brainstorming basic training.  Here it is in five fun, action-packed steps. 

*Teachers, this is just what your students need to get ready for "Next Generation of Science Standards"(NGSS) based skill-building. 

1.  Creative Observing  Children will power up their observational skills to collect as much information as possible.  It's what they'll need to do when getting ready to creatively tackle any problem.

Follow the recipe below to mix up a batch of some really cool stuff. I call it "Goop".  Then check it out!

Recipe for Goop 

Pour one cup of cornstarch into a shallow container, like a plastic storage box.

Add two to four drops of green food coloring.

Use a metal spoon to slowly stir in water, adding just a few tablespoons at a time, until the Goop feels solid when poke.

Now, find out everything you can about Goop.  Examine it in every way you can think of.

Then test Goop in each of these ways and observe closely:

  • Try to pour it into an empty container.
  • Try to make it change its shape. Try to mold it into a ball. Try to shape it into a cube.
  • Poke it with a finger. Decide how it feels.
  • Try to break it into two chunks. Can you? How does this change it? Take a close look at the edges of the broken pieces.
  • Try to put the two chunks back together. Was it easy to do?

NOTE: When you're finished, throw the Goop away in the trash basket. Do not wash it down the sink as it can clog pipes.

2.  Brainstorming  Kids will be revving their brains with this one and learning what problem solving is like in real life.

Read the following story aloud. Then have children work individually or in small groups to think of all the possible solutions to the problem. Add to the fun by challenging them to come up with a solution in just one minute.

Story: The angry native are hot on Smitty's trail.  A heavy, sharp-tipped spear zips past his head and thumps into a tree trunk. He ducks and swerves off the trail and into the thick underbrush. Shoving leaves out of his way, Smitty charges through the jungle.  Suddenly, Smitty jerks to a stop on the bank of a river. Water is roaring and churning around huge boulders that poke up like humps on a sea serpent's back. He's also pretty sure there's a crocodile lurking on the far bank. However, if he could just get across the river, the natives would probably let him go.  How can Smitty get across the river?

After one minute, challenge kids to brainstorm even harder by thinking about things that might keep some of these possible escapes from working. Then challenge them to pick Smitty's best possible escape option and tell why they believe it will work.

3.  Creative Predicting  Now it's time to make use of patterns. Children will discover how important it is to look for patterns and remember them.  

Mystery Bag

Prepare for this by placing something familiar such as popped popcorn, paperclips, or M&M candies in a paper bag and staple the top shut.

Next, divide the class into small groups.  Give each group a bag. Challenge them to use their senses one at a time to collect information about what's in the bag. After each observation, challenge them to use their past experiences and these observations to try and identify the mystery object.

Have the children use their sense of hearing first.  Have them shake the bag and listen.

Next, have children gently poke and squeeze the bag. What do they observe this time? Does that make them want to change their earlier prediction about what's inside the bag? If so, what do they now think the mystery item might be?

Challenge children to use their sense of smell this time and repeat the process.  They'll need to make observations, consider what they may have smelled in the past that had that scent, and decide if they want to change their prediction.

Finally, allow children to open the bag and use their sense of sight to collect observations and identify the mystery object.

A Kitchen Mystery

This is another fun active to get kids observing, inferring, and predicting.  Give each group a different kitchen tool and challenge them to figure out what problem that tool was designed to solve.  The weirder the tool the better for this activity.  Allow time for the groups to combine their brainpower on this.  Then let each group display their kitchen tool, tell what use they predict it has, and explain why they came to this conclusion.  Encourage all of the groups to discuss whether or not this is the most likely function of each tool before you share the real use.

4.  Experimenting  Kids will be challenged to predict and test.  It's fun now and will be a survival skill for the life.

Prepare for this activity by having partner groups fold paper airplanes. Have each group complete their plane by slipping a paperclip over the nose (narrow) end.

Use tape on the floor on a long hall or a piece of rope outdoors on the playground to be a starting line. Have the partner groups toss their plane and measure how far it flies.

Then challenge the partners to change their plane so it will fly even farther.

Before they leap into action, have the partners list all the changes they could make.

Next, have them list the three changes that (based on past experiences and observing patterns) they think are most likely to be successful. Have them narrow this down to the one change they believe is likely to work best.  Be sure they list why they think this will work.

Have the partners also think about what variables (things that could change the outcome) they need to keep exactly the same as they test their modified plane.

Finally, have the partners change their plane per their idea and test it three times.

Did it work?  Could something be changed to make fly even farther? If so, what?

Have all of the groups compare their results and decide which modification worked best. Why did it?

5.  Creative Evaluating  Children will analyze results and think of other possibilities. They'll be pushing their brains into maximum action now!

New Shoe

It's time for an activity that will take kids from creative thinking to inventing.  Divide the class into partner groups again.  This time have them examine a tennis shoe.

Challenge them to list everything about the shoe that makes it good for the job it was made to do.

Have them think how this tennis shoe could be changed to function even better.

Next, have the partners come up with new features that might be added to the shoe to make it perform even better or do something that's totally new and wonderful.  Encourage them to make diagrams of the shoe showing their proposed changes.

Have each partner group describe the new and improved features they're proposing.  If you have old tennis shoes available, you could let the partners collect materials and create a prototype model of their proposed improved shoe.

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