Monday, February 28, 2011

'Uncovering' critical thinking through play

This is part 2 of my article on ideation using Playdoh, and I thought it was apt for me to highlight some key findings and observations.

In my first article written a few days ago, I mentioned briefly about how the use of Playdoh could overcome the brain block that most of our students would have when they were told to be creative and ideate. In this article, I would try to elucidate this further by touching on 2 examples that I have deemed to be creative, and that allowed me to make 'critical thinking' more tangible.

One good example is the idea of the door stopper done by one of the students as shown below. Moving away from the idea that a door stopper is always either located underneath or at the sides of doorways, this student decided to test out an idea on placing a door stopper on top of the door instead:

Design by Chin Wai Kit (Class of 1-07, 2011, SST)
What I really love about this idea was the fact that the student had considered firstly, the shape of his door stopper during the critical ideation and design phase. I thought that the shape and theme of his design was rather appropriate for the target audience of pre-primary school students (ages 6 and below). The fact that this was located at the top of the door, and not the bottom or the sides, also fulfilled the other requirement of the design challenge, i.e. the stopper must be able to be removed only with adult supervision.

The other critical thought that was apparent was when he was asked to pose for a picture. He realizes that the weight of the protruding section of his design was rather heavy when using the same material; it made him realize about the importance of detailing even further. Changing or using lesser materials, or redesigning that section, were some considerations that were uncovered when the student was asked about possible improvements. I thought this was a good and realistic example of how a teacher could leverage on an appropriate teachable moment, seize it, and have the students aware and reflect about it, more critically!

The other example was the idea of a mobile-phone charging unit that was able to store the charging equipment, and had a coiler element to prevent wires from getting entangled and becoming a mess. The student's idea is as shown below:
Design by Ragul (Class of 1-08, 2011, SST)
I thought the idea was creatively simple...being inspired by the shape of his hand. What I did like more about his concept was the fact that the student, upon being inquired, was able to articulate how his idea worked, and more importantly, the reasons for some of the product features. The fingers were not merely there to just 'complete' the idea, but acted also as coilers for the wires of the charging cables. The fact that the space allotted for the placement of the phone was rather wide, was also a design consideration, as the student reasoned that it was supposed to be designed for the general phone sizes, instead of just a particular brand or type of phone. I thought his idea of 'inclusive' design is interesting, coming from a situation whereby the focus was only for them to work on the type of mobile phone that they were familiar with, or were using at that point of time.

Of course there were more examples that I had uncovered that really enlightened me on how some of these critical thinking could be 'seen' or demonstrated. I do strongly believe that there were a lot more findings that I would need to uncover further, as I continue to study some of the works done by the students, as well as the sketches that they have followed up with in order to illustrate their ideas even clearer. It was really an interesting and elucidating moment, coming from an educator like myself, to see and visualise critical thinking really happening in front of me. I do hope that I could do and follow up with more articles and thoughts about my classes when time permits. But until then...

Signing off
Irfan Darian
design(ology) on Facebook

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Playdoh: Using mathematical concepts for ideation and sketching

(This article was originally taken from the 'Design(ology)' page on Facebook by Irfan Darian)

Mobile phone charging unit-cum-coiler

Door stopper inspired by a swan

My fundamental premise in using Playdoh comes from the basic idea of introductory mathematics, that numbers should be introduced to our early learners through the process of C-P-A, or Concrete, Pictorial,and finally followed by Abstract.

The idea came about as I realise that most students in secondary school do find it hard to firstly, conceptualise an idea, and secondly to sketch them out decently on a piece of paper. This is further compounded by the 'fear' of doing something wrong, or of sketching something ugly, especially in an environment where peer pressure and conformity to an 'acceptable' standards within the classroom is predominant, whether overtly or otherwise.

The use of Playdoh as a malleable, reusable, green and a media that offers 'depth' is something that is not really new, but I do find it refreshing to be using it in a secondary school classroom. I guess the greatest irony is that I am using a toy that is low-tech, and perhaps something that is more of a toy for the younger children, to teach them about higher-level concepts to a more mature group of students!

The use of Playdoh also had its added benefits, such as offering that degree of comfort to its users, especially in the lessons that I am conducting. Ideation in itself is sometimes rather hard to quantify, and even teach, properly. Yes, what a teacher can do is to teach about the tools and methodologies that can be used for ideation, but how then can we leave the students to 'quantify and qualify'...for lack of a better term, their ideas? Isn't this self-guided learning and assessment? This is where Playdoh fulfills that missing 'gap' that I thought is missing in a normal atypical way of applying what have been taught about ideation.

Playdoh also offers that ability to make students see and 'realise' their ideas beyond just the 2 dimensions. That added depth gives students that added need to consider even more when they come out with their designs, and these were very apparent when I conducted such lessons. I do find them working in greater details on their designs, as opposed to lessons in which only pencil and paper were involved. I guess that added depth that Playdoh offers do add that level of criticality in their thinking, which sometimes, is missing from their paper-based sketches, or worse still, missing from their thinking entirely!

I presume there would be more observations and findings that I would need to uncover in my research. But in as much as I am excited about using Playdoh, I also realise some of its limitations too. Needing some degree of scaffolding and logistics, the generation of additional noises, the management of the classroom, especially when you have more mischievious boys...all this are potential and real situations that do and did crop up while I was conducting such a lesson, regardless of whether it was done in a good, or a neighbourhood school. I guess some things just never change! :D

Nonetheless, I do find it refreshing and indeed from the anecdotal feedback, and based on the quality of the works and the reactions elicited from the students, I do think that the students had really a good time during the Playdoh-based lessons. And more importantly, they had managed to apply a certain degree of criticality in their thinking, as well as work a little more towards improving their sketchworks.

Signing off
Irfan Darian