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Where children design better futures with new technologies.
We have a school program and a series of events.
In the superbly light and spacious main hall of Freedomlab, we gather around a standing table covered in brown butcher paper. The doors are held open by a heavy piece of rail: the Amsterdam welcome of the Global Children’s Designathon has started.
Emer Beamer, initiator of today’s gathering, is briefing her team of facilitators, bloggers and builders, whilst the video guy is quietly setting up his equipment in the background. A handful of children (mostly boys) are treating the sitting blocks as Minecraft material: building a green and purple cave home.
In five locations in the world (Berlin, Rio de Janeiro, Nairobi, Dublin and Amsterdam) groups of 30 children aged 8 to 12 will be working in parallel. They will be designing and building their (tech) solutions for our worlds most pressing problems around food, waste and the future of mobility.
Unexpect – Where Children Design Better Futures Using New Technologies – has organised this day. It is a one-day crash course in design thinking, new (exponential) technologies and societal problems, for children between 8 and 12. Because these kids can think, fantasise, dream, design and build. They actually care a lot about the issues we discuss today (we think). And they enjoy the sense of empowerment, the idea that they can come up with real solutions. In one day. Later today we will set up videoconferences with the other four locations. Teaching twenty-first century skills across three continents. Wow.
We are all pretty excited and hyped up. Floris is stretching the kids (literally) in a Name-Game warm up. Klaas is introducing the three themes (food, waste and mobility). Time to start. Let’s unexpect and allow the flow to emerge
Klaas’ introduction on the three themes already sparked some thoughts. “Today we will invent. You can invent something for a problem that you find important.” The kids (re)learn that ‘waste’ actually does not exist. It is just stuff, that you can do useful things with, like building a birdsnest, a bed, or a ukulele. One of the children mentions that plastic from packaging is a great source of oil. On the spot he invents an oil factory: he just needs to figure out how he will get all the plastic to his factory. Food can be printed, from chocolate or dough. Just add a bit of colour – plain white food does not look very nice. And drones are ideal to pick up stuff in the city. It is very handy that you don’t need a pilot to fly one.
The boys and girls organise themselves. Each first chooses one of the three themes to work on. As expected, the topic of mobility sparks most kids’ imagination.
Time to go creative. We enjoy a brief moment of quiet when the kids work their idea canvases.
Less than twenty minutes later they present:
A little bit peckish, we go for a hearty lunch. Then we will go make.
Time to check in with each other. In a five way videoconference we see how the kids in Berlin, Dublin, Nairobi and Rio de Janeiro are doing. Everyone learned how we can use printers to make spaghetti. First a welcome by each of the countries hosts.
Then a quick presentation of some of the prototypes that the boys and girls are working on.
Now the best part of the day: building prototypes. Tables full of building materials are rolled into the main hall. Propellers, little electric motors, knex, carton, duct tape, plastic bottles, wooden wheels, solar panels, batteries. You name it – it is there. Here is where the facilitators’ real job comes in too. At times it is hard to tell who is more into it: the kids or the adult facilitators. After a couple of hours of building (interrupted here and there with a bit of running around), ±15 prototypes are ready.
16.00 CET Showtime
Whilst some of us quickly clean up the room, Emer and Marieke welcome Amsterdams Elderman for Sustainability, mr. Abdeluheb Choho. The parents, and some of the sponsors join us for the presentations. Fifteen working prototypes are presented. Flying cars, cars that hover on magnetic levitation, cars that drive on top of each other, helium balloon submarines, an in house farm, a road that doubles as a garbage removal system named the Sliding Street, just to name a few. Who wouldn’t want those things?
As part of a series of workshops engaging children in the art of social design, we held a session called ‘Reinvent your Neighborhood’ at the Makers & Co Festival in Amsterdam. The aim of Unexpect is to both to teach children new skills as much as to share the amazing inventions and designs children can create.
The 13 children, all of whom are members of the Weekend Academie in Slotervaart, ranged in age from 9 to 12. We kicked off with a creative energzier to get to know each other before introducing the topic of the workshop and getting down to mapping the different groups of people who might live in the neighbourhood including themselves and what their needs might be.
Mapping people and challenges in the neighbourhood.
The children named challenges such as old ladies with heavy shopping crossing the road slowly, the police who couldn’t catch the robbers due to slow cars, mothers wondering when their children would come home at night and boys who couldn’t play football because there was dog poo on the grass.
For inspiration we checked out a number of recent inventions such as Google Glass, 3D printers, Sugru (one of my favorites), and Smart Highways from Roosegaarde Studio. Then the children choose one topic to work on and set out to imagine a solution.
For protoyping we worked with LittleBits, while they are attraction in themselves, they are also quite an effective rapid prototyping tool. Some children preferred to just draw their ideas or work with clay, carton, straws or of course a combination. Thinking with your hands!
So what did they make?
My two favorite inventions probably would be the sound warning system for the dogs to keep them off the football field, for which the boys also made a prototype (using the littlebits sound senor and noise output). The other invention was for the mother worried about her children out late, through a repurposed phone, they could send coded light signals, red meaning ‘You need to come home now’ and green for ‘I am on my way’.
Other inventions included a park bench on wheels for the old ladies, an air canon for rubbish and a ‘friend house’ for children with no friends.
Showing their work
Thanks to Harriet Robijn my co-facilitator, the children of the weekend Academie and Mira de Graaf and Diana Krabbendam our hosts at the Makers & Co Festival.
Check out our Flickr Set of the workshop. http://www.flickr.com/photos/91070382@N02/
Photographs by ACHT film & fotografie
You’re 10 years old, you live in Dublin, and someone asks you:
What’s the one thing would you like to change in the world?
What do you think the children said, more toys, less school?
Not at all, this is what the children said:
An end to world hunger; No more air pollution;
World Peace; that no-one has to lose family and friends;
a cure for cancer; the rainforest to be saved.
No shortage of wild idealism!
Then inspired by a presentation of future technologies (here)
and their own imagination, the children sat down to invent
ways to solve their chosen issue.
With names like ‘The Yom’, ‘Wheels of the Future’ and ‘Beddy Bye’,
here are some of their designs:
A car which breathes in Co2 and exhails oxygen.
The YOM, a food and drink maker against world hunger.
A pen that writes by itself for children with Dyslexia.
A car which drives on electricity created by the wheels hitting the road.
And a solar powered chariot.
Thanks to all the children in 3rd class and 5th class, to Mr. O Sullivan and Ms. Halligan and the principal Mrs. Moore, all at the Harold School in Glasthule in Dublin, for having us. www.theharoldschool.ie
LittleBits, the brainchild of Ayah Bdeir, an alumna of the MIT Media Lab, is a library of Electronics dubbed as ‘LEGOs for the iPad generation.’ They are pieces of an electronics which snap together with magnets to create a working circuit, they have a simple color coding, blue for power, green for output and pink for sensors. You can make all kinds of fun things with them. I had just ordered an extended kit as a prototype tool for the new school I am working on called DNS, when I saw the call to take part in the Amsterdam Maker Festival and thought lets join in. And see what children would want to do with LittleBits.
It wasn’t really a workshop, we just played together and tried things out, some adults were totally glued as were some children, and kept trying different ways to make things turn bleep and light up.
The LittleBits are easy to work with and everyone young and old found them user friendly, on the down side, they are less adjustable than you would want them to be, as in the motion sensor would need to be in a really quiet room to work, the LED light when connected to a sound sensor mainly responds to high tones and stays on for a couple of seconds before going out and you can’t adjust that.
Another point of concern is the strength of the battery which wore down very quickly and the strength of the fan which wouldn’t really blow a sandwich plastic bag up, maybe only for feathers?
On Amsterdam Maker Festival:
This was a try out version, they put the whole thing together in 5 weeks so fair play. It was held in a perfect location, a former factory in Amsterdam North and there were a number of engaging children’s exhibits to interact with, so excellent for kids. I hope when the full version comes, next May 23rd and 24th, 2014 they will also attract the adult Maker scene for example people like Fred Abels, Plakken en Knippen from the Hague, the Dutch DIY Bio group etc. Looking forward!
See here for the flickr set of photos, from Saturday the 7th of September at Maker Faire Amsterdam
Levels of appreciation for creativity and innovation have risen sharply in the last 15 years, largely due to the claimed positive impact it is supposed to have on economic growth. Yet people have appreciated creativity as an innate (not just functional) quality for a long time, think of Graham Wallas on the Four Stages of Creativity from 1926 or back further Leonardo Da Vinci,
‘The painter has the Universe in his mind and hands.’ – Leonardo da Vinci
So are the recent calls (US, European, South Korea) for school systems to be measured in an index of creativity likely to be a good thing? presuming we agree that the aim is to enhance and cultivate children’s innate creative beings? And especially given that tests ala the SAT(US) or CITO(NL) or PISA (International) which measure proficiency in language comprehension, reading, writing and maths are regularly cited as the main obstacle to developing creativity at schools. And there lies the crux:
How might we measure creativity in a way that is formative?
The state of Massachusetts in the US is exploring the idea, their approach is measure inputs than outputs, that is, to gauge the extent to which schools provide opportunities that will foster creativity and innovation in young people. Adobe did a large research across educators in the Asia Pacific region and came up with findings presented in this infographic:
This year the OECD brought out a working paper, ‘Progression in Student Creativity in School: First Steps Towards New Forms of Formative Assessments’ PDF, the say:
Two clear benefits of assessing progress in the development of creativity are identified: 1) teachers are able to be more precise and confident in developing young people’s creativity, and 2) learners are better able to understand what it is to be creative (and to use this understanding to record evidence of their progress). The result would seem to be a greater likelihood that learners can display the full range of their creative dispositions in a wide variety of contexts.
My favorite framework, not because of its comprehensiveness, it’s not, but for looking at creative thinking is the ‘Torrance Framework of Creative Thinking’, which gives us these characteristics:
Some of which are definitely measurable. and which I tried to do here. This is a large subject of course and to be continued.
At THNK forum again today, this time we have Clay Shirky, He is beaming in from New York via telepresence, no he’s not live, but he is on a huge screen and he’s here for us. As close to live as we can get today. If you don’t know Clay’s work, check here. Clay is also on the board of Ushahidi. He is THE authority on cognitive surplus and all things crowd sourcing.
FIrst a brief summary of Clay’s Why are those people working for free?
Answer: because they feel like they’re having fun.
So if you want folk to contribute to your effort, don’t see them as unpaid labor, put yourself in their shoes, ask yourself what’s in it for them. So if you’re envisaging a crowd sourcing community project, something that is an absolute necessary, that you have to have in place: People have to have positive normative values associated with your project. And the community needs to do one of these 3 things for people who take part, they are:
Ellen Jorgenson is up with the first question, turns out she knows Clay already, New yorkers 🙂 She wants to know in how far he would envisage that an online version of her lab Genspace is a possibility. He explains how we can concept the trade off between travel and communication. And says his conclusion is that you shouldn’t collaborate as partners on any serious endeavor without having breathed the same air. He advises Ellen not to set up a Genspace elsewhere with partners, without first sitting down together with those partners.
Next up Itai Talmi, he is making a mobile platform for people to co-create, go through a full design cycle in fact, and then gamified and his question is will this be enough shared value, the will to create? And does Clay think? Clay runs off and draws a pyramid for us, and refers to …… he says about 1% of users will jump in wholesale, and then about another 9% will comment and then the other 90% will just listen in or lurk. If the platform doesn’t produce a way to watch, it won’t fly, because you need to recruit from the other 99% to get them active. Clay’s advise, prototype and user test a version which has no gamification to find out if there is intrinsic value beyond the game elements. Otherwise you might end up with Farmville for creativity.
Karim pick up on this, Is a lurker a participant?
1. they are your recruiting pool and
2. the lurkers provide validation to the actives and lurkers provide – via data analysis – they provide enormous feedback to your product.
Kaz Brecher has a question, her project is Curious Catalyst she’s working on mega cities issues with an agile methodology and she struggles with the wording and sharing her plans with people, when the words she is using are key but now well known. Clay loves the question as it’s one he struggled with himself. He has a couple of tips;
1. Even if your’e an excited New Yorker, you have to learn to speak slowly
2. Use a story, an example
3. Begin with here’s why this works
For example: If you and I working together could get fewer potholes on the street! would you join.
Nick Graham has a question on how to motivate / engage people for neighborhood issues.
Clay: You can think of people in one of three categories, naive economists, naive politicians or naive theologians.
Naive economists – if we work together we will both benefit
Naive theologians: Its’ the right thing to do even if we fail.
THNK participants listening to Clay
And in general: Clay says:
Every social network started good and small and grew, you don’t start big and mediocre! No-one gets up to spend the day wasting their time on an awful platform. The first group you recruit is wildy important.
As a final advise in answer to Ben Keenes question, presumably in relation to his work creating eco-tourist islands,
How do you not get demotivated, when a lot of people don’t seem to care.
Clay: Work for those who do care, even if it’s a small group.
And now we get to do Wok+Wine with Peter Mandeno, Yay!
Oftentimes adults seek to inspire children, especially in educational settings, to learn, to discover, to know what we already know and would like children to know too. We often forget however, just how inspired and inspiring children already are. This post is then a thinly veiled propaganda piece, a note to remind adults, to wonder, do we take children’s perspectives seriously? Do we allow their ingenuity to inspire us?
Where photographer, Matej Peljhan and 12 year old Luka team up for a series of photographs, based on the imagination of Luka who suffers from muscular dystrophy. The series shows the boy doing things he in reality only imagines doing, because of his condition. He can however use his fingers to drive a wheelchair and to draw, and of course collaborate with Matej for this inspiring series.
Kelydra Welcker is serious about water pollution in her area. She lives near the Ohio River and discovered that ammonium perfluorooctanoate, a chemical was polluting the river and killing fish. She has developed an approach for both the detection and removal of the pollution in a simple and cost effective way. She is now in college, and aims to see her solution rolled out to the market over the next 5 years. She says on Popular Mechanics “I hope people understand that science isn’t just people in white lab coats speaking gibberish,” “Scientists are real people who want to make a positive impact on their world.”
On seeing this wistful photograph on @historicalpics, of a boy reading in a ruined bookshop in London, after a night of heavy bombing in 1940, I had to think of the eery parallel with Syria now, where this week the startling number of 1 million children refugees was reached. 1 million displaced children, what does that mean for their future. For anyone interested in how children’s education is affected during war and who does something to fill the gap, check out the wonderful INEE, an international education in emergencies platform
On a brighter note, Meredith age 4 wished to show her insides here, using red and transparent plastic in this self-portrait. This is from a group called Reggio Children, on Pinterest, based on the ground breaking approach working with children in Italy after WW2. Reggio Emilia exhibition called The Hundred Languages of Children has been telling the story of the Reggio Emilia educational experience worldwide to thousands of visitors for over thirty years. The Reggio Emilia approach is significant due to it’s emergent curriculum and the way educators document the works made by children.
Ever wondered how the Braille reading system for the blind works or who invented it? It was invented by Louis Braille at the age of 15 in 1829. The Braille alphabet uses a format of six raised dots in two parallel rows whereby each letter in the Roman alphabet is represented by a a different configuration of dots up and down. The huge advantage of Braille above the systems used before Louis invented it is that you can read and write braille, not just read.
In the “Century of the Child: Growing by Design 1900-2000, from MOMA they argue that children are ‘design activists in their own right, pushing against imaginative and physical limitations and constantly re-creating the world as they see it, using whatever equipment they happen to have at hand.”
This piece is inspired and informed by children, Maria Popova, Christopher Jobson,
I have endeavored to correctly attribute images and quotes to their creators and original sources, while creating a readable article, if you see something on Unexpect which is wrongly named or quoted, or would like removed for some reason, please contact me.
After reading a number of articles today criticizing Design Thinking, even one specifically against it’s use in education I feel called to respond. My professional experiences using Design thinking have revealed a great potential for education, both for teachers in their own practice and for students (young and older). For the new ‘Nederlandse School‘ (I’m in the design team), the curriculum concept is ‘Ontwerpend leren’ and partly informed by design thinking. Similarly the methods of Unexpect ‘Creative Thinking for Social Good’ have overlap with design thinking. Both projects in the education domain.
What is Design Thinking anyway?
In short, design thinking is about applying the typical design cycle to new domains. The design cycle, moves, generally speaking, from (user centered) research to creative thinking to prototyping to testing and implementing or indeed going back to the beginning of the design cycle to start again. Very important here to note is that most proponents and users of design thinking use their own version of the cycle, paying relatively more attention to one or another stage, or indeed simplifying the stages or changing the language used to describe them. Most folk also develop their own tools and sub methodologies with the cycle. Just like each village in France makes it’s own cheese, most design studios have their own signature design thinking approaches.
For example: The well know IDEO in their University Toolkit talks about the stages of : The brief – Inspiration – Concepting – Refinement – Realisation; Design for Change, referenced below, in the ‘I can’ method calls their stages: Feel – Imagine – Do – Share; At Butterfly Works we worked with: Social Need – Research – Ideation – CoCreation Workshop – Making – Pilot – Scaling; and the ‘Creation Flow’ of the THNK Creative Leadership program, uses the stages: Sensing – Visioning – Prototyping – Scaling.
And probably that is key in this discussion about the pros and cons of design thinking. Design thinking is a powerful method, when done consciously with methods continually under development and adapted to the caucus at hand, by experienced practitioners.
So do I have any doubts about design thinking?
Not fundamentally. As a designer by trade who has applied the design cycle, aka design thinking, in many forms, to a number of domains, from international development to conflict prevention, youth participation to education, across some 16 countries, with good effect. Effects such as heightened engagement of participants, ownership of long term solutions, unexpected solutions and development of cross-disciplinary partnerships. The key is in the authentic doing. If one would take design thinking as some copy paste process or a hat of tricks, it will have little or no effect on the run of the mill practice.
Yes, where some, design thinking process fall short in my view is on three points:
1. The re-frame of the original brief;
To explain, the step of re-framing the original question posed at the start of the design process is fundamental to a good design cycle, this is regularly understated in the approach. Question the question.
2. The presumed availability of creative thinking skills;
While everyone is essentially creative, many of people have the creative confidence knocked out of them at an early age and little attention paid to developing their creative thinking skills thereafter. Any design thinking process would be greatly enhanced by people who have had the opportunity to hone their creative fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration.
3. Experienced pattern recognition;
Creating ideas is one thing, choosing the best one for the situation at hand, is where the real brilliance or experience comes in.
The articles this post was triggered by are:
– ‘Design thinking is a failed experiment. So what’s next? by Bruce Nussbaum, one of design thinking earliest and longest proponents of design thinking,
– ‘Why design thinking doesn’t work in education‘; a well written and researched article yesterday from @onlinelearning!
– Beyond design thinking in education and research by Jordan Shapiro in Forbes.
Taking the them one by one.
Bruce’s Nussbaum’s main point of concern as I understand it, (with which I totally agree) is that as Design Thinking is usually prescribed as a step by step process many people have followed it in form but not in essence, thus missing the essential creative experience. My answer to Bruce would be, just because people are using a method badly, don’t blame the method. The attitude with which you go into and through any design process has to be one of open curiosity, you have to be able to delay your judgement long enough to allow new insights to arise. And it’s at this point in the process that many (groups of ) people want closure and they go for the easy or known solution, almost defeating the purpose of the design thinking exercise.
@onlinelearning! concludes in her article that design thinking with it’s user centered approach can be helpful for instructional designers and teachers to enhance their methods but for children it’s a bridge too far, for their level of knowledge and understanding to be able to use design thinking. With the second part of this conclusion I couldn’t disagree more strongly. To me, if anything design thinking is particularly suited to children’s levels of curiosity, their ability to ask good questions, to help enhance their creative thinking skills and in making education contextually relevant to them. The best example of doing design thinking with children has to be the Indian Design for Change, running in some 180 countries.
Jordan Shapiro, in his Forbes article asks, what the heck is this design thinking that he is hearing all the hype about and wonders if a healthy skepticism about solutionism can exist simultaneously with design thinking. To which I would answer with a resounding yes!. The rest of the article shares ideas about a particular application of design thinking within medical research. A main point here being that innovation is rarely an individual effort.
In sum, while Design Thinking, is of course not a one size fits all methodology nor does following it’s steps guarantee one success or creativity, it is a potent formula for any age group to have in their toolbox. Indeed, have you ever had a serious question that didn’t deserve to be critically and creatively appraised? I say bring on authentic design thinking, let young people learn it and assess it for themselves. I’m glad it’s finally become a buzz word, let’s hope it goes main stream.
Note: Other terms often used for similar processes to design thinking:
User centered design
the list goes on.
This time a workshop for a group of 8 year olds in Amsterdam North, on color and lateral connections. I’m fascinated by synesthesia (hearing colors, seeing sounds etc) and I was wondering a few things:
a) are children are more likely (than adults) to experience synesthesia?
b) would stimulating synesthesia promote creative thinking?
With creative thinking I mean the ‘Torrance Framework of Creative Thinking’, which gives us these characteristics:
When working with groups I always strive for the optimum balance of structure and freedom. The workshop program for the group of 15 children, ages 7 and 8 years, was about one and half hours long and looked like this:
– Short presentation on color scheme’s, rainbows and how your eye perceives color.
– A movement exercise: ‘Move like a color’
– Choose a color and work with the color wheel see below.
– Share your findings.
Each child using the sheet chose a (favorite) color, filled in with text or drawing, what the feeling, sound, taste, shape, and smell were for that color.
So what did I discover?
I guess my test workshop was not really designed to answer my questions, I would need to do a series of lab test with various groups and read the literature.
What I did learn was:
About a third of the group were high on flexibility, fluency, and elaboration. It was easy for them to understand the idea of imagining a color and what it might sound like, what it tastes like, what it moves like etc.
About a third of the group struggled, it seemed a strange request to them, and their imaginations were not serving them with much response.
Possibly the most interesting is the last third. This group initially responded with surprise and some confusion, but with a fe small suggestions and questions got right down to it and enjoyed exploring this way of looking at their chosen color. In my design research style (as opposed to scientific research), this is the group who have the most to benefit from being exposed to creative thinking programs in schools or other channels. I suspect they have a creative tendency but that is nit (yet) encoraged in their home environment.
It would be interesting next to interview the children, their parents and teachers on their attitudes to creativity and see if there is a correlation between attitudes to creativity and scores in creative thinking exercises.