Enter: Innovation Lab.
It originally stemmed from all the hubbub about the"21st Century skills" percolating everywhere in education. I read the statistics of the new and innovative jobs, not "invented" yet, that our students will be working in (High Hopes...Here Comes 2020+), and it confirmed the deep seeded belief I share with many educators: we teach kids for their LIFE and not just the 180 days students are in our class.
Instead of doing a group "cooperative" activity with a focus on writing or reading, I wanted to try another arrangement. In those types of groupings, there is always someone who ends up doing more work and one doing less. The level of learning isn't what we hope would happen. So, I wanted the emphasis of the experience not on the "academic" but on the interpersonal skills while doing something fun, engaging, creative, and educational.
I preface the beginning of each Innovation Lab as a place to tinker with ideas and work together as a group. I explain the importance of this working together, where everyone has a role to play and contribute; a place where each other's ideas are listened to and valued, especially when different from your own.
Here's the Details
Who's involved: I teach a 4/5 class. My innovation teams are created of two fourth and two fifth graders. I specifically select them based on individual backgrounds and where it may be a "stretch" to work together.
How long: Labs are a little over an hour and time is divided as follows:
Planning time: 10-15 minutes (without materials)
Innovating time: 25-35 minutes (with materials to build/create)
Sharing/ Reflecting/Cleaning: 10-15 minutes minutes
My task inspiration: I scour the internet for all different ideas that might spark a challenge. I recently found some great inspiration on the PBS Design Squad Nation site. Another site that is ah-maze-ing is Curiosity Machine. It gives videos to build schema and complete directions.
Design Process Used: This started a bit by accident, I didn't realize I "followed" a particular process until I came across it on the PBS Learning Media site. This is it: Design Process. Since then, I've seen the Stanford Model, which is excellent, yet a bit too detailed for these shorter challenge opportunities.
How often: I usually do Innovation Lab about once a month. I've even done one in lieu of a class party. No one complained.
Teacher's Role: This is my favorite part! With the kids so engaged and working, I check in with each group. They know I will NOT give any hints or advice, so they don't ask. My initial focus is to help the groups struggling to work together. I will start with struggling groups helping to reinforce the task while prompting and discussing with students ways to solve this problem.
Within the activities, there becomes an equal playing field of sorts. It doesn't become a venue where those who excel in math or reading (traditional school intelligence) make for a better team. It's the "out of the box" thinking and synergy driving the discussion and process. I feel Innovation Lab becomes the most meaningful way to help support students who need to explicitly be taught (or reminded) about these interpersonal/social skills. Students who may not speak up in class definitely seem to do it within the "comfort" of the group. Stronger personalities, practice how to stop and listen, learning something from another student they never talk to on a regular basis. It's pretty powerful and exciting to see!
* They are only allowed to use the materials within the tub and, rarely get an endless supply.
1) Tallest Tower- (This has been floating around the web. I didn't find an exact site). I Materials: 10 uncooked spaghetti noodles, 10 mini marshmallows, 1 yard of masking tape, 1 yard of string, and a paper bowl.
Task: Build the tallest freestanding structure with the materials.
2) Tallest Tower Again- I did this challenge twice, with the exact same supplies, because I wanted to see if the students learned from seeing each other's towers from the initial challenge. The group that "won" the first time was not the same as the second. Success.
3) Longest Paper Chain- (Inspired by Andrea's Blog, "Pencils, Glue, and Tying Shoes.")
Materials- large piece of construction paper and scissors. I demonstrated how to make a paper chain.
Task- Using one sheet of paper, create the longest paper chain.
4) Make a Catapult:
Materials- Spoon (large wooden & regular plastic), Cups (mini paper & large plastic), 1 yard of string, set of chopsticks, 10 craft sticks (thin & thick), and scissors.
Task- To create a working catapult that would launch the ping-pong ball ( I showed one image of a real catapult prior to starting).
5) Create a Game- (I did this instead of a winter party. I used an hour and 20 minutes and kids were able to play each other's games).
Materials- Cups (mini paper & large plastic), 1 yard of string, set of chopsticks, 10 craft sticks (thin & thick), scissors, ping pong ball, 10 pipe cleaners, plastic shoe box, 2 balloons, 10 sheets of blank paper, 10 index cards (small & large), and markers.
Task- To create a game someone could play and have fun.
6) Bungee Cord Barbie- (Inspired by the Illuminations website
http://illuminations.nctm.org/Lesson.aspx?id=2157 and laughed hysterically. Thought I had to do this with the help of my daughters "Barbie Collection." )
Materials: Baggies of rubber bands and 1 Barbie doll per group.
Task- Using the rubber bands, create a bungie cord enabling Barbie to "jump" from atop a cabinet to come as close to the floor as possible, without hitting her head.