Pablo and his students want to save the world – part one

1.1. What’s in the Box?

This is what I saw when I visited Pablo Carrion’s Grade 6 classroom at Colegio Lope de Vega in Benidorm, Spain, a few years ago. This student was showing the other students an invention of his and explaining what it does. The students looking on were fascinated.

1.2. Solving Problems Creatively

So what actually is going on here? Well, Pablo is trying something new. It may not look this way but he is now asking his students to tackle some of the deeper and more stubborn problem areas that have challenged human beings since we found ourselves in a world of challenges to our very survival. Each student formulated what they thought were these age-old challenges — and challenges we had not done too well at — and he asked them, to use, as a base, their creative thinking skills to come up with more innovative solutions that they thought could work. And he wanted them in so doing to make use of anything that they had learned that may be relevant. For example, a mountain climber has slipped on the slopes of the Matterhorn in the Swiss Alps and has broken his leg. And he is climbing And the alone. For many in this situation this has meant a slow and painful death. So how can we help such a person with a good chance that he or she will survive? Well here is the rec-ommendation advanced by one student: use a drone to which is attached and operated by a large box with a series of compartments mechanism carried by the drone, that has life-saving supplies in it organized by types of mountain-climbing accident. And the drone is constructed to get exactly the right package of medical supplies to the injured climber. Each student is asked to display a model of his or her creation to the class.

Student shows drug drone project

So?? There’s a mountain climber who has slipped and broken his leg. And he is alone. Well, what has he done to try to help himself? He has taken the little device from his pock-et with a little green button on it and pressed the button. Many kilometers away a specially equipped medical supplies drone is activated into action. And it contains a mechanism that leads it in the direction of the injured mountain climber. It also contains a height adjuster, so that it climbs to a level about 1/2 kilometer above the injured climber. Then it stops and hovers. Why hover there? Well, that mountain is known for the build-up of strong air cur-rents — wind– arising seemingly at random, on its surface. It would not be safe for any ve-hicle, let alone this drone, to try to land on these slopes. So when the drone arrives and hovers the injured climber presses a red button which signals the drone that he has a bro-ken leg. That activates the package beneath to drone itself to rotate until it is in a good po-sition, then the door under the compartment opens, and out falls a good-sized package that contains medical supplies necessary to set and splint a broken leg, and it is gently transported to the climber by a small but strong parachute. Then — success. The climber will now set his leg and use a pair of folding crutches, specially-designed for use on slopes up to 45 degrees, which the climber will use to work his way down to the nearest base camp.

1.3. Teaching Students to Think Creatively

Wow, ingenious. What a special gifted student this must be to be able to come up with this. Well, this student was no more “gifted”’ than the other 75 students at his grade level. Ra-ther, starting at four years old, he had gotten used to employing creative thinking skills to solve problems. How? Well, at Lope de Vega the teachers learned in a special “Thinking-Based Learning” training provided by our Center how to translate this into class-room practice that helped their students learn that the essence of creative thinking ap-plied in this context was to combine two or more things, processes, or components to yield some result that could solve the problem in a new or original way. And the “two or more things” that they were thinking of were usually yielded by a memory search of things in the past experience and/or learning of the students that had some significant simi-larity to at least some aspect of what could solve this problem like “using something rigid to hold together two parts of something broken,”. like a long piece of wood that was nailed onto two parts of a broken fence post in the garden of one students’ home. Or a student might ask himself or herself”, or “What ways do we know of that medical supplies can be provided to someone who needs them?” — and then “What special ways do we know of that important things can be transported a distance to a high mountain?”. And of course the medical supplies had to be supplies that could help someone with a broken leg so that when used by the injured person they could treat the injury.

So a standard way to be able to put together some creative ides requires a base of learning that can be accessed by a person using his or her active memory. And it this base is not there, well, second best may be to ask someone else who may have this breadth of stored prior acquired knowledge, or if not to go and find it yourself. And note, these all may have been initiated by previous teachers who not only taught students how to make these connections, but gave them plenty of regular practice in doing this from their early years of schooling on..

But this retrieval process is not enough. To solve this problem well these ingredients need to be able to be put together in ways that fit together to yield something that the thinker thinks can do the overall job. And this “job” may be very complex to one degree or another. Such a product, then will be a new and creative product aimed at being able to do some-thing that either has not been accomplished before by this student, or that at least replaces something that has been used before but no longer can be used in these circumstances. Ah, creative thinking at its best: a search for something that can do a specific job and that usually involves a synthesis of successful searches for ingredients which, when put together, yields something that new that looks like it can do a specific job (thank you, Benjamin Bloom, for using this word to describe a special type of thinking process).

Just as a special aside, look at these examples from starting this process in a students’ early years, for example, putting together discarded pieces of paper and cardboard and other things, to make models of vehicles of transportation, or using unorthodox material to make something like an article of clothing now made out of something new that com-bined with something of the original, for example a boy’s necktie worn with his new suit, but the necktie made out of snakeskin the colors of which matched the fabric of the suit, or a newspaper-made pair of shorts.

But then, as these students move up through the grades, switching to real needs and how to create something that would serve a needed purpose by not only combining things, but by combining two or more uses of something to create a result that had never before been achieved with things like these — or never been achieved, period. For example, using a split piece of bamboo to lay horizontally at the edge of a roof to collect rain water and prevent the water from running into the walls of the house, and then to swing in to provide a water supply for an indoor garden And these stu-dents love being creative in these ways. it

To summarize this important series of classroom practices and their result now: These students had learned how to be creative by combination — by synthesis,, — based on what they knew about what they were trying to achieve, and what they had learned about other things and processes that might help, which, in combination with other things or processes, they thought would achieve what they were trying to achieve. And they did this all themselves working together because, of course, something that one student knew that another student doesn’t, might work together with something that the other students knew about that the first didn’t. The result is making this kind of thinking
social thinking and, in particular, social creativiety, –, the main reason why collabora-tive thinking was a key ingredient in TBL training that this school did that yielded such great results.

And of course, as these students moved up through the grades, they had plenty of prac-tice doing this because all the teachers in this school used the same techniques to make skillful thinking the basis of content learning and the transfer and extended use of these techniques outside school.. Here’s an example from the higher grades: ,let’s save our natural resources by not simply discarding natural resources that we don’t immedi-ately need– like dumping into the sea the dirt and rocks that we did up in order to build a large building with a basement, but rather using them to serve other human needs. Well in an instant we can come up with at least 20 other different possible uses that we could put a pile of dirt and rocks to, as did the students.. So now these students were exercising their creative thinking abilities to put things together to create a union — and it could involve more just two things — by engaging in thinking in a more complex way that could solve a serious problem. So here we have a life saving drone for high-altitude moun-tain-climbing accidents.

1.4. Another Creative Idea

Well, what were some of the other creative ideas that Pablo’s students developed ? These two girls were concerned about what they had learned about our bodies that could lead to harm or death — in this case tension or stress in our lives causing an increase in our heart rate which could, if too sudden or intense, cause a heart attach. They had learned about this in their science class — “The Human Body” unit they worked on last year in Grade 5 Primary science course. And one important thing that they learned was that when this hap-pened it transmitted a pulse through certain veins, for example the veins in our arms, and the pulse could be detected in our wrists. This, they reasoned, is something that we often have no control over: an auto accident, a sudden storm, faiiling a test that you thought you had passed with a really high grade. So how can we help people with this natural early de-tection mechanism we have built into our own bodies? Well, they invented a stress brace-let. How does it work? Well, it is a nice looking bracelet But it has in it a heart-rate detec-tor, which us activated by a person’s pulse. But that isn’t all. If the pulse rate exceeds a certain amount indicating a dangerously high heart rate, a device in the watch is activated that send a reverse pulse back to the heart, and cancels the stress-related signal that had been received. Wow again.!!.Try to imagine the thinking that these girls did — and did to-gether — to come up with this ingenious idea. Is this Creative thinking at its best.

Students in science class create an anti stress bracelet

1.5. Creative Thinking

So you get the idee. Creative thinking that works for us !! Well, let’s go back to the student who we saw holding a box with a small jar on op of it. He is explaining how his device works to the class — an important stage in the creative process that each student engaged in. And these students look very intrigued and interested. So what is his device? In fact like the other two, it too looks like a real invention. And, of course, with such practical concerns the development of creative thining skills, which are accessible to all students if their teachers commit themselves to teaching them, and to helping their students develop these very practical ideas, are ready to be used to help us make something, or develop a plan to do something, that will meet a creative challenge presented by a problem that once again,.has been hard to solve.

In the previous two situations the problems have been difficult to solve, prior solutions have been inefficient, and the rate of success minimal. Now we have a better chance to develop ways of solving these problems that has a chance itself of being more successful. And it is early writers on creative thinking like Paul Torrance, Edward de Bono, and Robert Stern-berg, to mention just a few, that we should thank for starting us thinking about techniques we can develop that will make developing creative ideas more natural. They have stimulat-ed many of us to focus in more depth on how to teach students to be creative thinkers. So what’s in the box. We are going to have to wait for Part Two of this commentary to find out.

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