Plaid Pete and His Team Brainstorm Solutions!

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SWBAT generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem, based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a design problem.

Big Idea

How do engineering design teams turn their research into ideas? Students engage in a process to brainstorm ideas, and then collaborate to compare and revise their ideas based on the criteria and constraints of their design problem.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead them to explore the Disciplinary Core Idea of Earth and Human Activity -  that human activities in agriculture, industry, and everyday life have had major effects on the land, vegetation, streams, ocean, air, and even outer space.  But individuals and communities are doing things to protect Earth's resources and environments. (5-ESS3-1); the Disciplinary Core Idea of Engineering Design - that possible solutions to a problem are limited by available materials and resources (constraints).  The success of a designed solution is determined by considering the desired features of a solution (criteria). Different proposals for a solution can be compared on the basis of how each one meets the specified criteria for success or how well each takes the constraints into account.  (3-5 ETS1-1); Research on a problem should be carried out before beginning to design a solution.  Testing a solution involves investigating how well it performs under a range of likely conditions.  (3-5 ETS1-2).  At whatever stage, communicating with peers about proposed solutions is an important part of the design process, and shared ideas can lead to improved designs. (3-5 ETS1-2); Tests are often designed to identify failure points or difficulties, which suggest the elements of the design that need to be improved.  (3-5 ETS1-3); Different solutions need to be tested in order to determine which of them best solves the problem, given the criteria and constraints.  (3-5 ETS1-3); and the Crosscutting Concept of Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World  - People's needs and wants change over time, as do their demands for new and improved technologies (3-5-ETS1-1), and Engineers improve existing technologies or develop new ones to increase their benefits, decrease known risks, and meet societal demands (3-5-ETS1-2).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 10 minutes.

Materials Needed:

One copy of the picture book What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada available from amazon .com 

One piece of chart paper for each team

One pad of Post-It Notes for each team

One copy for each student of of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Portfolio (handed out in a previous lesson)

Page 4 of Plaid Pete Engineers A Solution - Design Brief - enlarged and copied on ledger paper

Focus & Motivation

20 minutes

Discuss the Concept of "Brainstorming"

I have gathered my students in our meeting area to being the lesson today.  I tell my students, "Usually, we begin our lessons with a scenario that has something to do with the lesson, but not today.  I will explain why in just a moment.  The title of today's lesson is Plaid Pete and His Team Brainstorm Solutions."  I ask my students if they know what it means to brainstorm.  I accept a few student responses - and most have a general idea.  

I state that, "Yes, brainstorming means that you list as many solutions as you can, in as short a period of time as possible."  I tell my students though that one of the most important things to remember about brainstorming solutions is that during this process, the ideas should not be "evaluated."  I explain that this means the ideas should not be judged as being good ideas or bad ideas.  

I further explain that judging ideas during the brainstorming process ends up being a "creativity killer."  I ask my students why that would be so.  I accept a few student responses.  One student responds, "When somebody tells you that your idea is a bad idea, then you don't want to give any more ideas."  I confirm that, "Yes - as soon as one idea gets evaluated, it silences the creativity of everyone in the group.  They start thinking, "People might think my idea is a bad idea or a dumb idea too, so I don't think I will share it."  It takes tremendous amount of courage to share ideas.  In order for people to be at their most creative - the environment has to be a safe one where they know their ideas are free from being judged."  I then explain that this is the reason I am not starting this lesson with a scenario.  I say, "I would hate to think that Plaid Pete or his classmates are the kind of people that would be creativity killers."  I share that instead, I have a very special book that I would like to share with them, that illustrates the power of a single idea.

Introduce Read A Loud

What Do You Do With An Idea by Kobi Yamada (Compendium, 2014) is the wonderful story of a child who learns to nurture an idea.  It is the perfect introduction to a lesson on brainstorming and creativity.  

After I read the following text: "I worried what others would think.  What would people say about my idea?  I kept it to myself.  I hid it away and didn't talk about it."  I stop and ask my students this question:  "What is the consequence to our teams if we hide away our great ideas and don't share them?"  I ask my students to turn and talk to the person next to them, and after a few moments - I call on students to respond.  I hear comments such as, "We won't come up with good solutions."  "The whole team will suffer."

I continue reading, and stop after reading the following text: "They said it was no good.  They said it was too weird.  They said it was a waste of time and that it would never become anything."  And at first, I believed them.  I actually thought about giving up on my idea.  I almost listened to them.  But then I realized, what do they really know?"  I tell my students, "Wow - it took a lot of courage to stick with this idea, even in the face of all of this criticism.  It is hard to nurture an idea when everyone around you is telling you that your idea is a bad one.  But some people believe so strongly in their ideas, that they are able to summon up the courage to stick with them.  I wonder though, I wonder about the people who are around them.  I wonder about those that might not have that kind of strength, or be the kind of person who has an easy time speaking up and are watching what happens.  What do you think the affect of watching all of this has on them? Please turn and talk to the person next to you and discuss this."

After a few moments, I call on a student to respond.  "I think it would make the person watching not want to share their ideas either because they would be afraid."  I comment that, "Yes - negative comments like that can be "creativity killers" for everyone."  I continue reading the book, and my students clap at the final sentence.  (It's a great one and I won't spoil it for you).

Construct Class Anchor Chart

I tell my students, "Instead of being creativity killers, let's all be creativity nurturers.  That means like the character in the book, we will take care of ideas and nurture them and feed them so that they become something special, so that we can send them out to do wonderful things in the world.  This is true both for this project and in everything we do."  

At the top of the chart paper on my easel I write:  How We Nurture Creativity.  I ask my students to think about times that they have had ideas, and how those ideas have been nurtured.  Perhaps, there have also been times when their ideas have not been nurtured, and then they can think about what they needed in those moments.  I tell them, "We are going to create a list of positive statements that we will use to guide us during our lesson today.  These statements will help us nurture the creative ideas that are developed in our teams.  In this way, we can generate some terrific solutions to solve our design challenge."

I ask my students to turn and talk to the person next to them and think of a positive statement we can add to our chart.  Our chart looks like this:

When we have completed our chart I tell my students, "I will keep this chart posted so that we can all remember to use these to be "creativity nurturers."  I will be listening for them today as I move among your groups while you are working.  Please move back to your desks and get ready to engage in a creative process that will assist you in developing ideas to this design challenge."

Guided Exploration

25 minutes

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria for today's lesson:  

Learning Objective:  I can generate and compare multiple solutions to a problem, based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of a design problem.

Language Objective:  I can express my own ideas, and build on the ideas of others.  [ELP.4-5.2]

Success Criteria:  I can collaboratively work with my team to generate multiple solutions to a design problem, and compare solutions based on how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the design problem.

Partners Share Research

Teams have previously split off into partners (See Sage Knows Her reSearch) to research water filtration design.  Then, during our literacy block, partners met to read the research and create bulleted notes on Page 6 of their Design Portfolios.  I say to my students, "You have worked with your Research Partner to research water filtration design.  Now, you will share your research results in your teams. Partners will take turns sharing their research.  As each partner team shares, you will use Page 7 of your Design Portfolio to take bulleted notes."  I let my teams get to work, and move between them, ensuring that they are indeed listening to each other and taking notes. They are highly motivated in this task and need little prompting.  This task takes them approximately ten minutes, as there are 2 sets of Research Pairs per team.

Individual Brainstorming

After students have had an opportunity to review the research, I tell them that the next activity will be a silent one.  I ask them to put up their "office folders" (two manilla folders that have been stapled together, decorated with markers, and laminated to create a private work space) and get out a pencil.  I pass out a small stack of Post-It Notes to each student. I have created a large poster size copy of Page 4 of the Design Portfolio that lists the design requirement and constraints (Design Brief), by enlarging it and printing it on a piece of ledger paper.  I read through this Design Brief with my students.

I tell my students, "Your job is to individually think about the research that you have just discussed and list as many creative ideas as you can that will fulfill the requirements and constraints of this design brief.  Remember, you need to meet the constraints - use the allowed materials, filter 100 mL of water in no more than 3 minutes, with the greatest clarity, and at the lowest material cost.  You will list one idea per Post-It Note, using either words or pictures.  You will have about 15 minutes to generate as many ideas as you can."  Allowing students to respond in either words or pictures will give equal opportunity for all of my students to experience success.  I quietly move among my students, prompting my slow starters, and nudging them with questions that guide them to use what they have learned through their research.  I give my engineers a two minute warning to finish up their last idea and get ready to move on to the next part of the process.

Team Activity

20 minutes

Group, Revise, & Label

I ask team leaders to collect all of the Post-It Notes for their teams.  I provide each team with a large piece of chart paper, and additional Post-It Notes.  I tell my teams, "Now your job is to read and look through each idea that has been generated.  Then, using this chart paper, you will sort the Post-It Notes, placing those that are alike or go together in some way, on one area of the paper.  In this example, students are moving Post-It notes to sort them into categories.

I tell my students, "You will do this with each of the Post-It Notes until you have all of them sorted.  Once your team has done that, take the blank Post-It Notes that I have provided, and work together to revise by adding to those groups.  For this part of the process, you will want to carefully compare the ideas to the Design Brief.  Keep the design requirement and constraints in mind, comparing them carefully.  After all of your groups have been sorted and revised, draw a circle around each group and give them a label that indicates how they are alike.  You will want to combine ideas to have 3 circles when you are finished. If you have more than 3 circles, your team will need to choose the best 3 ideas, so combining is better.  If you have less than 3 circles, your Team will need to brainstorm to create 3 distinctly different ideas.  I want to remind you about the How We Nurture Creativity poster we constructed earlier. Remember - let's be creativity nurturers, and not creativity killers.  I will be specifically listening for those nurturing comments and behaviors in each of your teams!"  

I have been asked why I instruct my students to pick three categories.  I guess this relates back to the notion when I tell my students to construct two categories - I get an either/or data set. When I tell them I want three categories - I tend to get better idea generation from students.  They work a little bit harder to stretch their thinking.  Three categories are harder to generate than two categories.

In this Video Clip 1 this team has established definite rules for sorting each of the three categories.  This will assist them in differentiating their design ideas, and in developing revisions to their initial designs when needed.  This preliminary work is a very necessary part of the process.

Teams get busy and start working through the process.  I loudly compliment those teams that are using the statements we created earlier for our How We Nurture Creativity Chart.  I move between my teams, prompting students to generate and build on the ideas of others.  I let my teams know when there are about 5 minutes left so that they can finish up.  I am pleased to see the level of engagement and collaboration that this process has provided.

Quick Sketch

Once teams have their 3 ideas, I instruct them to work together to create a "quick sketch" of these ideas on Page 8 of their Design Portfolio.  I explain, "A quick sketch is just that - done quickly.  This is not a detailed drawing, or an art project.  Quickly sketch out each of the three designs, including labels that give sufficient information."

I walk between my teams, prompting students to work quickly - careful to make sure that students do not spend too much time on these.  I do not want them to get too invested in them, as it will make it more likely that they will "attach" themselves to an idea and have difficulty with the collaboration for choosing the prototype design in tomorrow's lesson.

Reflection & Closure

5 minutes

Set The Stage

I ask my teams to carefully roll up the chart paper that contains their Post-Its, and I provide a rubber band for them to place around it.  When everyone is quietly seated I explain, "The type of process that you have just engaged in is very similar to one that many design teams actually use when they are working to develop design solutions.  This process is used frequently, across many different companies that produce lots of different types of products. Why do you think it is so successful?"

I accept a number of student responses and am pleased to see that they have identified the important points that I wanted them to get from this experience:

  • Brainstorming ideas is a Team process.  Although individuals develop initial ideas, working together as a Team is what makes those ideas better.
  • It is important to leave the idea of "good" or "bad" out of a brainstorming process.  Ideas need to be evaluated against set criteria.
  • Having a certain structure in place ensures that everyone participates and nobody's voice gets left out.


I explain to my students that tomorrow they will be using the ideas they generated today to continue this process, and that what they do tomorrow will be so much better because of the hard work that they invested today!