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5 ways to help students become innovative designers

By Laura McLaughlin
September 13, 2017
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Young children are naturally curious and creative, but they need adults who foster and encourage creativity, innovation and entrepreneurism.

In fact, the ISTE Standards for Educators remind us to “model and nurture creativity and creative expression to communicate ideas, knowledge or connections.”

And as the ISTE Standards for Students spell out, when children become innovative designers, they have opportunities to think through problems and solve them by “creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.”

Creativity, innovation and entrepreneurism build on each other to develop innovative designers who will become leaders continually looking for ways to solve problems and make a difference in their classrooms, homes and communities, and possessing the skills to bring their ideas to life.

Here are five tips for supporting young innovators:

1. Encourage possibility thinking

This type of thinking allows children to think through problems and move from what is to what might be. Asking questions like “What can you try that you haven’t done before?” or “What if you changed a part of it?” or “What would you do if you knew you wouldn’t fail?” or “How is this problem like another problem?” or “What is the environment that this problem exists in and how might we make our problem responsive to that environment?” This thinking inspires careful risk-taking, problem-solving and a mindset that anything is possible.  

2. Teach systematic inventive thinking


Inside the box thinking, aka Systematic Inventive Thinking (SIT) as described by Drew Boyd and Jacob Goldenberg, provides a simple way for anyone to be innovative using one of five templates (subtraction, division, multiplication, task unification and attribute dependency). Once young children learn this simple process for creativity, they can use it for a lifetime and be innovators in all they do.

Ask students to think of an ordinary object they like to use and then share some things they can change about this item (components, features and functions). Ask what are some things they cannot change (environmental, physical factors)? What changes could they make (use one of five SIT templates)? And how would these changes be beneficial?

3. Create an explore and take-apart station

 Young children can benefit not only from their teachers support in fostering creativity, innovation and entrepreneurism, but also their families’ support. One way to engage families in supporting young innovators is to ask them to donate old household items that can be used for exploration. Think old computers, cell phones, umbrellas and PVC pipe. Use the materials to create a “tinkering” station where students can safely take apart items and be inspired to get creative, innovate and solve problems.

4. Provide prop boxes and engage in role play

Stocking the classroom with boxes of props and allowing students to engage in different roles provides them with authentic learning experiences where they can explore, imagine and think through problems. Adding a digital camera or iPad so children can take pictures and video their experiences to later reflect on them or create a story to share with others would also inspires young  innovators.

5. Help students set personal goals

Empowering children to set personal goals and guiding them to resources where they can explore passions will help them to become self-directed and self-motivated learners. Children can create action plans and, even before writing, they can draw pictures of their goals and passions. The earlier we integrate goal setting and action planning, the more we inspire children to be creative, innovative, young entrepreneurs.

When young children are passionate and excited about their ideas, they will continue to think creatively, problem-solve and develop as innovative designers. Children who are creative, innovative and possess an entrepreneurial mindset hopefully grow into adults who are open-minded, flexible, self-directed problem-solvers who will contribute positively to their communities and society.

Laura McLaughlin Taddei is an associate professor of education at Neumann University in Aston, Pennsylvania, and a professional development speaker in higher education and PK-12 settings. She is dedicated to teaching and modeling the use of innovation, creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration both within the classroom setting and beyond.

Learn more about how to foster creativity, innovation and collaboration in Taddei’s new ISTE book, Nurturing Young Innovators: Cultivating Creativity in the Classroom, Home and Community, written with Stephanie Smith Budhai.