There are so many strategies and techniques ‘out there’ that teachers could implement and it can often be overwhelming and daunting, especially at the beginning of the school year. One activity that I find particularly engaging for everyone involved is something that I call Invention Dimension.
Essentially, Invention Dimension is probably something you have done throughout your teaching career, but perhaps not to this extent. As I am not a designated art teacher, I love integrating STEAM attributes in everything I do within my general education classroom. Doing so allows all of my students to experience their strengths in an organic creative process rather than forcefully trying to ‘make’ or ‘create’ something, all with the same arts focus. Additionally, students often do not even realize that what their are creatively doing involves all or some aspects of STEAM.
Invention Dimension can easily be conducted in one class setting. I generally use one hour as the total time limit for collaboration, design, and build. This is up to you though because I have also involved my students in Speed Invention Dimension, in which they have forty-five minutes, or even one-half an hour, depending on your age group.
I begin the activity by writing Invention Dimension on the board, and I usually do this before recess or lunch just to whet their appetites. Of course they start immediately asking what ‘that is’, but I don’t tell them. I leave them to think and discuss it with their friends over the school break in their day.
When students return, I write these 3 requirements on the board :
- Must not currently exist.
- Must be beneficial to society.
- May use technology that does not currently exist, as long as they are able to explain it.
At this point, the classroom is abuzz and just want to get started. What they don’t yet know is that they will be working in groups of four to complete the task. I find that groups larger than four usually ends up with fewer than four of the students actually working on the design, and others within the group not participating. I let them know that they first need to collaborate as a team and brainstorm what they think they would like to design. And, before they begin actual design and building, they need to completely agree their direction as a group.
I also explain how designers and artists work in the ‘real world’ by first roughly sketching out their ideas. Some students will of course want to clearly define every detail of their sketch before moving on to the next step, but this is a good lesson in tried and true ideation, which is probably new to most students regardless of grade level.
Let’s get started!
Once individual groups have a clear goal in mind, they are free to use any consumable material I have in the classroom. Generally the initial go-to is construction paper, which is perfectly fine, and easy to use. Students may also use scissors, paper clips, brad connectors, tape, cardboard, paper rolls, tissue paper, literally anything you may have on hand. Student creative juices really being to flow when they realize they are not limited to specific classroom materials.
This is a good time to encourage the imagination for both designer and audience. I tell them that it doesn’t need to ‘look’ perfect because we are all just designing prototypes. This way, student creativity is not inhibited by something that doesn’t look ‘perfect.’
What students don’t know at this point is that they will informally present their invention to the entire class and that each group member needs to participate in the presentation. Of course depending on your timeframe or grade level, you may decide to omit the presentation piece, and perhaps have the individual group members write a short description, or summary.
Depending on the grade level, and/or classroom environment that you teach, you may allow them to work in self-selected groups or you could make the group selections based on projected student-to-group projected success. Individual and group creativity throughout the entire Invention Dimension process along with the group’s team building is truly amazing. The entire activity is an outlet for organic creative expression that your students will enjoy, and grow from in more ways than you thought imaginable. The amount of Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math that are naturally integrated within each group are truly incredible.
During our Back to School ‘ice-breaker’ periods, I have involved my students in Invention Dimension at the multiple grade levels that I have taught throughout the years and there is always much excitement and energy. What’s even more exciting, is that my students are the ones eager to ‘do’ Invention Dimension multiple times throughout the year! From the teacher’s perspective, change over time and learning progression becomes exciting and obvious as does the confidence and individual creativity of each student involved.
Dolph holds a Bachelors of Science, Product Design from Art Center College of Design and a Masters degree in Education. Dolph has spent most of his teaching career as a 6th grade teacher in the elementary school setting with a focus on Gifted and Talented Education, and is currently teaching 4th grade in Fullerton, California He is married and is the father of Bonnie and Clyde, Golden Retriever littermates, one cat and two American Quarter horses.