Hands On Projects for Creative and Critical Thinking

Minds in Bloom is so very pleased to welcome Heidi Raki of Raki’s Rad Resources who will  share some terrific ideas for using hands-on projects to promote critical and creative thinking.

All too often, math and science concepts are taught from a book. Students read some words, look at some pictures, try some equations, and are expected to think about the problem at hand in critical and creative ways.  However, many of the students do not gain an understanding of the concept this way, and so they do not have the critical thinking going on to understand, let alone answer higher level thinking questions. 

One of the best ways to get students to tackle a concept is to let them actually get hands on, designing and creating.  Many teachers do not use these types of projects, because they take more time and effort than reading a book or watching a movie clip, but I argue that spending a lot of time to build a small understanding is better than spending a little time and not coming out with anything to show for the time spent.  However, I’m a teacher and I know we all have that curriculum to complete.  So, here are hands-on projects that might link with curriculum topics you are already working on, making that time extra well spent.
Design and create buildings  
We often think of “playing” with blocks as simply a Preschool activity.  However, older students love to build with blocks, legos, and other building materials – even non-traditional building materials like mini marshmallows and toothpicks or paper clips and q-tips.  If you set some guidelines for your students, building buildings can have a lot of educational benefits, and can increase their critical thinking skills.  
Some ways to tie creating buildings into your curriculum include: working on measurement (area, perimeter etc.)  working on place value (let them count out the right number of your base 10 blocks and then build the highest tower with it), physics, history (re-create or re-design important buildings from history), team building, writing (put 10 minutes on the clock, let them build for those 10 minutes and then write about the experience, or take a picture of what they built and let them write a creative story about who might live in their structure).
Design and create the vehicles
What kid doesn’t love to build a paper airplane?  Building planes, boats and cars are great ways for kids to get thinking about their own thinking.  For example, if you are making boats, and kids start making paper boats, it’s a good time to ask them, what happens to water when it gets wet?  These questions get kids to build meta-cognitive skills that will enhance their problem solving.  Building vehicles often means that at the end of the project, students have a race or a contest with their vehicles.  Be sure to take some time to talk about how great inventors must re-design their projects many times, so even if their design doesn’t work the first time, they may be able to tweak it to work better next time.
Some ways to tie creating vehicles into your curriculum include:  measurement (how far did the plane go, how long did the boat stay afloat etc.), famous inventors, physics, float vs. sink, aerodynamics, friction, simple machines etc.
Design and create new flavors
Kids love to cook, and we all know how great working on following a recipe is, but how about getting really creative with food.  Take plain frosting, pudding or yogurt and flavors to find the difference.  Once students are used to one flavor, try mixing two flavors.  Some items you could use to add flavors include: vanilla, rosewater, anise, cinnamon, nutmeg, garlic powder, onion powder, rosemary, ground cloves, ground ginger, etc.  You could also have students add food coloring and see if the food coloring impacts the flavor (or if they can convince someone that it impacts the flavor, even if it doesn't.)
Some ways to tie creating flavors into your curriculum include: measurement (capacity, time – do flavors get stronger if they sit longer?), following a recipe, descriptive writing, persuasive writing (the nutmeg flavored yogurt is the best because…), comparing and contrasting, mixtures vs compounds, cultures of the world (what flavors are common in different countries/cultures).
Design and create new musical sounds: My personal children are constantly making my pots and pans into a rock band.  They love to talk about how the big pot makes a much different sound than that tiny pot, and how the metal pots make a better sound than the plastic posts.  By letting students create sounds, using household items (pots and pans, boxes, wood spoons, cups with water, etc.) they spend a lot of time listening for what sound is being made and then comparing and contrasting those sounds with other sounds, then figuring out why these two sounds are similar and those two aren't.
Some ways to tie creating instruments into your curriculum include:  measurement (capacity and length), sound waves, vibration, descriptive writing, process writing (what were the steps you needed to make that sound), comparing and contrasting, cultures of the world (what instruments are common in different countries/cultures).

I hope some of these ideas will help you encourage you to use hands-on projects while building up those critical thinking skills.  Thanks for the opportunity to guest blog here on Minds in Bloom.  I’d be honored if you stopped by Raki’s RadResources for more ideas you can use to increase critical thinking.
Heidi Raki teaches at an International School in Casablanca, Morocco.  In addition to being a teacher, she is also a mother of 3 young boys and the author of the blog Raki’s Rad Resources.  She believes in using quality teaching strategies and quality resources to create quality teaching moments that will resonate with her children, increasing understanding and a love of the learning experience.  

Have you done one of these projects with your kids? Have more ideas to add? Please comment!

1 comment:

Miss Trayers said...

What great ideas! I love to find ways to help the kids be more creative. Glad I found your blog! :) I think we share the same philosophy for challenging those little ones!


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