I remember coming across this challenge when I was scouring the internet over the summer break, for activity ideas. At first glance, I knew this was a keeper!
Design challenges come in different kinds. Some are complex, with lots of instructions, many guidelines, and not to mention various constraints on what the design should, and should not do. And then, there are some challenges, simple, straightforward to plan and set up, and most importantly, open-ended. The lesser structure, fewer rules format of these challenges, leaves much more to the student’s imagination! “Roll-a-Challenge” is definitely of the latter kind. Now, it would be unfair to play the benefits of one kind, against another. Both types of challenges are unique, in that, they focus on differing aspects of design thinking, and help hone distinct skill sets. That said, both have equal real-life relevance and applicability, and therefore, it is important that students are exposed to a good mix of both.
The centre-piece of this activity involves three paper dice. The first die has the name of one material written on each of its faces. The second one presents six different objects, and the third one specifies an interesting action on each of its six sides. Each team of students gets to roll all of the three dice. This way, they get to design a specific object, that does a specific action, using only the specified material. That is precisely how students get to “Roll a challenge” for themselves.
My repeated use of the word “specific”, might tempt you into thinking that the challenge itself might be too specific. On the contrary, with 6 different materials, and 6 different objects, and 6 different actions, not only are we looking at 200 odd challenge possibilities, but as many design tasks, which can be interpreted diversely, approached uniquely, and solved distinctively by every set of minds. For instance, a group’s challenge might be to design a shelter using paper cups that is capable of changing in size. A “shelter” could run the entire gamut from just a cover from rain, to a kennel for a pet, to a multi-storey building, to a full blown panic room that can protect them from a martian attack. 🙂
Again, a change in size can be interpreted as a structure that can be extended, folded, opened up, inflated, collapsed, or maybe even made to explode! And while the paper cup might look lackluster, and possibly limiting at first sight, when one visualises it stacked up, or spread out, or opened up, or cut to pieces, the possibilities are really quite endless. As you can see, imagination is the name of this game.
Imagination, as I see it, is the ability to see beyond what’s apparent, it is the openness to step outside rigidness, and it is the willingness to question something that’s preconceived. This is a skill that goes into making any successful maker. So I wanted every one of my students, be it primary or secondary, to be a party to this exercise.
Grouping this time, was an active and fun process. I had pre made chits with an idea of forming teams of three. Each chit had a word written on it, and understandably, three such words formed a connection. The students had to pick a chit each, and then walk and talk to locate their counterparts. All the hurried moving around in an effort to form their teams first, had the students revved up and ready to start their challenge.
Hardly had the students settled down in their teams, and there was more action to follow. I had completely underestimated the amount of enthusiasm that would be generated by the simple act of rolling the dice. Every child eagerly awaited his or her turn to roll. Conveniently, they were in teams of three, and there were three dice to go around, which meant every child got a turn. There was anticipation in every team as their challenge unfolded and there was curiosity all around about what the other team’s challenges were. There were exclamations and excited shout outs every time someone got a particularly interesting combination, like design a mouse trap that can fly, or design a carnival ride that grows in size!
Most groups wanted to start building right away, while I wanted them to talk and share first. I have noticed in the past, that when this important step is skipped, it is usually one dominant member’s idea that takes form, and more often than not, it is this one member who is seen working and calling all the shots, while everybody else just goes along without feeling any connection to the design. So, I suggested that they put in some time to think about the different ideas and possibilities first, to talk and discuss the options, and then try to bring-in their ideas into one workable solution, which they would sketch, before they went ahead to make. This, to some extent, helped get everybody contributing and feeling “part” of the process.
Each group got one single material to work with. The material was fixed, and so was the quantity. But the students had a lot of flexibility when it came to joining options. They could request anything from tape to glue, and from rubber bands to paper clips and zip ties. While I did not “visibly” lay out all the options, I did encourage the students to voice out what they felt they required, and I tried to suggest options that would match up. Without even realising it, teams were considering the workability of their material very early on in the design process. While some ideas were better suited for a material like cardboard, others required the pliability of something like pipe cleaners. So teams that got materials like craft sticks and skewers and cardboard, naturally leaned towards designs that were more rigid and straight faced, while those with more flexible materials like paper cups and plates and pipe cleaners went with ideas that incorporated curves.
I had planned for this to be a short challenge, spanning over just 2 one and a half hour long sessions. Within this time, students had to ideate, make their design, share their design, as well as write a little paragraph about it. So the build time was really not too much, it was just enough to keep students on their toes, and the enthusiasm persisting throughout.
As students progressed in their designs, I got to see quite a few interesting ideas, and some really innovative ways of incorporating the required action. One group had to design a shelter that made noise, using only paper cups, and right off the bat they knew how they would go about creating their noise. They went with a tower style stack up of their paper cups, and into each cup they threw tiny pieces of cut paper. So every time they shook their structure, the little cut up pieces made a noise, much in the same way that a rattle would.
Another group had to design a toy using cardboard which would be able to break into four pieces. They made a robot, comprising one cuboid for the trunk, one for the head, and two for the hands. What was really creative was their idea to make the different components pull apart. They made little holes on each part, and little dowels on the counter parts, so that the dowels would go fix into the holes, thus holding it together. This way, they just had to pull on each part, and the dowels slid right out of the holes.
Another great idea involved a shelter constructed out of craft sticks, that had to grow in size. They decided to build a house, with a roof that could be extended. They constructed their roof using overlapping craft sticks held together by rubber bands. This way, the sticks could slide over one another, thereby making it possible to either shorten or lengthen, leading to the change in size that they had visualised! Yet another group worked on a musical instrument made out of paper plates that needed to break into 4 pieces. They used a stack of plates that were cut into 4 quadrants. Every quadrant was held to its two adjacent quadrants by means of rubber bands. Picking the rubber band produced the sound, and the four quadrants could either be separated out by stretching the rubber bands, or held together to look like one full plate when the rubber bands were relaxed.
Once the designs were done, the groups got time to write about, and present their idea to the rest of the class. The sheer variety in the challenge itself, as well as in the designs, made the sharing particularly interesting. Students were very keen to see what challenge their classmates had got, and to hear about how they had designed a solution.
Looking back, this was a great activity! Not too long, not too complicated, but lots of fun. Looking forward, this would be a great way to give out new challenges. The die creates excitement, it creates variety, it creates an element of chance, and above all it can be altered to any which way you desire! You can either have the students create their own dice by scouting around for items that they have handy, and plugging in their imagination or you could make a die that’s thematic, something centred around nature, or history. One more alternative is, you can have the entire class build one giant design, like a rube goldberg machine, and the dice could be used to decide what each team will be working on.
Actually speaking the possibilities are quite endless..! 🙂