It is exciting to find a book that lends itself to creative thinking, simple research, and logical reasoning. This picture book allows students to think and create.
Enrichment teachers know the value of a well-timed picture book. Many gifted students read early, so they move on to chapter books quickly and miss a lot of the fun art of picture books. Also, picture books allow the whole class to enjoy a story and art together. The best picture books allow a class to go beyond the covers and create something new, and Roger McGough's Until I Met Dudley does just that.
A Summary of Until I Met Dudley
McGough's book is written in a pattern students will quickly pick up on. The innocent narrator offers an imaginative explanation for a common household appliance, and then Dudley offers a technical explanation on the following pages. Because the art is done by the legendary Chris Riddell, it is both playful and precise. When the narrator details how cats lick dishes clean inside a dishwasher, the art is fun and detailed. When Dudley explains how a dishwasher actually works, the art is technical with bright, happy lines.
Using Until I Met Dudley to Encourage Creative Thinking
After students have seen and heard Until I Met Dudley, many of them will want to make their own similar stories. This is the perfect chance for teachers to develop creative thinking skills. Instruct students to fluently list mechanical objects that they want to learn more about, and then have them come up with a creative explanation of how it works. It is important that teachers allow students a wide range of possible springboards. Many students will choose musical instruments and toys, which is fine. Although everything in the book plugs in, the objects students choose do not need to be limited to electrical appliances.
Students should sketch out a picture of the creative explanation, and then then write a short narrative (about a paragraph, like the book) to connect the picture to the back story.
Using Until I Met Dudley to Encourage Simple Research
Once students have created the creative explanation, it is time to research the real explanation. Even if students think they know how, teachers should insist they look up the technical points because Until I Met Dudley is a very precise book and students will need to echo that exactness. The book The Way Things Work by David Macaulay and the website for How Stuff Works is an excellent resource for students.
After students have learned the actual workings of the object, they need to create a detailed diagram and explain how it works, again writing a short paragraph that echoes Dudley's style of explaining.
How Until I Met Dudley Encourages Logical ReasoningIn both the creative and the logical explanations, students need to present a logical flow of cause and effect to show how something works. The book is so thorough that students will find themselves developing logical skills simply through the art of creating and discussing diagrams.
Teachers should allow at least four hours for this activity, depending on what research resources are available. Binding the pages to create a class version of Until I Met Dudley will tie the whole thing together and offer something to share with parents as they are learning more about the enrichment program and demonstrating how students think, create, and learn individually.
Until I Met Dudley: How Everyday Things Really Work (ISBN: 0711211299) was published by Frances Lincoln Publishers Ltd in 1999 and is still readily available. It was written by Roger McGough and illustrated by Chris Riddell.
Originally posted on Suite101 on June 23rd, 2009
When teaching creative problem solving, it is important that students develop flexible thinking, the ability to come up with a variety of categories for potential answer
In creative problem solving, a student who demonstrates flexible thinking is one who can group ideas into different categories. If a student can generate ideas that fit into many groups, that student is a flexible thinker. After learning fluency which is the ability to generate ideas, students should be able to categorize those ideas.
Flexible thinking is an important part of creative problem solving, because problems are often solved by looking at a variety of sources. Solutions come from unexpected directions, and students should be encouraged to think flexibly -- in a variety of categories -- when solving problems.
Teaching Flexible Thinking in Elementary Gifted Classrooms
Before learning flexibility, students should have a good understanding of fluency. Teachers should either have students generate lists of ideas, or have lists of ideas available to students. At the elementary level, it is important that teachers introduce students to flexible thinking using concrete ideas.
Abstract concepts are hard to categorize, even for gifted students. Because abstract reasoning develops at different rates in children, handing a gifted child a mixed list of concrete and abstract ideas may prove to be more frustrating than productive.
A Flexible Thinking Activity for Elementary Students
Instruct students to bring pictures of pets or magazine cut-outs of animals. The teachers should also have an assortment of animal pictures available. As a class, generate a list of types of animals based on the pictures. Then, have the students individually categorize the list.
Some students might be limited to listing animals such as dogs, cats, and fish. Other students might have more categories, and some animals might fit into multiple categories. A student might have mammals, large animals, pets, and animals with tails as categories. A horse would fit into all of those groups. That student would be using flexible thinking.
Teaching Flexible Thinking in Middle School Gifted Classrooms
Middle school gifted students are ready to tackle abstract concepts as they learn creative problem solving. Although flexibility should be introduced using concrete examples, middle school students will be able to incorporate additional layers with abstractions. In the animal example, teachers might want to include mythical creatures, which would bring in a layer of imaginative thinking.
A Flexible Thinking Activity for Middle School Students
Even though middle schoolers have outgrown many childhood toys, most middle school students have a childhood toy that they will enjoy bringing to class and sharing. It is important that they bring a toy that they do not mind letting other people touch. Teachers should have additional toys on hand in case some students do not bring them.
Students should describe the toy to the class, and the class can make a master list on the board. The list should include features of each person's toy. Some features might include the number of parts, functionality (example: it is an indoor or outdoor toy), if it makes noise, and the materials the toys are made of. After the students have generated a list (fluency), they should individually group different toys into different categories.
Grading Flexible Thinking
Students should be able to put a large list of ideas into a variety of groups. If a student has trouble categorizing ideas, the teacher first needs to make sure that the original list had obvious groupings. If the list did not lend itself to flexible thinking, a low number of groups would be acceptable. If the list had a variety of different options, teachers should expect a higher number of groupings. Flexible thinking takes time and practice to develop. Grades should reflect growth in ability, rather than meeting a set number of groups.
Once students master fluency and flexibility, they are able to generate lists of potential solutions for given problems. These are foundational steps for creative problem solving, and they give students the luxury of having many options to choose from when determining the best answer.
Originally posted on Suite101 on October 8th, 2008
When teaching creative problem solving, it is important that students understand the concept of fluency, the ability to generate a lot of ideas on a given topic.
In creative problem solving a fluent student is one who can list many potential solutions to a problem. Some potential solutions may just be idea fragments, or they may be too "out there" to be practical. In fluency, quantity is more important than quality, because students will later reflect on their responses and decide which ideas are worth keeping.
In creative problem solving, impractical ideas are valued just as much as practical ideas. Solutions come from unexpected sources, and students should be encouraged to look at all possible sources in the initial stages of solving problems.
Teaching Fluency in Elementary Gifted Classrooms
Students are ready to understand fluency and use it in basic problem solving in elementary school, but they need to be able to write or type for 10-15 minute stretches. For this reason, fluency may be a good activity for 4th and 5th graders rather than earlier elementary, but like so many things in gifted education, it depends on the student. It is important that students understand why they are being asked to write in such great quantities... teaching fluency might be as simple as giving students a topic and asking them to list possibilities.
For example, ask students to list things that are green. One word answers are fine. The students should give as many answers as possible in the given amount of time, perhaps 10-15 minutes. It is important that teachers tell students spelling is not an issue. They are simply recording their ideas and writing them to avoid repetition.
Teaching Fluency in Middle School Gifted ClassroomsMiddle school students love the game Scattergories, and it is an excellent introduction to the concept of fluency. To understand how fluency relates to problem solving (as opposed to idea-generation for brainstorming), students should be given a simple problem and asked to fluently list all the possible answers.
Spelling, grammar, and mechanics are not priorities at this stage, because the goal is idea generation, and pausing will hinder progress toward the goal. Middle school students tend to be competitive and this is a good activity for competition if the question provides a level playing field.
Problems with Repetition
A question such as "Why do cats have claws" will generate a lot of ideas and it is a topic on which everyone can contribute answers. Sometimes students are tempted to hide behind repetition, because those words will fill lines on the paper. For example, using the cat-claw question, a student taking refuge in repetition might write:
Being able to provide a coherent answer to the question is one strategy for evaluating answers, but it is not the goal in the first stage of learning fluent thinking. Students should be able to say, "Cats have claws in case they need to climb trees." It is a coherent answer to a simple question based on idea generation.
It is tempting to have a partner just check off answers as they are said instead of writing them down. Unfortunately, that makes it tricky to avoid repeating ideas and the work is then unable to be re-used to teach flexibility and frequency. However, if students have ideas listed, the lists can be used later in other creative problem solving activities.
When teachers move on to the next step in teaching creative problem solving, flexibility, the students will see that their fluent answers did were inflexible and could not fit into many groups. In fact, the student was being fluent in generating types of trees, not generating reasons why cats have claws.
Originally posted on Suite101 on October 8th, 2008
Gifted students crave creative problem solving experiences. The gifted classroom can be a problem solving playground where students discover problems and solutions.
Offering gifted students problems to solve with fluent, flexible thinking is an important element of gifted curricula, especially at the middle school level and beyond. Students are ready for abstract thinking, and many students are aware that the "real world" is full of abstract problems. In creative problem solving, a students learn apply divergent thinking and "out of the box" ideas to solve real problems.
Teaching Creative Problem Solving by Explaining What Questions are Asking
The first phase of creative problem solving is understand what type of answer a question is truly seeking. Providing students with a list of question terms and the type of answers they require will offer clarity throughout the unit. Having such a list not only helps students answer questions, but it will help them phrase questions more correctly.
The following list should be provided to students and posted in the classroom. It is not necessary to make students memorize the list; gifted students will likely pick up on these standards innately.
There are several sources to find problems that students can use fluency and flexibility to answer. One ready and willing source is parents. Teachers can use a newsletter to contact parents and request real problems that require creative solutions. It is important to note that the parents do not have to have a solution; the students will be coming up with solutions to offer.
Parents should submit problems they encounter during daily life, from difficulties parking at the soccer field to interesting problems at work, or even national issues to which there seems "no answer". Including parents in question gathering has the bonus effect of increasing parent involvement.
An Activity to Generate Creative Questions and Answers
Gifted students tend to read at a higher grade level than their peers, and the gifted classroom can utilize that high reading level by offering a variety of "odd news" articles. Secondary students may want to research their own articles, but upper elementary and younger middle school students should have articles provided to them unless the class is also learning research skills.
Students should choose an "odd news" article, and read it quietly. Then, students should come up with as many questions as they can based on the article, using the different question terms of how, what, when, where, who , and why. Not every news story will lend itself to every term. After the teacher has proof-read the question, the student should write down each question on a card.
Without knowing anything about the news articles, other students in the class (or other classes) should draw out questions and try to answer them. They should use fluency to come up with a list of potential answers, and they should use flexibility to have a variety of categories of answers. Then, after reviewing their answers, students should write the most practical or likely answer on the back of the card.
Grading Creative Problem Solving
At the end of a creative problem solving activity, students should be have an answer to the problem. The quality of the answer is subjective, but any answer is a start. As students are offered more opportunities to solve problems, teachers should raise their expectations on the quality and quantity of answers. Grading in the gifted classroom is different than other classrooms, because the problems students face are often subjective. Creative problems solving lessons need clear grading standards.
At the end of a creative problem solving unit, students should be able to face a variety of problems with confidence. They should be able to come up with a variety of responses, and some should be unique, while others should reflect popular thinking. If questions are well-phrased well, students are well-prepared, teachers should have high expectations for their students to solve a variety of problems in a variety of ways.
Originally posted on Suite101 on October 8th, 2008.
Ally Sharp is a teacher, writer and editor, and technology trainer.