Engineering and the Wondertwins - the E in STEM isn't as silent as you thought!

STEM School

It's National Engineering Week.  As the STEM Coordinator at Erie Elementary, I wanted to hightlight different aspects of the Engineering Process in an effort to show how engineering is not just building stuff.  It is a part of our teacher's everyday skill set.  All of us engineer more than we realize!



Wondertwin powers activate!  Form of....  an IDEA!


That's what I think of when I hear the word 'ideate.'


Actually, I had to look ideate up when I first heard it two years ago at a design thinking/engineering training... I thought it was a made-up word! Before I looked it up, I applied my background knowledge of chemistry to ideate:  when you add '-ate' it means an element combined with more oxygens... so idea with more oxygens --> a more reactive idea.  Not quite right.  


The true definition of ideate is "to form an idea" ... and thus, as a product of my generation and the Justice League Saturday morning routine... "Form of.... an IDEA!"


The wondertwins and their superpowers are actually pretty cool examples of the using ideate in engineering:  collaboratively, they thought up clever, sometimes really extreme solutions to solve their problems and save the day.  And really, what more is there to engineering?


So how do we get our students to become members of the Justice League of Engineers?  As I see it, there are two main parts of ideation:  brainstorming and selection of ideas.


Let's start with the brainstorming.  This is a HUGE step!  It takes some prep to get the kids comfortable and feeling safe to do brainstorming effectively.

Here are a couple of good articles about brainstorming:

Brainstorming Possible Solutions Lesson  (this one has some good specifics for teaching a brainstorming lesson - ignore the age - our elementary kids can do this just fine!!)

Let's get Creative - Brainstorming (this is a little brainstorm peptalk from a world expert in brainstorming)

Learning to Brainstorm (this is rough, basic tutorial)

and a Brainstorming Guideline that you can post in your classroom.

A couple extra tips I'd add to brainstorming in a classroom are to limit the time and give them a brainstorm direction.

By limiting the time, I mean only give them ~ 2 minutes for each brainstorm "session."  I put on a song but you could do anything you normally do for time.

Giving them direction is important because they don't really-o, truly-o brainstorm when you say, "Okay!  Brainstorm!"  I have the kids fold their papers into sections (usually quarters) and we do different sessions of brainstorming for each section of paper.  The sessions each have their own focus in addition to the overall concept you're brainstorming.  

Some ideas for the focus are:

How many ideas for _______ can you brainstorm if:

- you had $1,000,000!

- you had $1

- you could only use magic

- you had to be outside

- it was for a 2-year-old

- it was for an 80-year-old

- you could only use your feet

- you were blindfolded

- you could only use things you found on a deserted island... on the moon... etc

(if you come up with any good ones, please share!)


BUT brainstorming alone isn't enough.  To finish your ideation, you need to select the idea you will use to move forward.  


This can be inventive, diplomatic, kid-directed, peer-to-peer, self-selected, or completely dictated by you!  How ever they chose the "winning" idea (or ideas... sometimes it's 2), I think the key to selecting is to have the kids TALK.  They need to verbally share all their ideas.  You can add in peer feedback (with a heavy dose of empathy!).  You can add in some kind of compromise (ie, the final idea has to be a combo and have at least one characteristic from each person in the group).  You can make it a vote (dot stickers work well for this).  However decide, selecting an idea is essential to IDEATING!


Finally, you don't have to be building something to ideate!  Anytime you engineer a story or solve problems is a perfect time to IDEATE!


Let me know how you ideate!



Kristina Stem


P.S.  Whoa! Even "What does the Fox say?!" is a great lesson in ideation!







Only with some pretty wicked ideation could such lyrics exist! Don't you think?