Fay’s creativity and design curriculum teaches students how to be creative problem-solvers, an essential skill that they will carry with them long after they have left Fay. Through the iterative loop of the design thinking process, students learn how to brainstorm, build, test, and revise their ideas. They learn that failure is just a point on the journey to success rather than the end of the road. “We model the design thinking process starting in Primary School,” says Director of Creativity and Design David Dixon. “We want students to always be reflecting on and refining their ideas as they drill down to a solution that they are happy with.”
This fall, Upper School students have been working on several projects that focus on the importance of generating, evaluating, refining, and revising ideas. They’ve also been learning that a great idea can sometimes come from changing your perspective on a problem.
Brainstorming and Refining: Nasa’s Golden Record
In Creators Class (a required course for seventh and eighth graders), seventh grade students have been reimagining one of the big ideas of the 1970s: NASA’s Golden Record. The original Golden Record was a 12-inch copper record that NASA created to send on the Voyager 1 mission in 1977.
Its purpose was to communicate the story of life and culture on earth to any extraterrestrial life form that might find it. It contained natural sounds from Earth, like wind and surf, as well as music from different cultures, spoken greetings in fifty- five languages, and a message from President Carter. On the off chance that aliens might not have access to a turntable, the record included instructions, written in symbols, indicating how it should be played. The design mission for Fay’s seventh graders was to create a new Golden Record based on the world today.
“We asked students to be thoughtful about how they are representing the world,” says Technology and Design teacher Andrew Shirley. That meant kicking off the project with some in-depth conversations about how we communicate and the importance of being cognizant of our own biases when designing for a specific audience. “This project challenged the students’ understanding of how they see the world,” notes David. “They had to think about how to project who we are as a society, complete with all our frailties and our great diversity.”
Using the Fay Design Process as their guide, students began by defining the problem. They created Google slideshows that explored the original Golden Record, how the designers chose what to include, how the world has changed since 1977, and how those changes might be reflected in their design. Then students ideated and brainstormed a stream of ideas without worrying too much about quality. “You have to be willing to have bad ideas in order to have good ideas,” points out Andrew. Students worked together in groups to refine and winnow down their ideas. Learning how to collaborate with a team, compromise when necessary, and effectively advocate for an idea are also essential components of creative problem solving. “We did three critiques throughout the process so students could get used to continuously reviewing their work,” says Andrew. “It’s important to understand that they can still review their work even when they think it’s done.”
David and Andrew also challenged the seventh graders to think about different languages that they might use to communicate on their golden record. They talked about how math and binary numbers could be a language that another higher life form might recognize. Students practiced transferring a message or image using binary coding with 1s and 0s representing a dot or space in their image. Finally, students created final designs for their golden records and presented to the class, explaining the choices that they made along the way.
Flipping Ideas on Their Heads: Dazzle Camo
Meanwhile, eighth graders have been learning that reframing a problem can lead to a great idea. They have been learning about Dazzle Camouflage, a set of wild camouflage patterns that were used on naval ships after World War I.
Dazzle camo was a new take on an old problem: how to hide a ship in the open ocean. But the real goal of hiding a ship is to prevent it from being sunk. So, British Zoologist John Graham Kerr suggested the unique solution of using camouflage to confuse the enemy rather than conceal ships. He proposed painting the ships with disruptive patterns that would flatten out the appearance of a ship, making it harder to target effectively. “When we introduced the topic to students, we talked about changing your perspective on a problem,” says Andrew. “Sometimes when you find another way to look at a problem, you can identify a deeper issue that you can solve.”
The real story of dazzle camo also highlights the importance of being able to advocate for an idea persuasively. Kerr was unsuccessful in convincing military brass of his approach, but Norman Wilkinson, a marine artist and designer, took Kerr’s idea a step further and incorporated bold colorful patterns that would disguise the range, speed, and direction of a ship. “He pushed the idea through because he had the charisma, influence, and personality to persuade the military,” says David. “We try to encourage our Creators students to think about these other skills that you need to have to push through a good idea. You have to be a persuasive, committed communicator.”
Students researched the history of dazzle camo and created slide presentations explaining its history and meaning. After exploring the database of camouflage patterns at the Rhode Island School of Design, each eighth grader selected a ship from the data- base and then brainstormed and designed their own dazzle camo paint job while sticking as close as possible to the intended purpose. As a test of their ideas, the class will have five seconds to look at each design and decide which way the ship is heading. “If they can’t figure it out, that’s a win!” notes Andrew.