March 29, 2015

Creativity Tip: Represent Ideas Visually

We have a cohort of teachers who meet regularly to learn and work on enhancing student creativity through a professional learning series called Making Makers.

We met in February to work on ideating solutions for a problem of practice the teachers self-identified through the process of design thinking. First, the teachers suggested potential solutions for each others' problems of practice using post it notes.

This session, we experimented with the technique of representing ideas visually. Though we used this strategy to work through a professional problem of practice, the same technique could easily be adapted to use with students.

First, we healed wounded drawers through a quick activity from our friends at Telus Spark called "So You Think You Can't Draw." The next part also comes from an activity I participated in at Telus Spark.

First, teachers selected one post it from the suggestions for solutions to their own problem of practice. Then, they used the drawing techniques from "So You Think You Can't Draw" to represent the solution visually.

Here is my own drawing for an interactive exhibit to teach how balls of different sizes can transport objects.

Next, a piece of velum paper was taped on top, and the whole drawing was passed to another participant. They were then instructed to add details through visuals and labelling.

This person added complexity to the design through different sized objects.
Another piece of velum was taped on top, and a third participant added one more layer of detail.
This person added an element of competition through a race.

This process is designed to engage in plussing another person's design to offer possibilities for refinement and improvement. Randy Nelson, former Dean of Pixar University explains the concept of plussing in the linked video. Here is a transcript of the first section of the video:

Randy Nelson: One of the things that we do at Pixar and I know some things about Pixar ... is we use improv as a mechanism of helping with collaboration. And in that, two core principles of improv have always guided us. The first is, accept every offer. So if an improv, improviser says to you, "Gee it's funny. It's raining a lot in here today." You don't go "Raining in here?" You say, "Well that's why they gave us umbrellas." It's an offer. You don't know where it's gonna go. But the guarantee you have, is that if you don't accept that offer, it goes nowhere. So you've got a sure thing on one hand, dead end, or you've got a possibility on the other. And the other principle is make your partner look good. What a great thing. So you know on a team, that anything anybody says to you, you're gonna get a chance to plus that. You're gonna get a chance to have that beyond the table. And they're gonna try and make you look good, not make you look bad. At Pixar, what we mean by plussing is this. You take a piece of work. You take something that you're working on collaboratively. And when it's given to you, you don't judge it. You don't go, "Ooh this is pretty good. Here's what I'm going to do to make it better." Or, "This isn’t so good, here is how I'm gonna fix it." You say, "Here's where I'm starting. What can I do with this? How do I plus this? How do I accept the offer and make my partner look good?"
Expressing ideas visually also helps a person refine and simplify their ideas.

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