formulating new ideas

Attendance: 11 from Grades 6 and 7 (I have learned my lesson from doing crowd control in Kakkaiyankulam and very sadly turned away one solitary child in Year 5)

Learning goals: Mind-mapping and cross-pollinating ideas as tools for creativity

Activity: Toy factory (more like games factory in these villages, though!). I think I’m eventually going to call this exercise Calvinball.

Interesting projects: Both projects were interesting in different ways – they were a long time coming, but they definitely responded to the tactile 3D objects to work with. I’ve talked more about the whole process below.

Insights/surprises: Here, as in Lunawa, there was a lack of variety in the drawings of games that the children liked. Equally interestingly, they often drew games that they didn’t actually play themselves, but just liked to watch. To get their creative juices flowing, I tried to teach the class what I learned from John “Cass” Cassidy at a Stanford pop-up called Tactics for Creativity. Cass taught us the Flip 180, where you think of the characteristics of an object and then think of what the opposite of those would be. This leads into an exercise he calls the Rhyme Paradigm, which allows new ideas to form through a pivot rather than a full flip.

I thought that the structure of his lecture would be too complex for the children, so I tried to teach them the same idea through mind mapping. The children came up with as many games as they as they could think of, which we put in an unstructured map on the board. We then marked games off by category (games you play outside or inside or with a ball or a stone or in a team or by yourself) and noted which ones had more than one type of mark. Then I showed them how you could change elements of the game – the number of team players, the rules, where it’s played, etc – or combine it with other games – cricket and chess, or football and hopscotch – to create wild and wacky new ideas.

I thought I’d given them a fun formula to easily tackle this complex activity – in my own mind, I was already beginning to think of dozens of weird games. However, they took the formula far too seriously, and their “innovations” were tremulous and meagre. One drew a game which consisted only of six ladders to climb, and another simply changed the name of a popular game. One was volleyball with two nets, and another drew a pyramid of people who had to help the one at the top burst a balloon.

I think what frustrated me most (and also made me feel extremely sorry for them) was that these games looked terribly un-fun to play. While Lunawa and Kakkaiyankulam drawings were also rife with copying and unoriginal ideas, the best ones were boisterous and mad and careless and sparkled with promise. These ones were so eager to please, to Follow Instructions, that their games completely lacked life. I sometimes forget, because the war is eight years behind us and Colombo has changed so fast, and because Building Bridges now focuses more on personal development than reconciliation, that behaviours like unquestioning obedience are deeply entrenched.

I tried doing the exercise once more, with more explanation, but some of the new games became a bit horrifying: one with hoops of fire to jump through, and one – originally simply a diving board into a pool of water – also hurriedly changed into a fire. I had no idea what to do with those ideas, and I’m not sure how much to read into them, given that these children were only a few years old when the war ended.

Instead, I coupled a few different (non-fiery) ideas that looked like they were going somewhere – one pairing was Dog and the Bone with four teams and a game with hurdles and a flag, and the other was a three-net volleyball with a balloon-bursting game – and asked them to combine each pair into a model of a single game, communicating in teams to figure out rules and how the whole thing would work. The first team cobbled together a simple combination of the two, while the second really struggled. They were hampered by the fact that they did not communicate with each other at all, and that they were extremely painstaking in producing a prototype. I think I need to explain more clearly that a prototype is only a test, not the final product! Their final piece was beautiful to look at, even if completely illogical as the balloon-bursting element was added somewhat hurriedly and unthinkingly at the end.

The children are so quiet and committed to Order and Discipline that what works best for the boisterous ones – working fast in teams to quickly develop fairly sketchy ideas – completely falls apart here. For this lot, Toy Factory is definitely not a first day game. I’m going to try Five Chairs and Empathy Sculpt tomorrow, because they definitely like clay too (aw).

They are incredibly different from the kids at Lunawa and Kakkaiyankulam, carefully returning pens and scissors, and even conscientiously re-sealing the ziplock bags of craft supplies when they’re done. Given how much care and love I put into sorting my materials for each workshop,  They walk outside to eat their buns in a line, and obediently throw their litter away in the correctly assigned bin. Their school is neat and clean, and is actually quite lovely to look at with its tidy borders of plants and some shady trees. They don’t have much, but you can’t really tell because they are so careful to preserve what they do. While I wish they were a bit more like the kids in Lunawa and Kakkaiyankulam, I also really wish the kids elsewhere would learn something from these ones (this lot would probably make mind maps of all their lessons if I told them to).

It’s interesting, because I think discipline and care and commitment are actually incredibly useful traits for success; it’s just about injecting a shot of spontaneity and willingness to experiment to create some magic. For all this workshop’s failures, I’m really looking forward to seeing how this lot blossom over the weekend, particularly when they meet Firi on Saturday.

Workshop feedback: Full set of feedback is here. [link here]

Continuing challenges: Calibrating my workshops to suit wildly differing temperaments is hard. But I’m so glad I got to work with a small bunch today, and really get each person talking. I have a good feeling about tomorrow.


I don’t have much more to add to this whole description – I feel a bit brain-dead and think I’m catching a cold, so perhaps I will sleep extra tonight and drink some soup tomorrow. I’ve spent the rest of the day doing some long overdue blogging and skyping, and it’s kind of nice to be in one place, just sorting out my many many many thoughts.

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