Teaching Kids to Brainstorm

I run a makerspace. This year, we’re learning under extraordinary circumstances, so I’m documenting the journey. “Teaching Kids to Brainstorm” is a play-by-play of our makerspace session on empathy, brainstorming, and ideating. If you’re interested in stories like this, check out Making a Crane and Making a Paper Slide.

At our makerspace, we start each session with circle time. This is a great opportunity to check-in, socially, and recognize the humans in the room. For us, this usually means doing a greeting, share, and activity.

Circle Time

This week, we said “hello” to our neighbor while clapping our hands like a sea lion, shared what we were excited for about the coming winter break, and played “programmer says,” which is like Simon says. (For more circle time ideas check out Responsive Classroom.)

A student puts their arm around another in a classroom

Teacher Talk (on Empathy)

To start Makerspace, we had a little teacher talk (discussion) on the focus for the day: empathy. It went something like this.

“What is Empathy?” No one chimed in, so I suggested “empathy is like putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes. What does that mean?” Then, I took a few responses. To build the connection to our task today, I asked “why might that be helpful if you are a designer, an engineer, a builder?” Then I had students do a turn-and-talk. I summarized their discussions then explained “designers make stuff for people, and to understand what people really need, you have to empathize … What are some ways you can empathize with people?” One student said, “interrogation!” Then, we got into research methods: polls, surveys, interviews, focus groups, and all the ways you can gather info about a person to “empathize” and understand their needs.


After the discussion on Empathy, I showed the makers an example of how people are using empathy to drive innovation:

We talked about the figures, leaders, and heroes we recognized and how they are using empathy to meet the needs of people.

Crazy 8s

Then I explained there are different protocols for “brainstorming,” or coming up with lots of different ideas. One of them is called “Crazy 8s.”

“To do crazy 8s,” I explained, “you fold a paper in half three times. You should end up with 8 folds, or 8 boxes. For each box, you have 40 seconds to work. The last box should be the wildest, craziest idea ever.”

Crazy 8s
An example of crazy 8s

The makers wanted to know what they were ideating. “Let me show you,” I said.

Sharpen for STEM Education

There is a very good tool online for randomly generated STEM (and design) challenges called Sharpen. There are many controls to explore. We used the STEM challenges > “Create and Draw” mode. For each challenge, you design for a user type: arctic explorer, dog trainer, gardener in Japan. It’s a great way to practice empathy.

If you have any questions or want to chat, comment below! I love to engage with other educators on Medium. ✨



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