Why pen and paper are imaginative tools

IMG_6056Recently, I’ve been working on a class technology project which aims to help kids understand how creative projects come about and the processes that designers go through to generate ideas and turn those ideas into prototypes. This is foundational in middle school technology, a cycle of innovation, design thinking etc.,

I might not have mentioned that I’m working at the International Football School on the Central Coast, which is the first school of it’s type and academically uses a unique form of project based learning. I’ve been involved in PBL for quite a while and as I roll to the end of term one, I thought I’d post about the on-going PBL challenge.

The main ‘new’ skill for students is being able to negotiate ideas and distribute tasks. in a group. It’s something many adults struggle with, not least those for whom ‘distributed leadership’ means not being in total control. My middle-schoolers are therefore just beginning to come to grips with project management (high-school) with it’s competing priorities, disagreements, unfamiliar terms and deadlines.

To help develop the necessary collaborative skills and work ethics, I’d like to introduce you to a technology called pen and paper (not available on the app store).

Pen and paper is la lean in technology. Unlike a screen, I never see kids learning back and gazing at paper. Movement is really important to learning, despite schools tendency to prefer static bums on seats. Active learning still a hands on activity, and not always a hands on glass activity. Kids are fascinated by what other kids are making in real time. Comments and idea flow without any special effort, as one kid will respond and mediate the flurry of ideas on offer. No one has to be amazingly gifted at drawing or have a developed digital literacy skill-set to use paper. Yes we could used an online sketchbook, and the kids could sign-up sign in and draw on a screen at the same time — but there’s one BIG reason not to do this. Creating ideas and bringing them into reality is exactly the kind of creative life-drama that kids love. It’s an opportunity to disagree without rage-quitting, losing face and to actively observe how others find new ideas and patterns as they emerge.

Paper also allows choice. In this task, the games they are designing need to teach the main points of topics they have also been working on in either geography, maths, science and English. This means that there is good reason to get out of your seat and move around to see what other groups are doing. In this case, the kids are making a simple RPG, and just out of this frame, others are creating a kind of Maths themed Twister. This is of course a PBL school in open learning spaces, where team-teaching really does mean co-player, co-protagonist much of the time. Pen and paper are super fast to use and kids generally have parent-supplied pens and other goodies ready to go.

Give it a try, pen and paper, still rocking the imagination. No batteries required.