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by Sarah Stanger

by Tom Swanson

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February 27, 2017
Drawing Out Creativity Using Real-World Challenges

by Sarah Stanger

by Tom Swanson

Youth today have more access to information from around the world than ever before. Constant input from smart devices and active participation in social media expose students to global perspectives at young ages and drives awareness of wide-reaching and impactful issues that affect the whole world. At foundry10, many of the educational programs we offer students encourage them to address these problems using their creativity and enthusiasm to come up with unique solutions.

As a research organization that studies learning, we at foundry10 seek to better understand how students learn from applying their skills and creativity in meaningful ways. Our high-school internship program, specifically, asks students to pitch to us an idea in a field about which they are passionate. Many of the ideas we hear address some sort of problem that the students have noticed in the world, and present innovative ways of solving them. Whether it be a lack of educational virtual reality content, under-representation for homeless trans-gendered youth, or inefficiency in fiber-optic data transfer, giving high schoolers the opportunity to build solutions to these problems empowers them to think creatively and see first-hand the impact they can have on the world with the right skills and motivation.

For the three years we have been running this program we have had over one hundred students participate, and our data show the diverse and unique ways in which students apply creative thought when facing issues that are important and meaningful to them.

Meaningful Problems Drive Creative Solutions

“To me, creativity directly correlates to problem solving,
which is necessary for everything.” - High school intern

During the annual Hajj Pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia in 2015, a massive human stampede killed over 2,000 people. It was supposedly caused by a simple street closure that created an immense amount of confusion and tension. One group of our interns had an idea to prevent future stampedes by using their passion for robotics and app-development. Their creative idea was to append an infra-red camera to a simple drone that communicated with a custom app they built using Google Maps data to show real-time displays and calculate routing of crowd movement. It would then relay that information directly to event officials, police, or other crowd control personnel. 

Another example of a problem foundry10 interns addressed was Seattle’s high rate of homelessness among trans-gendered youth. Homelessness comes with many issues, but one of the biggest for trans-gendered youth is finding clothing that they can afford and that matches their gender identity. So, the interns had the idea to create a service where any LGBTQ youth could request custom clothing that the group would make free of charge. After designing some garments and outfits, they built a website with a system of compiling clothing requests so they could serve a wider audience. This project combined the students’ interest in social justice with their desire for a career in fashion and textiles. 

Clearly, the range of problems we saw was expansive, and it was amazing to see so many students thinking about these important issues. To name just a few more, we have supported students in expressing concerns about social media and its control over people using canvas and paint, using prisms and colored light to enhance fiber-optic data transfer capacity, designing and 3D printing a fully articulating prosthetic hand, and building a new type of one-handed soldering iron (like a hot-glue gun) to reduce risk of injury. 

As in most PBL, the initial problem and its solution were only part of the picture.  Much of the creative thought came as a result of dealing with bugs or snags that only come up while dealing with the uncertainty inherent in real-world problems. For example, the drone-app group mentioned above had to find ways to deal with the impact weather can have in infra-red tracking, and the group doing clothing for trans-gendered youth had to consider how to market a product (even a free one) to the homeless. Each and every project idea was ambitious, and they all drove creative thought for both the big-picture and the details.

Whatever the problem, the students found creative ways to combine their field of interest with solving an issue they cared about and that held weight in the real world. During our interviews, the students themselves noted that the opportunity to work on these problems, ones that exist in the real world and don’t already have clear answers, pushed them to think about creativity as more than just an artistic endeavor. The expanded view of creativity that comes as a result of this sort of work is likely to benefit the students regardless of what field or career they ultimately decide to pursue.

What Students Gain
Overall, 95% percent of our interns told us that they want to continue enhancing their creative thought processes after the internship.

“How do we expect our world to progress at all if we don't
take a leap from what the norm is today?”

“If you are not expressing yourself, how will you know
who you are and what you are capable of?”
- High school interns

Creativity plays an important role in student projects and indeed their lives.  Throughout these past three years, we have seen how powerful working on real-world problems can be for students, particularly when they have the freedom to guide their own learning—which they rarely get the chance to do. Solving problems takes on a very different feel when the students have identified an issue in the world that means a lot to them. This drives passion, excitement, engagement, and, most of all, creative thought.

Find out more about foundry10 here.


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