Monday, 3 October 2022

The design cycle, sped up

(just four) began her time with us with a torrent of paintings. She’s now broadened out, and shows a lot of interest in arranging blocks.

On Tuesday she got some of the Unit Blocks out and began making little ‘houses’ - combinations of shapes that went together. She was making, knocking down, sweeping them to one side, and remaking anew, again and again. I sat down and tried to add to the houses, but she was mostly not happy with my additions and my adding them only seemed to speed up the sweeping away and remaking!

Finally, she had a house shape that pleased her.

I was struck anew by something about children’s play that this seemed to exemplify: the rapid movement through iterations, making, destroying, making…

If the results weren’t right, pieces were adjusted, rearranged, added or subtracted, up to a point where, if the whole was unsatisfying it was swept to the side and the ground laid bare to build a new thing. It’s like the design cycle, but speeded up:

The checking and thinking is so fast, so much during the making, that it doesn’t stand out as a distinct stage, it’s all there in the making. The only other - brief - stage that is separate is the knocking down and sweeping blocks to the side.

I’m thinking of this, from Alison Gopnick’s great book, The Gardener and the Carpenter: "by four, fully 66 percent of calories go to the brain". Children are thinking fast, making connections rapidly. And they’re doing a lot of the thinking with their hands. 

Again, on Friday, this time working with Kapla and little wooden people, A was creating and recreating, remodeling her house again and again  to better please her. 

After about twenty-five minutes, the finished house satisfied her. There were bedrooms for all the adults to sleep in, in groups that she found satisfying. The children appear to have some kind of dormitory thing going on:

This rapid-fire remodelling is maybe a kind of superpower of the four-year old. While 66% of their energy is going to the brain, they can move quickly between experiences, ‘breaking’ (or leaving) whatever doesn’t seem to work. 

Though there was a rapid movement in the making,  A stuck with the project from 9:52 to at least 10:16 - there’s a time stamp on the photos.

It strikes me that this is characteristic of young children, how they move from one activity to another quickly. Maybe it’s a quick evaluation: is this the optimal possibility now? Could I be getting more from doing something else? We adults might mistake this for an inability to concentrate, or some kind of hyperactivity. But it seems to be just the brain’s optimal learning path. There’s no need to leave a trail, to have a distinct and visible evaluation or planning stage. Both are integrated into the making. There’s no need to document the process. We teachers might see a reason to do this, but children tend to just move on quickly. A doesn’t even seem to care too much about the ‘end’ product being put away. 

I would propose that A is demonstrating all these IB PYP "attitudes to learning" below, all almost at the same time in the course of her selection and placement of the blocks and people, and the conversation she has as she does it. The separate elements are not visible as separate but they are all present as she places and replaces elements:



What students do

Thinking skills

Critical thinking


►Observe carefully.

►Find unique characteristics.

►Consider meaning taken from materials and events.

►Synthesize new understandings by seeing relationships and connections.


►Organize information

►Evaluate evidence.

►Test generalizations, strategies or ideas.

Forming decisions

►Revise understandings based on new information and evidence.

►Draw conclusions and generalizations.

►Apply rules, strategies and ideas from one context to another.

Creative thinking

Generating novel ideas

►Use discussion and play to generate new ideas and investigations.

►Make unexpected or unusual connections between objects and/or ideas.

    Practice some “visible thinking” routines (Ritchhart, Church and Morrison 2011).

Considering new perspectives

►Seek information.

►Consider alternative solutions, including those that might be unlikely or impossible, in play and other situations.

►Ask “what if” questions. Practise some “visible thinking” routines.

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