Novel and Adaptive Thinking, Innovation, Collaboration and Transdisciplinarity in the Classroom

NESA's Educators Conference - April 2017

Nina FL Markham - American International School of Jeddah

Below are the resources for a course I developed in order to provide students with a more authentic environment that fosters the acquisition of 21st century skills that will be required of them.  The objectives of the course are outlined below. Any of the activities can be used any context that fits your needs.

Investigating shock absorbance

Investigating shock absorbance

  1. To help students develop: novel and adaptive thinking, transdisciplinarity, a design mindset, collaborative skills, new media literacy (learning how to make videos, podcasts, blogs, and more).

  2. To enable students to engage in the process of construction, testing, and redesign in product development.

  3. To allow students to experience first­hand the process of discovery in recognizing real­world problems and workings towards solutions of those problems. 

The course has been structured to provide students with daily engineering or design challenges that require 2-45 minutes of time (mini-challenges). Then, students work on larger projects that span 1-3 weeks of class time (major projects). Students maintain a website and reflect on their learning on the website. Furthermore, we have interwoven lessons/discussions on brainstorming, design development, and digital presence. This is a work in progress and I share mainly to inspire us all to rethink how we teach and assess and to then work together in providing more effective education for our students.  Please feel free to comment with additional insights, reflections, websites, or anything that will promote classrooms of learning.

Nearly every challenge below is a modified STEM activity found online. Click on the challenge to view (and copy to your drive for further modification and use) in Google Docs. And remember, you can modify any of these to suit your needs and the supplies you have in your classroom.

All challenges are associated with a competition at the end with a reward passed out to the winners (usually just a dum dum lollipop which are surprisingly popular among the students here in Saudi Arabia!)

Super-Mini Challenges (5 minutes of class-time)

  1. 2-minute challenges

Mini Challenges (requiring 15-45 minutes of class-time)

  1. Paper Tower

  2. Invent a paper bridge

  3. Zip Line

  4. Sketching Challenge (Telestrations Game)

  5. Pom Pom Launcher

  6. Sombrero Challenge

  7. Paper Cargo Airplane

  8. Watercraft

  9. Shoe Challenge

  10. Science Behind it VLOG (needs outside of class-time)

    1. All four STEAM classes voted on their favorite VLOGS. Then the top seven were shared with several classes from a collaborating group of classes in the U.S. as well as with the staff from our school. After 163 votes were cast, here are the top four VLOGS (click to view): Vlog #1, Vlog #2, Vlog #3, Vlog #4

  11. Stick Balancing Paradox

  12. Tangram Activity #1

  13. Parachute

  14. Tangram Activity #2

  15. Tangram Activity #3

  16. Helicopter Experiment (actually lasted two 45-minute sessions)

  17. Draw the Thingie

  18. What A Drag (leading up to Egg Drop Challenge)

  19. New Boxes From Old (leading up to Egg Drop Challenge)

  20. Shock Absorbance (leading up to Egg Drop Challenge)

Major Challenges (requiring multiple classes)

STEAM students designed and built boats out of only cardboard, masking tape, and duct tape. The boat needed to seat two students and to make it across the pool and back. Music in this video is royalty free by
  1. Air Powered Vehicle

  2. Mousetrap Car Guided Research and Calculations

  3. Mousetrap Car Project

  4. Single Egg Drop

  5. 6-Pack Egg Drop Challenge

  6. Cardboard Boat - Regatta Race

Website Design

WebSite Design Guidelines  and Rubric    

General Rubrics

  1. Digital Portfolio Blog Rubric

  2. Final Presentation Rubric (after a major project)

  3. Growth Measurement Assignment and Self-Evaluation Rubric (For End of Semester Reflection) -- students built this rubric. Each student submitted a rubric for an assignment and then we combined them into one general rubric for all.

  4. End of Semester Reflection Assessment rubric

Additional resources for research and planning

The Design Process

Kelley, Tom, and Jonathan Littman. The Art of Innovation: Lessons in Creativity from IDEO, America's Leading Design Firm. New York: Currency/Doubleday, 2001. Print.

Importance of Drawing

Roam, Dan. Draw to Win: A Crash Course on How to Lead, Sell, and Innovate with Your Visual Mind. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

Skills for the Future

RSA Animate: Changing Education Paradigms (adapted from a talk given by Sir Ken Robinson).

Marr, B. (2019, April 29). The 10 Vital Skills You Will Need For The Future Of Work. Forbes Magazine. Retrieved from

Gray, Alex. "The 10 Skills You Need to Thrive in the Fourth Industrial Revolution." World Economic Forum. World Economic Forum, 19 Jan. 2016. Web. 9 Oct. 2016.

Institute for the Future for the University Phoenix Research Institute. Future Work Skills 2010. N.p.: Institute for the Future for the U Phoenix Research Institute, 2011. Print.

Kim, Larry. "10 Critical Skills You’ll Need to Succeed at Work in 2020." Inc., 27 May 2015. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Samuel-becker. "Forward Thinking: 10 Skills That Will Be the Most Valuable By 2020." The Cheat Sheet. Money and Career Cheat Sheet, 08 Feb. 2016. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Additional sources for STEAM projects in the classroom: 

"Build." Stuff Spinner Activity Finder . DESIGN SQUAD GLOBAL. PBS Kids, n.d. Web. 09 Oct. 2016.

Design Squad. Design Squad Activity Guide. N.p.: Design Squad, n.d. Print. Digital access

Examiner, DS. "The Ultimate STEM Guide for Kids: 239 Cool Sites." Master's in Data Science. N.p., 06 Mar. 2017. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.

Leftbraincraftbrain. "28 Days of Hands-On STEM Activities for Kids - Left Brain Craft Brain." Left Brain Craft Brain. Left Brain Craft Brain, 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 09 Oct. 2016. Digital access.

"STEM Activities for Middle School Students: - IVCC." N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2017.


Websites that could be useful for additional ideas:

Several people have emailed me with further ideas to share and I'm happy to include them. So, here they are. You can click on the description to get to the associated site.