For most middle-schoolers, the word “substitute” probably brings to mind those days in school when the regular teacher is out and someone else comes in to press PLAY on Bill Nye the Science Guy. Or at least, that is what we watched on those halcyon sub days when I was in grades 5-8. But, in this week’s post we are going to focus on some other meanings and ways of using substitution when trying to find a creative solution.
Some other s-word synonyms for “substitute” are switch, swap and supplant, so if your students are having any trouble remembering “substitute” these could also work in the acronym. There are plenty of real-world examples of substitutions and upgrades to start with as a jumping-off point because humans are constantly trying to improve on what has come before. For instance, plastics have replaced metal in many cases because they are flexible and light-weight. Blu-ray technology and HD televisions are displacing DVDs and the clunky TVs of the part. Fast food restaurants have started to offer fruit instead of french fries with their kids’ meals because of a demand for more nutritional options by concerned parents. But, this is not to say that a substitution is always a good thing. For example, the more we use plastics, the more we become dependent on petroleum and the places where oil can be harvested.
When brainstorming, you can either substitute one whole thing for another whole thing, or substitute part of a thing with something new, so let’s take them one at a time.
Swapping one thing for another can offer lots of chances to make something like a game, activity or experience into something new. Swimming in a pool of gelatin rather than water would sure make doing a swan dive bouncier! Think about cleaning your house with a garden hose instead of your vacuum cleaner, or what it would be like to weed your garden with your Hoover. Could a witch still fly if you took her broom and replaced it with a a carousel horse? And who would clean up the mess if everyone’s dog was suddenly swapped out for elephants?
And then there are those times when you can replace just one piece of a thing for another, or change some of the materials involved. For instance, substituting the air in a basketball for helium would make shooting hoops a completely new different game. Maybe you could have a built-in security system for your homework if you use trained snakes as the straps for your backpack. And who wouldn’t want a week where everyday was Saturday?
It is also really fun to think about substituting one time or place for another. How would classes be different if your students’ school was on the moon? Would kids still play dodge ball in gym class if it was the Middle Ages, or would they be learning to joust? And how what could you substitute for a volleyball net if you were stranded on a deserted island?
It’s important to remember that ideas don’t always need to make something better, or even to make sense, it is just a matter of asking “what if?”and then trying to imagine the consequences. The results of substitution could be dire, they could spiral out of control, or they could make something boring much more enjoyable!