For Coaches and Teachers, Resources, SCAMPER Technique

Getting the Most out of SCAMPER: P is for Put to Another Use

So far, most of the SCAMPER technique has been about how to change ideas and things, but P is all about recognizing the qualities that are already inherent in an object or attitude.

For instance, dice are used to tell you how far to advance during a board game but they could be used to practice math problems. Playing cards are used in lots of games to take tricks, but a group could decide that the person who draws the low card has to go out to get more snacks. Butter is delicious on toast, but as seen at the MN State Fair it can be a great material for sculpting. Toothpicks can get spinach out of your bicuspids, but they are also used to make appetizers easier to eat. Styrofoam is a packing material, but it also floats so if a person needs an emergency life preserver it would do in pinch to save your life.

Parque Guell ceilingLately, there has been a trend to take waste products and turn them into something new. For example, those nice tote bags that you can buy in grocery and convenience stores are often made out of recycled plastic bags. Antoni Gaudi was a Spanish artist who took broken plates and tiles and made them into beautiful artwork. In one of my favorite episodes of Mythbusters the team took old newspapers, soaked them in water and froze them in a boat-shaped mold. They were able to add and engine and motor around a lake for almost an hour!

So if you are having a practice session before a Meet, think about bringing different objects and giving the students a chance to think about all the different things they could be used for.

Happy brainstorming!

For Coaches and Teachers, Mind Sprints, Resources, SCAMPER Technique

Getting the Most out of SCAMPER: M is for Magnify/Minify

Here we are the the midpoint of our SCAMPER acronym, but if you missed the background, S (Substitute), C (combine) or A (adapt) the posts are all waiting for you. So onwards and upwards, or as the case would be, bigwards and smallwards.

The M of SCAMPER stands for “Magnify,” or making things bigger. In a pinch, this is a great fallback when stuck during a brainstorming session or thinking about ways to change an object to put it to a new use. For instance, if you make a house key much larger, it can be used not only to open a comically large lock, but the big, sharp teeth would make it a great saw. Or a crouton could be an ideal raft in a giant bowl of soup. With a big enough tube of lipstick a person could paint a whole building, though I would avoid brush up against that exterior, the stains would be a nightmare!

On the other hand, the opposite side of magnify is “minify”, ie making things smaller. If a person were the size of Pekinese then they could live comfortably in a kennel, or if they were even smaller a whole town could move into your ventilation system. If pizzas are bite-sized you would be able to sample many different varieties without all those calories. There are lots of things that would be convenient to carry in your pocket if they were only a few inches tall, and think of all the cool stuff that could be worn as jewelry!

Another thing that can be made bigger or smaller is an idea. Taking “selfies” became a huge craze, but what about the next big thing for internet? Electric cars exist, but could there be consequences if everyone in the world had one? And right now in scientific circles people have re-opened the debate about whether or not Pluto is a planet. They have to decide if they are going to expand or limit the definition of what constitutes a planet, and there will be consequences of that decision.

So if you are looking for something to do during a USAT practice, you could try having your students practice making things bigger and smaller in their minds, and think of new uses for them once they’ve been changed.

For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, For Parents, Resources, SCAMPER Technique

Getting the Most out of SCAMPER: A is for Adapt

One the defining characteristics of human beings is that we are great at adapting. You can find people all over the world in different climates, using different materials to make our homes and eating different food depending on what is available. We use tools to accomplish things we cannot do with our own two hands, and machines that are far stronger than any one person could ever be. More than any other creature on Earth, we are able to adapt to new challenges, and adapt our environment to suit us. And this all possible because of our ability to think creatively.

I asked Peggy Sheldon, the founder of USAT, what she thought about the word adapt, and I really liked her answer. She told me, “It is about seeing and using the patterns in the place, space, and time and using creativity to re-imagine landscape, social, and conceptual systems.” The emphasis on pattern recognition, another thing our big human brains are extremely adept at, is a key part of adaptation. For instance, the delicious Spanish cuisine known as “tapas” did not come about spontaneously. The story goes that there once was an owner of a tavern who had a space outside for his patrons to sit. This outdoor space was in the shade of a large tree, which made it cooler and more comfortable to sit outside, but the leaves and seeds from the tree would sometimes fall into the patrons’ drinks. The patrons would get annoyed and decide to take their business elsewhere. To counteract this problem, the owner started to serve his drinks with a thin slice of Serrano ham across the mouth of the glass to act as a cover, or “tapa”, to keep the seeds out. He saw a pattern of cause (seeds) and effect (loss of business) and adapted to the problem.

As it turned out, the patrons would finish their drinks and then eat the salty ham, which in turn made them more thirsty, which then led to them ordering another round of drinks. Pretty soon, the owner was offering different kinds of salty snacks free of charge, and other people started to catch on to this ingenious idea. So now in the Southern parts of Spain you rarely order a drink without also getting a small plate of olives or some other salty snack along with it free of charge. And from there, chefs started to develop dishes that are almost exclusively served in this way, and a whole new cuisine was born and continued to spread to different countries.

Adaptation is a method of changing actions and attitudes in response to recognizing the need for that change, and this takes a flexible and creative mind. During the course of a USAT season, or even in the middle of a Mind Sprint, students may find it advantageous to adapt. A strategy that seems like a good idea “on paper” may turn out to take too much time or they lose track of the original question they are being asked to answer. The events in USAT are all timed and the season is short, so to be the most successful at Meets students need to be able to quickly evaluate if strategies work and how to change those strategies and try new things to improve. One way coaches and parents can help this process it to take some time after each Meet to talk about what worked and what didn’t work, and to brainstorm new ways to Meet those challenges should they arise again. And it important to remember that changing your mind or your strategy midstream doesn’t mean the first idea was “bad,” but perhaps with some modification you can come to the “best” conclusion.

For Coaches and Teachers, For Kids, For Parents, P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box, Resources, SCAMPER Technique

Getting the Most out of SCAMPER: C is for Combine

There are few things that aren’t improved by adding chocolate. Coffee and chocolate, mint and chocolate, and my personal favorite,  a chocolately minty mocha! But blending things together can make more than just delicious caffeinated beverages, it can also be a recipe for creativity.

Where substitution is mostly focused on things and materials, combination is great way to think about manipulating ideas and bringing people together for different purposes. For instance, there is a television show on ABC called Once Upon a Time that incorporates different fairy tales and literary characters into one small town where they explore their connections in the past and how they would interact if thrown together in the present. The Avengers is a popular Marvel Comics franchise where superheroes team up to fight the forces of evil, but it is the force of their individual personalities that ends up being their biggest challenge. And last year USAT had a challenge that asked students to bring different animals together to reach a common goal.

In many ways, just being part of a team is also an exercise in combination. Some students may be stronger at math, others may excel at acting, and some may be better at thinking on their feet. Academic Triathlon is a great opportunity for students to shine in the areas in which they are already strong, and to explore new skills that they may not find as easy to harness. Being able to work together and being supportive of creative risk-taking are key parts to success during AT Meets and beyond.

“Combine” is a great tool to incorporate into P.A.R.T.Y. in a Box challenges. In addition to writing interesting stories, students are asked to quickly construct props and costumes by bringing together materials like plastic cups, paper plates and garbage bags. Time is of the essence during prep time, and practice doesn’t have to make perfect but it sure can save time. These items are a part of almost every Meet, which means it is worth the time to practice working with them and figure out cool ways to bring them together. Cardboard is an incredibly versatile substance, but the box that holds all of the other materials is rarely used as anything but a way to carry the props and costumes to the performance! Just think about the hours of fun your students could have exploring different ways to combine different materials as a way to get excited for a Meet.


For Coaches and Teachers, Mind Sprints, Resources, SCAMPER Technique

Getting the Most out of SCAMPER: S is for Substitute

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!