A Good Friday: Student Brainstorming Didn’t Kill Me!

We had 19 of last year’s Year 10 Tech School participants back for a brainstorming session yesterday, around the theme “What do you like about ICT/What would you say to other people about ICT.” I started them off with some warm-up exercises, as I only had three hours in total. We started with “One word to describe Tech School 2011”, “two words to describe anything you learnt or used from it”, and “three words to discuss what you think about ICT”. The last one got relaxed quickly as people started to ask whether they could extend it. We split them into tables and groups got pads of post-it notes. Get an idea, write it down, slam it on the table *thump*.

Nobody sketched Babbage and slammed it on the table. (I’m not all that surprised.)

After they had ideas all over the table, I asked them to start assembling them into themes – how would they make sentences or ideas out of this. The most excellent Justine, who did all of the hard work in setting this up (thank you!), had pre-printed some pages of images so the students could cut these out and paste them into places to convey the idea. We had four groups so we ended up with four initial posters.

Floating around, and helping me to facilitate, were Matt and Sami, both from my GC class and they helped to keep the groups moving, talking to students, drawing out questions and also answering the occasional question about the Bachelor of Computer Science (Advanced) and Grand Challenges.

We took a break for two puzzles (Eight Queens and combining the digits from 1 to 9 to equal 100 with simple arithmetic symbols) and then I split the groups up to get them to look at each other’s ideas and maybe get some new ideas to put onto another poster.

Yeah, that didn’t go quite as well. We did get some new ideas but it became obvious that we either needed to have taken a longer break, or we needed some more scaffolding to take the students forward along another path. Backtracking is a skill that takes a while to learn and, even with the graphic designer walking around trying to get some ideas going, we were tapping out a bit by the time that the finish arrived.

However, full marks to the vast majority of the participants who gave me everything that they could think of – with a good spread across schools and regions, as well as a female:male ratio of about 50%, we got a lot of great thoughts that will help us to talk to other students and let them know why they might want to go into ICT… or just come to Uni!

I didn’t let the teachers off the hook either and they gave us lots of great stuff to put into our outreach program. As a hint, I’ve never met yet a teacher at one of these events who said “Oh no, we see enough Uni people and students in the schools”, the message is almost always “Please send more students to talk to our students! Send more info!” The teachers are as, if not more, dedicated to getting students into Uni so that’s a great reminder that we’re all trying to do the same thing.

So, summary time, what worked:

  1. Putting the students into groups, armed with lots of creative materials, and asking them what they honestly thought. We got some great ideas from that.
  2. Warming them up and then getting them into story mode with associated pictures. We have four basic poster themes that we can work on.
  3. Giving everyone a small gift voucher for showing up after the fact, with no judging quality of ideas. That just appeals to my nature – I have no real idea what effect that had but I didn’t have to tell anyone that they were wrong (or less than right) because that wasn’t the aim of today.
  4. Getting teachers into a space where they could share what they needed from us as well.

What needs review or improvement:

  1. I need to look at how idea refinement and recombination might work in a tight time frame like this. I think, next time, I’ll get people to decompose the ideas to a mind map hexagon or something like that – maybe even sketch up the message graphically? Still thinking.
  2. I need more helpers. I had three and I think that a couple more would be good, as close to student age as possible.
  3. The puzzles in the middle should have naturally led to new group formation.
  4. Setting it an hour later so that everyone can get there regardless of traffic.

So, thanks again to Justine and Joh for making this work and believing in it enough to give it a try – I believe it really worked and, to be honest, far better than I thought it would but I can see how to improve it. Thanks to Matt and Sami for their help and I really hope that seeing that I actually believe all that stuff I spout in lectures wasn’t too weird!

But. of course, my thanks to the students and teachers who came along and took part in something just because we asked if they’d like to come back. Yeah, I know the motives varied but a lot of great ideas came out and I think it’ll be very helpful for everyone.

Onwards to the posters!

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