Teaching innovation with the curiosity box

While I don’t have a ton of time to write today—I’m planning on stepping away from the keyboard for an entire weekend to spend time with my family—I wanted to share a quick idea and a set of classroom resources with you that I’m trying out in my classroom this year.

The activity—designed to help my students to think more creatively—started brewing in my mind when I began reading The Innovator’s DNA, a fantastic new book about innovative thinkers written by Jeff Dyer, Hal Gregersen and Clayton Christensen.

Christensen and company argue that the most innovative thinkers often force themselves to find metaphorical connections between their fields and seemingly unrelated objects.  Doing so encourages deeper thinking and curious discoveries that can lead to improvements.

They go on to suggest that anyone can become more creative and innovative in their thinking by developing a curiosity box that they can turn to when trying to move forward intellectually.

They write:

“Start a collection of odd, interesting things (e.g., a slinky, model airplane, robot and so on) and put them in a curiosity box or bag…Then, you can pull out unique items randomly when confronted with a problem or opportunity…

When brainstorming for new ideas, odd, unusual things often trigger new associations. It may sound silly, but seemingly silly things can provoke the most random associations, literally forcing us out of our habitual thinking patterns.

And that’s exactly what we’ve done in my classroom!  We’ve started a curiosity box that includes 35 nifty objects like this thrift-store find:














My plan is to have students turn to our curiosity box at the end of each important lesson and/or unit.  In groups of two, they’ll choose an object from our curiosity box and then have to find metaphorical connections between the oddity that they’ve chosen and the content that we’re studying.

It ought to be interesting to see what they come up with!  I’ll be sure to share some of their best connections with you at some point in the near future.

In the meantime, I thought you might be interested in seeing the handouts that I’m using to guide and assess their work:

Metaphorical Thinking Organizer

Download Handout_MetaphoricalThinkingOrganizer

This handout will help to guide initial thinking as students work through a reading on the topic that we are studying in class.  It will be completed by kids before they actually choose an object from our curiosity box and should help them in better understanding the key concepts of the topic we are learning about.

Metaphorical Reflections Handout

Download Handout_MetaphoricalThinkingStudentReflections

My plan is to have students present their metaphorical connections in front of the whole class.  This handout will be used by kids in the audience to rate the quality of the connections being made by their peers.

Metaphorical Thinking Rubric

Download Handout_MetaphoricalThinkingRubric

I tried to come up with some kind of scoring rubric that would help students to better understand just what a good metaphorical connection between random objects and the content we’re studying in class would actually look like in action.  This is what I came up with.  It can be used by teachers or students to rate what they’re seeing and hearing.

Hope this all helps somehow!  If you use any of it, I’d love to hear back from you about what worked and what didn’t.  And more importantly, if you improve any of my documents, I hope you’ll share the final copies with me!

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