Yesterday I came across a screenshot from Willy Wonka, the original, and I thought of how the movie both inspired me and creeps me out at the same time. So many bizarre moments, yet so much imagination. From zooming through that creepy tunnel to the scary orange makeup on the Oompa Loompas, I still want to run through that edible room and eat whipped cream from a mushroom cap. And as a kid who did not enjoy reading (sorry folks, it’s true, I despised reading) I loved Roald Dahl books. So what does all of this have to do with making in the classroom? It gave me an epiphany.
Design thinking! Yes, the process: Empathy. Define. Ideate. Prototype. Test. It lends itself to real-world problem solving, but little kids love imagination. Why not combine the two? What if kids were asked to meld together their favorite books with big problems, and solve them… Design a new candy machine for Wonka. Invent a contraption that keeps Charlie from bumping his head on the fan in the Fizzy Lifting Drinks room. Ask students to find a problem in the story and solve it with their own invention.
While I think the beauty of design thinking is in the real-world application of it, I also think there is beauty in getting kids to interact authentically with fiction. You’re opening the door to creativity, imagination, a new level of comprehension. And I have to admit, the non-reading kid stuck inside me would have loved the chance to do this.
I love thinking about how we can inject more chances for kids to practice empathy in the classroom and what better way than to use these larger than life characters to help them understand someone else’s point of view.
These character cards I created for my own school, you are welcome to print and use with your own students, could help kids (and you!) get started with the process. But in the long run, have them develop the character profiles, think about the problems the character has, and you’ve just created a more authentic way for kids to build character trait profiles about favorite books. It’s not just about listing a few things about the character, but really understanding WHO they are. Because, when you are designing for someone else, you really have to dig into WHO they are.
And even IF they are an imaginary character, it can lead to a really powerful learning experience for students. Filled with problem solving, building, collaboration, sharing, presenting, and most of all? Fun.
And a little fun now and then… well, Wonka himself said it best…