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A look inside a design class at the Prep

Low floors, high ceilings and wide walls

If you have an idea and the skills to use the available tools and materials, then you can construct things to make a difference to your life or the lives of others. Understanding this develops a sense of empowerment. In educational technology circles, we say that the tools and activities that allow for the most creativity, critical thinking and empowerment have “low floors, high ceilings and wide walls”. If you were to walk through the Prep this fall, you may have noticed that one common material that we utilize throughout Design classes is cardboard.

Why cardboard?

One of the reasons we use cardboard is that it provides an easy way for novices to get started with construction. Children of all ages and abilities can safely manipulate it, it can be cut with safe and simple tools (like scissors or special cardboard “saws”) and it is not intimidating. As Carson in 3V says, “Cardboard is easy because we can cut it and shape it.” In edutech, because anyone can use it, we say that this entry point has a “low floor”.

Cardboard can also be used in increasingly sophisticated projects like actual furniture construction or intricate artwork. Even professional adults use cardboard as a medium and it can be cut by a laser cutter. So it not only has a “low floor” but also a “high ceiling”. Unlike putting together a prefabricated kit, there are so many different things that you can do with cardboard! Because you are only limited by your imagination, we say that it has “wide walls”.

In addition, cardboard is readily available and easy to replenish. There is also the added bonus that we are re-using a product that would have otherwise been recycled; this makes its environmental footprint essentially zero. 

How do we use cardboard?

Unlike 3D printing, using cardboard allows for rapid construction and iteration of designs. When something doesn’t work as expected, it is easy to make a quick change. This allows students to not only focus on construction but also on all the other concepts they are learning about. Cardboard is an ideal material for construction to develop critical and creative thinking skills.

In Years 2 and 3, cardboard is being used as a building material. In Year 2, students are currently using cardboard to collaboratively build race tracks in small groups based on their designs. The underlying purpose of this project is to build on effective group work, communication and self-management skills. In Year 3, students learned about forces and worked with a partner to create a toy out of cardboard that would use a force to create as well as change or stop motion.

In Year 5, before building items for the Prep Learning Garden, students made a mock-up of their design with cardboard so that they could determine the appropriate scale.

In Year 6, students are about to make automatons. Because working with cams can be tricky, they will first create a working prototype out of cardboard before building it out of wood.

If you are doing any toy shopping for children, we encourage you to seek out toys with low floors, high ceilings and wide walls. Or toys that come in big cardboard boxes and let that become the toy. As Yiming of 3V said, “As long as there is cardboard in my house, I use it for anything. Without cardboard, my life would be, technically, nothing. […] Every time we go shopping, I just want to use the cardboard!”

Have questions about how we encourage critical and creative thinking through Design? Feel free to contact me, Lara Jensen, or any of the other Design Teachers (Monika Kastelic, Sarah Barclay, Nigel White, Tom Sharpe or Kerry Dupuis)

Lara Jensen
ljensen@ucc.on.ca