As educators, we often have to look creatively outside the classroom for new ideas and approaches. The phrase “thinking outside the box” gets tossed around, but sometimes that’s what we have to do to find something that works. One place I often look to for inspiration is the public radio program This American Life.
Last week’s episode was called “So Crazy It Might Just Work.” If you’re interested, you can listen to the episode here. As with every episode of This American Life, it’s divided into two or three acts with a prologue. In the prologue, host Ira Glass discusses with a writer about the crazy ideas great thinkers use to solve problems. Act one featured a cancer researcher who used sound waves to kill cancer cells after his old music teacher made a suggestion. Finally, the second act finds Ira interviewing a man who has a crazy idea for how to deal with a crush.
Through listening to this episode, it becomes clear that sometimes the craziest ideas are the answers to our toughest questions. A solution that seems crazy or undoable at first might be the solution that works. This can apply to our teaching quandaries as well as solutions our students try to find to problem-based learning activities or inquiry-based lessons.
The idea of crazy ideas that might work comes through most when we brainstorm. A true brainstorm accepts all possibilities without judgement. This is important as one never knows which ideas will present the most promise in solving a problem. If students are aware of this requirement, they may be more likely to stretch their thinking.
How do you encourage students to think outside the box? What place does brainstorming play in student learning? What solutions to problems have you found that seemed to be too crazy to try at first?
Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.