Monday, October 27, 2014

Where's MacGyver? How Scarcity Can Encourage Creativity

Who remembers MacGyver? This guy was a true hero, he could make and solve anything with household items in a matter of minutes. He had a great lid too.

In a day and age where many of our children are given 1:1 devices, their own room, their own toys, even their own box of crayons and bag of supplies, why is it surprising to us that there is a loss of creativity and gratefulness?

A few weeks ago at STEAM Studio, one of our after school clubs, STEAM Club for Girls (grades 1-4), was engaged in an activity where they brainstormed, designed, then built their dream room. Being that this is our first session in our new space and we are supported by our non profit organization, STEAM Engine, supplies are limited. Some might even think they are scarce.  BUT...

...there is a bigger reason for that and here's why:

  1. The sky is not always the limit:  When a child dreams big, we all are excited. Really there is no crazy idea when you are in the brainstorming stage. It's when you start thinking about planning and developing that idea, reality sets in. During our activity, we showed the students the cubbies where all the materials where. Ten cubbies with a variety of materials ranging from craft sticks, rulers, glue, marshmellows and toothpicks, scissors, tape, markers, paper, fabric, textiles, and so on.  We discussed that they needed to sketch out their room, make a list of what materials they were thinking they would need, then we would move on from there.  Sure, some of them wanted materials we did not have, pipe cleaners, stickers, or small wooden furniture. However, what happened from there was exciting to see and incredibly encouraging to hear...
  2. Soft skills develop when you share: Twelve scissors for twenty - eight girls. Yep. Purposeful and planned to show them the importance of waiting your turn, sharing of resources and kindly asking someone for something you need. We role played and then gave gentle reminders. You know what? No one got stabbed out of frustration and every one of the girls got to cut what they wanted.  They learned how to move on to something else while they waited and the importance of working as a team to get through what they needed.
  3. Real world application comes alive: What happens when you want to make a waterbed for your dream room and you only have some craft supplies to do it?  You brainstorm and share. One girl saw some sandwich baggies and said, "what if we put some water in a sandwich baggie,closed it, measure, cut and tape some fabric over it? we can make a waterbed!" Other girls decided to make a fish tank out of water in a baggie, then add blue food coloring. We even had a hot tub made! In the real world, there is a budget when you are building something and you may only have a limited amount of resources/materials to use. Kids need to be reminded we can't just run to the store every time we need something. You don't have to throw money at a problem to solve it.
  4. Ideas ignite and brains spark solutions:  As the sharing continued, more ideas came out of the discussion. Cotton ball pillows, marshmellow and toothpicks made furniture, craft sticks  stairs, it went on and on. It literally was like watching a domino effect go around the studio. One girl would share an idea and the others would add their twist or another idea would spark. Sure, there were challenging times for them when they had to go back and figure out another way to develop their design.  Through some encouragement and thinking, they built their room from their dream.
  5. A better tomorrow: We encourage our families and friends to recycle, we are trying to prepare our next generation of learners for jobs which do not even exist and for jobs we are losing to other countries. If we want to keep our country growing in a positive way, our kids need to not only think outside the box, but under it, on it, over it and all around it.

Perhaps MacGyver was on to something when he said

Maybe it's about time I expanded the realm of possibilities around here." (Season 1)

What realm of possibilities will you expand today?

Check out this initiative about how scarcity and creativity is being researched:
(You can click on a word and it will show you how others are solving problems and not letting scarcity of materials or the mere definition of it hold them back from moving forward.)

Take 7 minutes and watch this video! It will open your mind about how scarcity can encourage creativity, and Gautam is pretty funny.


  1. Mandi, I'm so proud of this work you are doing!! I have loved reading about this fabulous learning experience that you are providing for some really fortunate young people!

  2. AMEE!! Thank you! I love reading about what you do.I always appreciate your support, it means a lot coming from you. I need some time with you!