Introduction: Idea Explosion Thinking Caps - 1st Grade Tinkering - Week 9

"Idea Explosion Thinking Caps" is the ninth lesson in a 10 week Tinkering series offered to first grade students. Using everyday materials in open-ended projects, we transform the ordinary to the extraordinary while nurturing problem solving skills, building creative confidence, encouraging collaboration, and empowering students as agents of their own success.

What is tinkering? Tinkering is experimenting with ideas, tools and materials to discover the myriad of possibilities that everyday objects can hold. Tinkering allows us to invent marvelous creations through working with our hands, persevering through setbacks, and engaging with others in creative collaboration. Tinkering is "thinking with our hands." Why tinkering? Thanks to smart phones, video games, and good ol' TV, too much of our kids' world is virtual and their experiences are largely vicarious. Tinkering allows for empowered, active learning. It is real interaction with real objects, real tools, and real people.

DESCRIPTION: In this lesson, students will "transform the ordinary into the extraordinary" in this exploration paper engineering and creativity. Through tinkering and tranformation of ordinary paper, students will create hats that represent ideas that burst from their minds and express their unique personalities.


  • Students will engage in tinkering and experimentation with paper, exploring the ways it can be manipulated from two-dimensional material to a three-dimensional object.

  • Students will use the manipulated paper for self-expression, building a hat that expresses their unique personality and creativity.Students will consider how images and objects (the transformed paper) can signify ideas and/or qualities (the ideas that are bursting out of their head / their own personality).

  • Develop perseverance and creative confidence through experiential Tinkering activity
  • Encourage speaking and listening skills in group discussion

Step 1: Materials & Introduction - 10 Minutes


  • 8.5 x 11" copy paper in variety of colors (preferably AstroBrights)

  • Tagboard sentence strips (to make headband base)

  • Scissors

  • 1/4" dowels for rolling (or unsharpened pencils).

  • Staplers & staples

  • Clear tape

  • Glue Sticks

INTRODUCTION & DEMO (students on the rug) - 5 minutes

Begin class by wearing a sample hat and ask, "Do you ever feel like you have so many good ideas that they might just explode out the top of your head?
Introduce the project through a series of guided questions . . . "What is this hat made out of?" (When students answer "paper," hold up a single sheet of copy paper and allow it to flop about) "Really? How can this floppy bit of paper stand up on its own?" "What does 2-D mean?" "What does 3-D mean?" "How can we take something that is two dimensional and make it three dimensional?" "How can we transform these ordinary sheets of paper into something extraordinary?" Ask students to brainstorm different ways that paper can be transformed from 2-D to 3-D. Write responses on whiteboard. (Crumple, fold, roll, twist, cut)

Demonstrate additional techniques for transforming paper (see following suggestions).
Issue the design challenges:

  • Can you make a hat that has at least 4 different techniques for manipulating paper?
  • Can you make a hat that is taller than your own head?
  • Can you use the scraps of what you've cut out in an interesting way? (See the "negative" space and use it to your advantage?)
  • Think about you, your personality, the ideas in your mind . . . how can you use this paper to express them in a way that others can see?

Introduce TOOLS and MATERIALS:

MATERIALS - The main material we are using today is paperl.

TOOLS - Remember that are things we use to help us make, build and create. Today's tools are pencils for rolling, scissors, staples, tape, glue

Step 2: Demonstration (5 Minutes)


Show students different ways to manipulate the paper, and offer the following tips:

Tip #1 - Tight, strong cylinders
This is the key to getting height on your hat! Using 2 sheets of paper for added strength, roll the paper around a thin dowel or un-sharpened pencil. Use tape to affix the end and remove the dowel. (Hint: spacing 2 different colored sheets approximately 1/4" apart will result in a candy-stripe appearance). Show the students how to use a stapler to affix the cylinder low on the headband and in a few spots for greater stability.

Tip #2 - Prisms and rectangular prisms

Folding a sheet in 4 equal parts will allow for the construction of either a prism or a rectangular prism. Start with a "hot dog" fold (lengthwise), and then do a 2nd hot dog fold. One crease will need to be turned in the opposite direction, and then affix the edge with scotch tape. Cutting small areas along the creases will allow for greater visual interest on the prism (and the shapes that have been cut away can be added elsewhere to the design).

Tip #3 - Spiral

Cutting spirals from the paper turns a rectangular piece of paper into an interesting 3-D coil.

Remind them of the rules: There is no "WRONG" in Tinkering, but there are a few rules:

1 - RESPECT the Materials and Tools - Use tools properly, be mindful to use materials wisely, not wastefully. Be careful with the wire. Pay attention to where the end is, so you don't poke yourself or your neighbor in the face. Don't wrap it around your fingers or your neck.

2 - RESPECT your classmates - share materials, share tools. Be encouraging! Work together!

3- RESPECT yourself - always try your hardest. It's OK to feel frustrated, but keep working and keep trying. Be PROUD of what you do.

Step 3: Tinkering Time - 25 Minutes

As students work to create the elements that will be attached to the hat, the facilitator/teacher can circulate the room, fitting the sentence strips into headbands for each person.

Challenge students to take their hats to the extreme and manipulate the paper to show their ideas coming alive! Remind them to use the strong cylinders to try to make the hat taller than their own head.

Step 4: Clean Up & Reflection (10 Minutes)

Clean up, Parade & Reflection (10 minutes)

When the hats are done and the room is clean, put on some exuberant music and have a hat parade in the classroom. (The option of a parade with music can be motivation for the kids to get their workspace cleaned up quickly). Reflection time can include opportunities for students present their own hat and discuss thoughts on the ways it represents them and/or their discoveries from process of making it.

  • What are they most proud of?
  • Where did they have difficulties?
  • How did they overcome the difficulties?
  • How does this hat show your personality and individuality?
  • Students can also offer appreciations to classmates for their peers' successes.