Introduction: Idea Explosion Thinking Caps


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.


Paper Engineering, Creative Expression


  • 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).

Tools & Materials needed:

  • 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

Duration: 1 - 1.5 hours

Step 1: Brainstorm & Discussion (5-10 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)

Step 2: Tinkering & Sharing Discoveries (5-10 Minutes)

Give students a few minutes work individually or in small groups to tinker with the paper and come up with different ways the paper can be transformed. (At this point, they are not adding what they create to the hats, they are just exploring the possiblities).

Students will share out with the group some of their discoveries.

Step 3: Demo & Design Challenge (5 Minutes)

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?

Step 4: Tips for Paper Construction

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). Be sure 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.

Step 5: What Can You Do With Strips of Paper?

Most kids have made a paper chain... - this is a new twist on an old classic - stapling links onto each other (rather than linking through each other) can allow for dimensionality rather than a chain that just hangs.

Strips of paper can also be curled around a pencil, or folded into accordion shapes to transform from 2D-3D.

Step 6: Make It! Build It! Do It! (30+ 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.

Suggest to students that when attaching items to the headband, to make sure it has a good "anchor" (attach a larger amount of the piece to the whole width of the sentence strip, affixing it in a few spots). Many kids will first try to affix it only to the top edge, so show how anchoring it lower will allow for greater stability.

Suggest adding "a feather in their cap" and issue the challenge: "Can you create a paper feather that looks like a real feather?"

Step 7: 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.


Language Arts:

  • "The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins", Dr. Suess
  • "Jennie's Hat" Ezra Jack Keats
  • "Caps for Sale"
  • "A Three Hat Day"
  • Exploring idioms: "hold onto your hats" "mad as a hatter" "thinking caps" "old hat" "a feather in your cap"


Data and Graphing: gather data and make a class chart.

  • How many hats with a feather?
  • How many with a spiral?
  • How many with a cylinder? A cone? A prism?
  • How many are taller than 12 inches?
  • How many with certain colors?

History & Culture:

Investigate various hats from cultures around the world, and over time. How have hat fashions and functions changed over the years?