Children as designers

How can we make PE fun for children who do not like PE lessons?

Children are creative, and this can be put to good use in education. The TU Delft Science Education Hub (Wetenschapsknooppunt) brings school students and teachers in contact with researchers and designers. Taking subjects such as science and technology as an example: the idea is that engineers are the best people to help in this case. “We are now coaching over 100 primary schools,” says researcher Remke Klapwijk (faculty of Applied Sciences).
Teachers apply a step-by-step plan to learn how to help children explore a problem, come up with ideas and,  finally, present a prototype. For example, the Hague University of Applied Sciences came up with the idea to get children to design ‘the sports hall of the future’ for the physical education teacher training course. The Science Education Hub is working together with the Ackerweide Octant primary school in Pijnacker on this project, which is subsidised by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO).


Photo: Marcel Krijger

Industrial designer Fenne van Doorn concluded in her PhD research project that children can play a valuable role as co-researchers in the design process. “They are expert in being children,” explains van Doorn. “You get completely different conversations when children interview each other.”
Van Doorn and her colleagues listened to what their junior co-researchers had learned in the interviews about PE lessons. Eleven-year-old Floris, for example, said that he had interviewed a boy who likes playing computer games and shooting games. “I think we should make a game,” he said. His classmate Michon, however, had spoken to three girls who wanted to play skipping inside.

At this point, van Doorn picked up a ball. “I am going to throw this to you. If you catch it, come up with an idea about how that boy and those girls can play together.” Eleven-year-old Aryan caught the ball and called out: “A shooting game with skipping! When you’ve skipped 100 times you get a better weapon.”
After she had heard a few more ideas, van Doorn got her ‘box of ideas’ out for a creative brainstorming session. The box contains cards that depict either a fairy-tale character or a superhero. Each child may take one of each card. Aryan took a mermaid and Wolverine, who likes to move like a wolf but is afraid of water. “How could they do something together?” asked van Doorn. “They need to work together to get over the water to another island,” answered Aryan. How? “By putting floating obstacles in the water. Ariël builds and Wolverine jumps over them,” explained Aryan and he drew it on a card.

An important objective from the point of view of the school was for children to learn to place themselves in the shoes of someone else, says school director Ingrid Schumacher. “How can you make it fun for people who aren’t good at PE?” She believes the children were very much involved in the project. “It had a positive effect on their motivation to learn.”

The Hague University of Applied Sciences will be sent the children’s ideas before the summer holiday. “We are going to assess them and analyse the quality,” says  Klapwijk. “Is it possible that they have original, creative ideas that adults are not so quick to come up with and that are completely new? This is our claim: that  companies benefit from actively involving children in  the design process.”

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