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The Extraordinaires in a foreign language classroom


I have to admit something: I love technology. Those who work with me, already know this. I am the iPad guy. In my department, I am the go to person, when there is some kind of technical problem and when somebody wants to include technology in the classroom. I am always happy to help, give advice (even unsolicited) and share my findings in the EdTech world. So, when I went to the EdTech Teacher Summit in San Diego this year to present and absorb as much information as possible, one of the things I brought back was something non-technological.

Beth Holland gave a presentation on Design Thinking and the use of Creativity Hub's The Extraordinaires. It is a game, essentially, in which the players invent something specific for a chosen character. The characters are all extraordinairy in their own right. The set I bought included 24 different characters (a pirate, a wizard, a super hero, a spy girl, a fairy, even a soldier and a tribal girl) and six project cards for different areas like gadgets, clothing, buildings, etc. Overall there are 720 design combinations and some projects work with different characters better than others. To keep students thinking and on their toes, they also included so called Think Cards that are there to help students, should they be stuck in their thinking and design process. Check out the link to their website to learn more (www.extraordinaires.com).

A couple of years ago, I taught a unit in my German class in which students invented something, anything. In the process, they learned about German inventions. It was fun and students were engaged, but it was hard for them to come up with something useful or really creative. Many improved upon concepts that already existed. So, I scrapped it last year and included something different the following year. Working at an IB school, I do not only teach a language class, but also a design class. So the fact that Beth talked about design thinking was what attracted me to her presentation in the first place. However, I teach technology in my design class, so the inventions would not be very fitting. Then I realized that this would be a perfect improvement to the unit I had been teaching a couple of years back in German. One big problem, however: It was not in the target language.

The students I teach come from our elementary school that offers a German immersion program. The fact that I would be using an English language version of the project and think cards, etc. was not ideal. To make it harder on myself, I set out to translate everything into German. In order for it to look pleasing to the eye, I also made sure that the set the students used looked as similar to the original as possible. So, I needed to apply all my photoshop skills and spend a surprising amount of time preparing the set. However, keeping in mind how much fun I had, when my elbow neighbors and I worked on our invention in Beth's workshop, and imagining what cool things kids can sometimes come up with, kept me going and motivated. The end result: four project categories to choose from including think cards, all in German (120 thinking prompts). And it looks pretty darn good, if I may say so myself. Staying in the target language is very important in my class (or any language class obviously), so providing my students with German source material was imperative.

In order to incorporate some sort of technology, the app Book Creator was incredibly helpful. I created a progress journal for my students that could be manipulated by them and gave them the opportunity to use the app to its full potential by including either written notes, spoken explanations, videos or having them draw mind maps. The freedom on how to keep track of their invention was very important for student engagement. If you come up with the world's best invention, but can't really keep track of it successfully because you are writing it down on a piece of paper (*gasp*), and have to use a pencil (*eek*), what's the point. Right? Right. Students took pictures of their progress, wrote reflections and incorporated their presentation that I recorded and airdropped to them right after. So, in a way technology was used (which made me happy), but it was not the focus.

Student engagement was through the roof. The amount of work that went into their project and the willingness to produce something was incredible. Students were communicating with each other (in German, after redirecting some of them), they had to look up words and expressions on how to say things. Some of the highlights of the inventions were:

  • a drinks carrier for a wizard (somehow the students thought he needed to have potions produced on his body and changed his arm for that...)
  • a multi-person vehicle for a werewolf (it turned out to be a moon buggy, made out of... well, moon)
  • a bracelet for a rap star that would record music and help him organize his life
  • an underwater cave and tunnel system for a mermaid activist who can never be really alone and has trouble saving animals

Overall, The Extraordinaires is an incredible tool to teach students design thinking as well as empathy and making it fun and meaningful for them. I strongly encourage you to try it out. One of my co-workers tried it in her clothing unit with with the original project and think cards for students on a lower level of German, and they loved it as well.