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A fun hands-on problem solving activity that will help to get creative juices flowing is to build a shoe tower. This weekend at GDP headquarters, as part of a creativity-building activity session, we were prompted by Dr Jack Matson of CIC MOOC to have a go at building our own shoe tower to test our problem solving mettle.

Instructions: Build a tower of shoes as tall as you can. Do not use any support, glue or binders. Measure it and dived by the number of shoes. Judge its beauty.

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We collaborated in fetching shoes (luckily we had loads waiting to go to the recycling bin) and trying to think of potentially great ways to gain height with the tower. Lu suggested reinforcing the legs of old boots with smaller shoes (good creative thinking) but sadly experimentation proved that although this worked to stiffen the legs the boots made too thin a base and would not hold shoes on top without falling over.

So we tried various other ways to solve the problem and ended up weaving the legs of the boots together in a square Jenga style format. Lu also said he was inspired by Jenga towers. So this provided a sturdy basis and we were able to use up nearly all of the shoes available.

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In the end we used smaller and smaller shoes and created a pyramid effect (well, if you have a good imagination you might see it!). We reached 27 inches (roughly 68.5 cm) and used 28 shoes before the tower would always collapse. We tried to get some height by adding a high heeled boot, but it would not balance so cannot be counted. In fact, it made the tower completely collapse.

Our tower was not very pretty, as you can see. All the shoes we used were old, grubby and dark tones. But unless you had a lot of red sequin high heels to build your tower from it never will be exactly “beautiful”. But we were nevertheless really proud of our baby!

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Why should you have a go at making a shoe tower?

  • It is fun and you will enjoy it!!
  • It is hands-on experimentation and “tinkering”
  • It provides an opportunity for collaboration – let the young ones lead you
  • It helps give your problem-solving muscles a work out
  • It builds your creative and evaluative skills
  • And it gives old shoes waiting to be recycled one last job before you ditch them

We were lucky that we had plenty of old shoes around, but if you do not have enough you could use other things like toys, pans, books. I used to do a paper tower building exercise with my college level learners based on a real class from the Bauhaus art and design school in 1930s Germany. The Bauhaus wanted learners to be able to do hands-on experiments to test materials and their paper towers got very complex and elegant as you can see here. But in these days of sustainability I am loathe to “waste” the paper. Or you could fire up your own creative problem solving by finding a set of household objects to from which to build a tower.

Anyway, we had real fun undertaking these activities and are looking forward to the next creativity session.

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