The creativity thinking tool that our current unit focuses on is abstracting. Abstracting is taking a concept down to a specific detail and creating meaning around that detail. We deal with abstraction every day in many areas of our life, and while abstraction can be easy to identify, creating it is more difficult.
My semester long topic of interest is space science. For this project, I chose to focus on the idea of size. The sizes that students deal with when studying the solar system are enormous and frequently difficult to grasp – especially the relationship between the sizes of different objects. Many of the diagrams and models that students see are not to scale. While Jupiter is smaller than the Sun and the Earth is smaller than Jupiter, you cannot really grasp the true size differential. I chose this to abstract.
The first way I chose to abstract the size differences within the solar system was in pictures. Using data about the sizes of the planets, I created this digital drawing in Piktochart.
The yellow circle represents the Sun, the orange circles Jupiter and the blue circles Earth. My research showed that the diameter of the sun was roughly equivalent to 10 Jupiters or 109 Earths lined up side by side. This representation shows those equivalents with 10 orange circles and 109 blue circles running across the diameter of the large yellow circle. I think this abstraction better shows the size relationships between these celestial objects than many of the solar system diagrams found in learning resources. When looking at the pictures in a diagram, you don’t really understand how much bigger the Sun is than the Earth. Seeing the difference between the tiny blue circles and the bigger yellow circle makes that comparison more real and provides context for true understanding.
In our reading, the Root-Bernsteins (1999) were talking about different abstractions we see in everyday life. They included book reviews and tv show synopses, and went on to talk about how the best presentations of concepts tended to be the simplest. That gave me the idea for my second abstraction. For my second abstraction, I chose to create a tweet. I thought that the challenge of condensing the concept of size relationships down to 140 characters or less seemed like a good challenge. Here is the result:
I do not think this abstraction is as clear as the first one, but I think it does break down the major concept in a way that makes it more understandable. I chose to go down to even smaller pieces of the soar system for the information than I was able to use in the pictorial abstraction, but the pieces are less concrete and harder for a younger student – especially one that has never traveled – to get their head around. I made sure to use a hashtag within the tweet because that is a convention of tweeting and if I was using twitter to create my abstracting project, I felt it was important to use the conventions of the tool.
I think both of these examples of abstracting did the job they were designed to do – make the difficult concept of size comparisons between objects in the solar system more understandable, and the model can be used either for instruction or for assessment depending on the situation.
Bernstein, R., & Bernstein, M. (1999). Sparks of genius: The thirteen thinking tools of the world’s most creative people. Boston, Mass.: Houghton Mifflin.