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Genius Idea

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Sweden's'Flashes' Encourages Creative Thinking in Classroom

You might not expect to see shouting children dropping eggs from a balcony in the posh neighborhood of Georgetown very often—much less see those children being egged on, so to speak, by adults—but that’s exactly what took place recently, and at the Swedish Embassy no less.

It was all part of the “Flashes of Genius” educational workshop designed to stimulate creativity and problem-solving skills in children by asking them to become inventors. Held on Oct. 3 at the House of Sweden along the Georgetown Waterfront, the workshops included 40 children from J.C. Nalle Elementary School in Washington, D.C., and 33 children from Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md., a private college preparatory school for girls.

Part of the Swedish Embassy’s “Children First!” series of programs, the Flashes of Genius project gave the grade-school students, who worked in teams, an array of simple supplies—such as toilet-paper rolls, cotton, cartons, plastic bags and cups, glitter and glue—and asked them to invent something that would keep an ordinary egg intact after dropping it 30 feet to the ground.

One team’s solution was to suspend the egg inside a “cradle” made of paper cups. It worked. Another team floated their egg to the ground under a parachute. That worked too.

“They have to think out of the box to find solutions,” said Anders Rosén, a Swedish inventor and entrepreneur who created the Flashes of Genius program in the 1990s.

Rosén, who was on hand to conduct the workshops, explained how different child-directed teams tend to organize themselves as they set to work. “One group will hold a discussion. Another will just grab some of the materials and start to build. Another team will pick up a piece of paper and write ideas down or start to draw diagrams,” he said.

About six out of 10 students solved the problem, and their eggs landed without breaking. They became “eggsperts.” Nevertheless, everyone received a diploma for participating.

The Swedish-based program can be incorporated into almost any subject area in any classroom. The projects differ, but the children always work in teams and then exhibit whatever they create. For example, children might be asked to take apart a clock and guess what it might look like inside, after which they use the clock parts to create a new gadget—even describing what they’ve done in a foreign language that they might be studying.

Already a part of the school curriculum in Sweden, Flashes of Genius is also being used by educators in Norway, Denmark, Germany, Italy and the island of Mauritius.

Now it’s being introduced in the United States. A day before the Swedish Embassy event, Rosén worked with 30 children from Emery Elementary School in Northeast Washington as well as 10 students with disabilities attending the independent Kingsbury Day School in Northwest. He also plans to present the program to educators in New York City.

Rosén’s U.S. trip is being supported by the Swedish Embassy and the country’s Invest in Sweden Agency (ISA), a governmental group. In fact, bringing Rosén to the United States was the brainchild of Tony Svensson, executive director of ISA, who was also present for the D.C. workshops. “Children are born infinitely creative, but too often the school systems try to fit them into a mold and out goes the creativity,” Svensson observed.

Rosén sees his program as having much broader social implications. “Independent thinking, courage and self confidence” are important for a democracy to flourish, he said. “Democracies need social entrepreneurs, business entrepreneurs. Believing in yourself and in what you can do and standing up for yourself is important. If all you have is rigid, linear thinking in a lockstep, then that’s the road to tyranny.”

Other events in the embassy’s “Children First!” series include a puppet show about naturalist Carl Linnaeus from Nov. 3 to 4 called “Order in the Flowerbeds!” There will also be a two-day seminar on child trafficking from Nov. 6 to 7, and on Nov. 14, the embassy will host a special 100th birthday celebration in honor of Astrid Lindgren, creator of the famous Pippi Longstocking stories for children.

A tutorial booklet and guide to implementing the Flashes of Genius program is available from the Embassy of Sweden, and free copies will be sent to educators and community groups upon request.

For more information on the program, visit www.swedenabroad.com/washington or contact Linda Tocchini-Valentini, the Swedish Embassy’s marketing coordinator, at (202) 467-2645.

About the Author

Carolyn Cosmos is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.

Last Edited on November 29, 1999